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Season 2, Episode 58

Some stories are truly inspiring, and that’s what you’re going to hear from Sabrina Walker Hernandez of Supporting World Hope, whose campaign surpassed seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Sabrina is a certified consultant, coach, facilitator, & bestselling author that helps nonprofit and small business build relationships that increases revenue. She has over 25 years of experience in nonprofit management, fundraising, and leadership.

Learn how Sabrina raised $12M and established a $500K endowment in the 3rd poorest county in the US. Also learn the challenges she faced, how she overcame them; and learn what type of leadership works best to start — and complete — a capital campaign.

Listen Now:

Amy Eisenstein:
Some stories are truly inspiring, and that’s what you’re going to hear today when we interview Sabrina Walker Hernandez, whose campaign surpassed seemingly insurmountable challenges, and you’ll learn how you can overcome challenges your campaign faces as well.

Hello, it’s Amy Eisenstein. I’m here with my co-host, Andrea Kihlstedt as always, and we are super excited to have a guest with us today, Sabrina Walker Hernandez. And Sabrina I’ve known for several years now, and she is the President and CEO of Supporting World Hope. And we are really interviewing Sabrina today because she served as the Chief Executive Officer for the Boys and Girls Clubs in Texas, one of the Texas chapters, and she was able to increase her operating revenue from under a million to over two and a half million during her tenure there, and she completed a $12 million comprehensive capital campaign and established an endowment in the third poorest county of the United States.

So Sabrina, we are super, super excited to be talking to you specifically about that capital campaign in the third poorest county of the United States and during the recession of 2008. So Andrea, do you want to get us started with Sabrina today?

Capital Campaign Challenges You May Encounter

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Sure. Thank you. Sabrina, it really is a pleasure to have you here with us. And let’s start out by making a little list and let’s do it this way. While you were there as the executive director of this organization and conducting a big campaign, what do you think were the three or four biggest capital campaign challenges you faced?

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
Okay, so the biggest four challenges that I faced were:

  1. Recession — It was a recession; the recession of 2008.
  2. No individual giving — We did not have individual giving as a part of our traditional revenue. That was very scary.
  3. Location — The dynamics of where we’re located. We’re located along the Texas Mexico border, and it is the third poorest county in the United States.
  4. Pushback on the vision — I’m going to say four was because this had not been done in the community, I really got a lot of pushback on the vision. And so that was a challenge within itself.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
That’s really interesting. Alright. That’s great. Why don’t we start with four, I always starting at the bottom, well, it’s the closest that you got a lot of pushback on the vision. And it’s interesting, you hadn’t done a capital campaign before?

Pushback on the Campaign Vision

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
No, I had never done a capital campaign before. There had been some in our community that had completed a capital campaign, like our food bank and our local museum, but never a Boys and Girls Club. And more particularly when I say about the pushback is in order to be successful with this capital campaign, the group that we gathered together, we really focused on collaborations and partnerships.

And I specifically remember going to our traditional school district, and because when you have a building that is a after school program, it’s really going to sit empty until three or four o’clock in the afternoon. So this was a 32,000 square foot state of the art facility, and we had our alternative school that was sitting on a property that would flood, and they were in portable buildings.

So I thought, let’s go to them and say, would you like to partner on this? I wasn’t even asking for money at that point. It was more of a partner because I was like, how are we going to pay the light bill when we get this building? How are we going to pay the water bill? I was trying to think beyond that and do a partnership, joint usage facility.

And so we approached them, we got the meeting and with the, I remember very specifically, we got the meeting with the superintendent, and I remember walking out of that meeting feeling like, they don’t believe in this. They don’t believe it’s going to happen.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Oh, interesting.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
Yeah, they did not believe that it was going to happen, because they had to see the vision, they had to, because we were going to them first in this partnership to get on board. But I shouldn’t say they, I should say the superintendent didn’t get the vision for it. So we were like, okay, well we’re going to our next potential partner, which was Ideal Public School, which is a charter school in our community. And they were known to be innovative, take the little risk. Sometimes in a traditional setting, people are afraid to take risk, take a little risk. So we were able to ink a deal with them and it took two or three meetings and that was it.

And before the building was built, we already knew that they were going to pay 60% of the utilities, they were going to be using the building during the day, any major repairs, utilities, water, anything like that, they were going to cover 60% —

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Nothing like —
Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
… I was just very shocked.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
… to establish some credibility.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
Yes.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Then you can start to go to your donors and say, Hey, we have this deal. How it’s going to work.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
We have this deal on the table. Yes, this is how it’s going to work. Because a lot of people, when we were going to the individual donors, because we didn’t have a huge major gift, I’m skipping around, but because we didn’t not have that individual giving campaign, a lot of them question how that was… The reason why we had to address that question up front is because a lot of them question how are we going to maintain this facility? Because a little bit of history about our organization was we had never owned a facility. We had 12 sites, but we didn’t own any of those 12 sites. They were either municipal buildings, county buildings, or school district buildings. We didn’t own, we never had to pay a light bill. We never had to pay a water bill, any of that.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Wow.

Amy Eisenstein:
Sabrina, I just want to go back to one thing you said about no risk, no reward.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
Yes.

Amy Eisenstein:
Taking a little bit of risk for a huge reward, which is what you did. And you really saw the vision even when others in the community, including the superintendent did not.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
Sure.

Amy Eisenstein:
And so to me, a lot of it does come down to do you have a big vision. Do you believe enough in the mission to take that risk? Because all campaigns have some element of risk, and you saw the reward as so huge that you were willing to take the risk.

Alright. Andrea, you were going up a list. What’s the next on the list?

Location: A Capital Campaign in a Poor Community

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yes, I was going up a list. So let’s talk a little about being in a really poor neighborhood. So Sabrina, you said that your organization was in the third poorest county in the United States. I live here in the South Bronx, which I think people say is the first poorest county in the United States, actually. So I had some notion of what that looks like. But as you are thinking about raising money, raising significant dollars, what are the consequences of that? And how did you think about that? How did you think about can we do this here?

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
I understood in answering that question, that it would take a lot of collaboration and a lot of partnerships. And let me say that our community came together around that. So I’m going to give you some examples. So the 20 acres that the facility sits on was donated by a organization called Edinburgh Foundation. Edinburgh Foundation, for a lack of a better word, was a group of old white men who had got together and bought up a lot of land before there was an economic development corporation in our community.

And so they owned a lot of land. And so it was getting to them and they donated the 20 acres of land that the building sits on, and then it’s raw land. So now you need infrastructure and you need all of those things. And so we went to the county and said, Okay, this is what’s needed. We had an engineer drop the specs and everything like that. Even the engineer donated that portion of it. And the county actually came in and laid a lot of the infrastructure and then where the city could assist and that they did.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
So a lot of those parts of the project were donated in kind services to the project then that we did assign a value to, of course. And when it was time to go to the foundations, those amounts served as matches or to say, this is where we’re at. So we had a lot of partners. The county, city, for profit, engineers. It takes a village. And it was a true village approach to this.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yes. I love that way of thinking. I think that every campaign should think that way. Whether the people you’re partnering with are philanthropists, individual philanthropists or foundations or government entities, that when an organization like yours has a big vision and is moving up and is doing a big project, the idea that you are supposed to do it by yourself in your own little silo is simply wrongheaded.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
I could not have done this, just us. Remember, we didn’t have major givers at that time. We didn’t have individual major givers at that time. And so it was not a part of, I guess our infrastructure and how we did things at that time. It was a vision to have that and hope… The vision became a reality with the capital campaign because it was, let’s fire up our donor base with this capital campaign. And while we’re talking about the capital campaign, let’s talk about the endowment too, and let’s roll this all up into one. If you’re going to go, go big.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
If you’re going to go, go big. I like that. No risk, no reward, if you’re going to go, go big.

Getting Community Support

Amy Eisenstein:
Go big. Alright. So Sabrina, why don’t you talk about that? You’re emphasizing that you didn’t have any major donors, but clearly then you did. So how do you go from not having any major donors during a campaign to building those donor relationships, developing those connections, and ultimately asking for gifts? Talk to people, our listeners really want to know how does that work?

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
It was quite amazing, and it’s going to sound simple, but it really was. I had a board of 15. I had three passionate, very passionate women on that board that really wanted to see this, yes, see this capital campaign happen. Let’s say they wanted to see it happen, I wanted to see it happen, because although the facilities that we had, we did not have to pay rent, light, all that. They were in an area that flooded. So when it rained, it flooded and the damage to the facility was extensive. And not only that, we thought, well, what are we telling our children that this is how we value them? So we really were passionate about that.

And so those three ladies, and I like to speak their names, Ella Del Rosa, Doris Albin, and Paula Foche. Now of those three women, two of them were in Rotary with me. So there was a Rotarian who, and I speak his name too, because I absolutely love him, changed the dynamics of the organization that we were courting, for a lack of a better word, cultivating. We were cultivating. We had invited him in to the tour of the existing facility, gave him the tour, and then we talked about the vision and what we wanted to do. And we did that so much with him, he finally looked at us at one meeting and said:

”Ladies, when y’all going to stop talking about it and do something?”

And we were like, “Oh, it’s okay.”

Amy Eisenstein:
That’s awesome. I love that. I love that.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
So he pushed us. He was like, “Stop talking. Let’s do something.” So he became my capital campaign chair.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
When someone’s like that, he became our capital campaign chair. And then our co-chair, I’m going to say this too, I had another board member, her name is Millie Smith. And Millie, when we interviewed her for the board, Millie said that she will not ask for money. I do not like asking for money. That’s not what I do.

I have this philosophy with fundraising that it’s not even about asking for money, it’s about building relationships. So I asked her, so what are you willing to do? And she said, I’m willing to introduce you to anyone in my circle. Well, Millie worked at the BSA in a bank. So that’s the back office, the fraud, the compliance. So you get the personality. But she introduced us to the bank owner and we developed that relationship.

And so the bank president became the co-chair of the capital campaign. And so then you had this well-established person in the community with the bank president, and then they hand selected the capital campaign committee, which was about three other people. And that was it. That was our team. And-.

Amy Eisenstein:
That’s so important, Sabrina, because even in the third poorest county in the country, there are pockets of wealth, and there are business owners and there are bank vice presidents. And so people think we don’t have any wealth or anybody in our community or this small town or that, but you only need a handful of people who have the ability to make a difference and really move the needle on your campaign. And you were able to leverage all of them and build those relationships. It’s remarkable what you’ve done.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
Thank You. Thank you.

Amy Eisenstein:
Andrea, what do you want to add?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Well, just that the lessons that Sabrina has laid out for us here are lessons that are appropriate and applicable to any campaign.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
She started at the bottom by having a big vision, by having the courage, the personal courage to step up and share a big vision. She invited other people to be part of that vision. And by inviting other organizations to partner with her and to see that vision, she actually pulled a couple of people with whom she felt happy and comfortable. And they sat down together and said, we’re going to make this happen. How can we find somebody in Rotary who we think is going to be the right guy? And you brought him on until he said, Alright, enough talk. Let’s actually make this baby fly. And then when you —

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
Yes.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
… him, you had established yet more credibility.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
Yes.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
And then you could go to someone at the bank, the president of the bank, who saw how much credibility you had already achieved. So it’s like you built this credibility in this campaign step by step by step, very cleverly, very smartly. And any organization, I don’t care if you’re in the richest county in the United States, every organization should be thinking about building their campaign that way. Building confidence by smartly and effectively doing things in a way that pulls in other people.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
I think this vision has been the key word with my capital campaign, and I think with any capital campaign.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. And I want to point out and remind everybody that the first person you approached, Sabrina, the superintendent of schools, did not get on board. And you did not get discouraged.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
No.

Amy Eisenstein:
I’m sure you were a little discouraged, but —

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
Yes.

Amy Eisenstein:
… You didn’t stop. It didn’t stop you. Part of campaigns —

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
It didn’t stop me, no.

Amy Eisenstein:
… is getting to some no’s. And you have to have the personal wherewithal and courage to push past the no’s and say, alright, well if that person’s not getting on board, who’s next? And that’s exactly what you did. And if you had stopped at that point, you wouldn’t have this amazing project that you have. So I just wanted to point that out.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
Thank you. Thank you.

Capital Campaigns During a Recession

Amy Eisenstein:
Let’s move on to this idea of moving ahead with a campaign in the middle of a recession, because I think that is on everybody’s minds all the time. The economy goes up, the economy goes down, but you were right in the middle of a recession in 2008. The markets had crashed, everything was falling apart, and yet you decided to move ahead. Talk about that.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
That is the credit to our capital campaign chair and co-chair, they were like, Nope, we’re moving forward. This is how it’s going to be and we’re moving forward. And I can’t take credit for that. I took my cues from them. They were the people in the community that, those people, the pillars in the community, and they were like, It is fine. People still have money. When the bankers’ telling you people still have money —

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yes. I do tend to believe them.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
… And I tend to believe them. So I was like:

Okay, well we’ll move forward with this and this is what we going to do.

But everything wasn’t always peaches and cream. I remember the first time I cried at work was over this capital campaign. We got a no from the Mabee Foundation and the strategy of things, when you’re doing your capital campaign, and you ladies know this, there’s some foundations that like to come in at the beginning, there’s some that like to come in, in the middle and at the end and Mabee was the kiss of the ring for the other ones to follow.

And if you didn’t get that one, then it was like, okay, nobody, no other foundations are going to come. And I remember receiving the no in the mail, and I remember bawling and I went to my operations office and I was just bawling. And she just looked at me because I had never done that before.

And fast forward many years, she says, you really shook me by coming into my office and doing that. So I said, don’t do that to your staff. I didn’t understand that at the time. It was just so overwhelming. What are we going to do? We need this. And it didn’t happen. So I put my big girl pants on, I called our capital campaign chair and co-chair and let them know what happened, and we called a meeting together and they were like, we just need to go and see them.

And so I’m sitting there going, Okay, so I got to fly all these people there and da, da, da. How much is that going to cost? We don’t have money for that. Those are the thoughts that are going through my mind. And so then I say, okay, well I need everybody’s birthdays and names so we can book flights. And they just looked at me and I go, what? And they go, we have a private plane. The bank has a private plane. We don’t need to book flight. I was like, Oh, I don’t roll in circles like that.

I got to fly on a private plane up to the Mabee Foundation and did a presentation to them and walked out with a 350,000 check. It was wonderful.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yay!

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
Yes. And what I realized with people, just people, it really is making people feel comfortable sharing the vision, inserting your, for me, inserting my humor has always played well. Making people feel good, making them smile, making them laugh. That’s always served me well. So if I can get in front of you, I’m so much better than on paper.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
So sometimes you got to get in front of people.

Amy Eisenstein:
Sabrina, was it difficult to get that meeting?

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
It was not difficult to get the meeting. We called, we said that we received this rejection letter and we would love to come and meet with the board —

Amy Eisenstein:
We think you’ve made a terrible mistake.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
We think you made a terrible mistake and would love to come and meet with you and just express how valuable this project is to this community. And being able to go and give that in person visual, make that emotional connection was the key to that. And I will say this, and I keep saying, I, I, I, but it’s not I, it was a team of people. It was our capital campaign committee. It was my consultant, David Zepernin who helped with that. He wrote a lot of the proposals. I did not have time to write the proposals. I just didn’t.

When you’re running your day-to-day operations, and I know there’s some CEOs out there that don’t hire a consultant during the capital campaign for whatever reason. I think it’s crazy. But for whatever reason, they don’t, it’s a lot. It is a lot.

And he was very good at helping with the writing, research. So we researched new market tax credits. He researched our community. So we found out in through the research that our city has sold a hospital. And so when the city sells a hospital, certain amount of the proceeds have to go back to health related issues in the community. Well, there was $4 million sitting in a fund that they had not done anything with. And so then we as an afterschool program, you’re like, well, what does an afterschool program have to do with health services? Well, we provide a program that helps educate the kids on drug and alcohol prevention. So we posed that project and we got $2 million, but I wouldn’t have known about that pocket of money had it not been for him doing the research, which I did not have time to do.

And we decided not to go the new market tax credit way, but it was because it wasn’t a fit for us. And so he was able to do that research. So a good consultant when you’re doing your capital campaign can go a long way. Now I will tell you this, we pay him, and at the time I was just a little steep, we’re walking out here in faith, I think it was, and it was probably, it’s cheap because we were paying him $5,000 a month. But in my head, in the third poorest county and a nonprofit, I was like, this is a lot of money, is this going to happen? But he came through us and it was just having someone to be able to strategize with having someone to know that, okay, you have to get this foundation to get this foundation, and this foundation only likes to fund this. I’ll tell you one of the great things that he did.

So he did a proposal for the Kresge Foundation and we submitted the Kresge Foundation, but it was 2008. They awarded that, but they also had crises money that they were giving out because it was the recession. So we got an additional $125,000 for our operating budget and that could not have happened without.

The Roles Campaign Consultants Play

Andrea Kihlstedt:
It’s interesting to talk for a minute about the roles consultants play in campaigns. And I think there really is, for many organizations, there’s a real role in having somebody who can research and help with all of the foundation work. That’s a big piece of work. Not for every organization, but for some organizations they will rely heavily on that. And there are people who really, consultants who really are very seasoned and experienced in that. That’s one important role for a particular kind of consultant.

Then there are consultants that provide strategy and those don’t have to be the same person actually. You can have two different kinds of people that you hire. Someone who works on prospect research and foundation research, someone who works on holding your hand and helping to understand the strategy and how do you build the team that you built. So I think it really, actually, it’s an interesting topic for us for another podcast, Amy, is to talk about the various models of consultancies and how people might think about doing that. But it’s interesting to hear how effective your person was.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
Very, very, very much so, and my sounding board on a lot of things. But in the foundation, identifying on the foundations very, very helpful.

Amy Eisenstein:
Very helpful. Yeah.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
Yeah.

Lessons Learned Overcoming Campaign Challenges

Amy Eisenstein:
Good. Alright. Let’s think about, if you could think of some lessons learned or things that you could give as encouragement for others that are heading into capital campaigns, what are some of the key, maybe we’ve talked about many of them already, but let’s either highlight or think of a new one.

What do you want to leave listeners with in terms of what advice would you give them as they head into capital campaigns?

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
It’s two points:

  1. One, and we’ve talked about, but I want to restate it, is share your vision as much as you can to as many people as you can, because you never know who’s listening. So if that’s you are trying to accomplish a 32,000 square foot facility, then say that and your why.
  2. Number two is going to be, if you notice on my capital campaign, it was a separate from my board. My board didn’t have the bandwidth to complete that.

So my capital campaign committee was not my board members and my board had to be okay with that, and they were okay with that. They completely understood that. When we did meet as a capital campaign committee, we have certain board members like Ella and Doris, who were involved in some of those meetings, but they completely understood that it was this committee that was leading that and they entrusted them with that. And there was no conflict between the committee and the board. So that was a blessing.

Amy Eisenstein:
That’s a great point. Andrea, you look like you have something you want to say.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Well, there were several phrases that I took away from this and I just think are universal when you’re thinking about a capital campaign. So I just want to be sure that we remember them.

  • First there’s no risk, no reward. You’re not willing to have a little courage and step up with a big vision. You’re not likely to get that vision, you got to start there. So no risk, no reward. I love that.
  • Related is if you’re going to go, go big, I like that too.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
Yeah. Yeah.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
It honestly takes about the same amount of time, energy, and effort to raise $10 million as it does to raise $3 million.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
It’s so true. It’s so true.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Why would you worry about the pennies when you’re beginning a campaign? Raise the money you need to get the larger vision, I think that’s right. I remember that collaboration and partnership in one way and another, whether it’s for your campaign co-chairs or whether it’s for people who will actually collaborate with you on the project, is just incredibly important, it builds credibility, it builds a sense in the community that you are going to be able to make this happen. And for every project, that’s super-duper important. Amy, was there one that you want to pull up as well?

Amy Eisenstein:
I think you’ve covered them. This was such a rich discussion. Honestly, everything that you did, Sabrina, was exactly right in every way for all the capital campaign strategy that we teach. I think you ran an absolutely brilliant campaign. Yeah.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
Now that you mentioned that, I followed you during this time.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
We love that.

Amy Eisenstein:
Aw, that’s so sweet.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
There are great people out there that are guiding you online that you’ve been, you were very generous with your website. Everything that you offer has been very generous to the community, so I’ve always admired that.

Amy Eisenstein:
Thank you. Thank you. So listen, let us give you an opportunity to share briefly about what you do now with Supporting World Hope. I’d love to hear how you help nonprofits these days and what’s going on with you.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
Well, I help nonprofits. I am a true believer that fundraising is about building relationships. And so for me it is, I help nonprofits build relationships that increase revenue. So what does that mean? That means I’m a generalist and I’m proud to be a generalist as far as fundraising.

So, as you can tell, I have a variety of a varied background in fundraising. So I don’t stick to one niche of it. So if you need peer to peer fundraising help, I’ve done that.

If you do board development, I absolutely love board development. I think a lot of times when people say they have fundraising issues, it’s really about the board. And so let’s look at that first, because that’s a foundational piece. Coaching, I love coaching and helping those new CEOs to organizations to first time working with a board, helping them get comfortable with that. How do they build that relationship with the board? How do they manage all the multiple hats that they’re wearing?

Amy Eisenstein:
Excellent.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
So, that’s what I do and people can find out more about me and my website at www.supportingworldhope.com.

Amy Eisenstein:
Excellent. Sabrina, thank you so much for joining us and for sharing your wisdom and your success. Really, what a wonderful story. Thank you.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez:
Thank you.

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