The sprawling California Inland Empire Council spans some 75,000 square miles with no Fortune 500 companies within its borders. The potential exists for a fund-raising nightmare, but it turns out that a little peer pressure and a nice meal can go a long way.
At the council's monthly executive board meetings, members can dine on a filet or chicken dinner for a nominal fee. But if Golden Eagle donors ($1,000 annually) wear the golf shirt they receive for their gift, they eat for free.
And among attendees, it's a serious business: One car dealer who had given $1,000 but forgot his golf shirt at one event caved in to some ribbing and wrote a check for another grand just to get the "free" dinner—and another shirt, of course.
"We have made every effort to inject humor and hijinks into the Golden Eagle phenomenon," said Chris Manning, council president.
Of the $1 million the California Inland Empire Council raised last year, about 75 percent came from grassroots campaigns.
The council has launched a number of creative fund-raising campaigns—including a $20,000 pinewood derby(R) for community leaders, a "merit badge" program for adults, and a shoulder-patch collecting program.
Of the $1 million raised last year, Manning said, about 75 percent came from grassroots campaigns throughout the council's diverse communities. No one district's plan works as a template for another district because "you've got the alpha and the omega and every ethnic group represented in this council," he said. That includes the inner city of San Bernardino and the wealthy corners of Palm Springs.
"One of the biggest hurdles is that we can't take 'locals' from any one town and have them be successful 50 miles to the east," Manning said. "We have to have movers and shakers in each of the communities."
That can also mean reeducating commuters. They often give money to agencies through their employers in other councils. It's important to expose these potential supporters to the Scouting programs in their own hometowns.
"We are a conglomerate of different councils, essentially," Scout Executive Don Townsend said. "So we've got eight or nine campaigns within the one campaign. Each community modifies the council plan to make it work."
The Baltimore Area Council has employed a different approach to fund-raising. Through relationships with businesses and other agencies, the council earmarked specific funds for specific projects—something the council calls "fund-raising with a purpose."
The council has added to its coffers by selling development rights on the land it owns. Since the land is earmarked for the preservation of green space, developers who get in on the deal can only turn the land into camps or parks, which will ultimately be used by the Scouts.
Created by Tom Neale, former director of development, the Broad Creek Forest Legacy Endowment Fund holds some $2 million. Another $2.2 million was to be added in 2006, and leaders expect that in four years, the fund will exceed $8 million.
The nature of the community dictates a more strategic approach, Neale said. "Baltimore is kind of a funny area . . . there's a lot of old money there, but you can't keep tapping the same well. We're trying to be much more systematic."
Among the successes has been an annual golf tournament at Bulle Rock, one of the nation's premier public courses. Revenue from such recurring events is important, and so is buy-in from board members.
"We tell [board members], 'We're not asking you to be fund-raising machines, but we are asking you to be committed.'"
--Tom Neale, former director of development, Baltimore Area Council
"We tell ours, 'We're not asking you to be fund-raising machines, but we are asking you to be committed,'" he said.
"We ask each board member to bring in $10,000. If they fall short, they fall short, but we don't want to aim for $1,000."
Neale said the golf tournament and the proactive board are part of a greater plan: to infuse the council with energetic movers and shakers who get a better return on the time they invest in Scouting than in other causes.
"I've been on other boards, but this is the only one that is run like a business," he said. "A business with a heart, but a business."