Transformation: The Story of Creating EBW
Good Ideas Will Find Support
“No normal person would have backed this project because it was just not doable.”
—David Young, Philanthropist
A big, powerful project requires people with experience, creativity and connections. The first people to come on board were the Young family. “Bill Young with Social Capital Partners put in the first $50,000, which basically seeded the $55-million capital campaign,” recalls Seana Irvine, Evergreen’s chief operating officer. “That $50,000 was pivotal. We couldn’t have gotten going without it.”
Finding funders who were willing to take a risk in enterprising non-profits, particularly ones with little prior social-enterprise experience—and also in our case, no capital campaign or construction experience—is critical. For many funders, social enterprise and funding enterprising non-profits is new terrain. Evergreen Brick Works was still being defined as we launched our capital campaign, and we had to continually respond to our growing understanding of the site’s physical conditions, the changing role of program partners, the budget and Evergreen’s own organizational understanding of what the project was and what it meant to us.
All of this made conversations with funders all the more interesting. If we lacked clarity, we admitted it, but we never lacked clarity on the bigger idea and the vision. Some funders were immediately galvanized by the vision, others emerged as the parts took on more definition and they could see their interests better represented within the whole.
Making things more complicated, we were asking people to invest in a project for which Evergreen did not have ownership. There was nothing to secure pledges against. We needed funders willing to take a chance on Evergreen and the promise of Evergreen Brick Works. As Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Patton state in their book, Getting to Maybe, social innovation needs funders who are willing to do the following: “Support those who question and inquire, not just those who have answers. ... Support those who try to act in the context of the long view. Pay attention to the questions being asked, not just the outcomes promised when you make funding decisions.”
An exceptional gift of $3 million from David and Robin Young set the entire project in motion. David Young, a philanthropist and entrepreneur, was passionate about the site from the first moment he saw it while walking his dog through the ravines. He calls it destiny. “I thought, ‘This is extraordinary. Somebody’s got to do something with it.’” He says he immediately saw the diamond in the rough. “To me it was self-evident. Toronto is nature in the city. So this was obviously the most important project in Toronto. It is more than our Central Park; it’s an expression of what the city is.” David was willing to commit significantly to a project secured against a 10-page Memorandum of Understanding with the City and some impressive design renderings.
These funds were critical for raising $10 million from the Province of Ontario in spring of 2004, and in no time Evergreen was back knocking on City Hall’s doors asking to advance from the MOU and into full lease negotiations. Other fundraising successes followed, including a $20-million contribution from the federal government and numerous private pledges that (at time of writing in fall 2011) have totalled approximately $20 million.
Any fundraiser understands the adage that people give to people. Relationships are integral. When Evergreen launched the capital campaign, we did not have the base of donors required to raise $55 million. But we did have a good core base of long-term donors from both the philanthropic and corporate sectors and we started there.
A capital campaign cabinet was struck and friends asked friends who asked friends. We sought leaders and champions in the philanthropic and corporate community, those who could show leadership with their own gifts and who had the networks to raise the funds. many of these networks were new to Evergreen and neither staff nor our Board were experienced in raising the multi-millions required. Our campaign cabinet had some exceptionally committed members who rallied for the project and for whom we would certainly not have raised the $50 million to date. A strong campaign cabinet was a vital ingredient to our success. In turn, staff worked strategically to seize key moments with the public, engage the media to build profile, and demonstrate and share successes to build relationships.
As the project became more defined and construction began to make it real, pledges from the private sector increased. Our campaign weathered the major global recession of 2008. We sought external consultants to open more doors, help refine the strategy and our fundraising materials.
Fundraising was, and still is, a long, hard road. Good ideas, good support, a unique site and charismatic leadership will take you a long way when fundraising, but they won’t take you all the way. Despite the ongoing fundraising challenges, Evergreen has made it thus far on some basic, positive thinking, building relationships and galvanizing momentum.
“If your thinking is sound, if you’ve vetted it, if you’ve embraced other people’s opinions and believe in your idea, the money will follow.”
— Tom Scoon, Evergreen Brick Works Advisory Committee member