Camp Twin Lakes: Strategic Fund Raising

by David Schaeffer

Founded in 1990, Camp Twin Lakes is Georgia's first and only camp designed for children with special needs. Today, the nonprofit organization has a $1.8 million annual budget and a $4 million board-directed endowment. As the organization can attest, the fiscal health of a nonprofit relies on developing and adhering to a strategic plan for fund raising.

While the prospect of developing a strategic fund-raising plan may be intimidating, it can be accomplished when carefully thought out and includes regular communication with constituents; engaging your board of directors, staff and volunteers; and continual evaluation of the fund-raising plan.

Strategic Plan

A fund-raising plan usually covers three to five years and provides direction and clarity around how your organization approaches sources of funding for support. A typical fund-raising plan establishes objectives, includes an action plan for achieving each objective as well as a time line for completing the action plan. Rather than mail an appeal letter here or write a grant proposal there — and consider each of these efforts as your nonprofit's fund-raising strategy — a fund-raising plan requires you take a more systematic approach that includes having detailed knowledge about your camp organization's financial needs, how the organization serves its constituents, and what resources are available to meet those needs. Armed with this information, and then with timed consideration, each solicitation will be more deliberate.

Camp Twin Lakes' most recent fund- raising plan was created in 2003. According to the plan, the identified fund-raising goal for the organization is to "develop a continuing and diversified, integrated broad-based income development program to support the mission of Camp Twin Lakes. The long-range plan is to increase the donor base from 6,000 donors to 15,000 donors in three years and to achieve a minimum total contributed income growth of 10 percent per year for the next three years." With a defined goal established, we developed objectives that needed to be attained in order to meet our fund-raising goal. Each objective is aligned with a strategy, target market, success indicators, and a person who is tasked with ensuring the objective is met.

For example, Camp Twin Lakes' fundraising plan incorporates the following:

  • Objective
    1. Increase the number of donors from 6,000 to 15,000 by 2006
  • Strategy
    1. Capture names of all special events participants
  • Target Market
    1. Internal special events
    2. External special events
  • Success Indicator
    1. Number of new donors added to the database each year
  • Responsible Parties
    1. Development director
    2. Development committee
    3. Board
    4. Volunteers

Internal Fund-Raising Events

As a part of its strategic fund-raising plan, Camp Twin Lakes has four "internal" fund-raising events per year: Best of Atlanta, an annual golf tournament, a silent auction and cocktail reception, and the Partners Card program. Each of these special events is targeted to a specific audience and accomplishes three objectives: increases awareness about the organization, engages new friends of the organization, and of course, raises money.

Best of Atlanta is planned each year in conjunction with Atlanta Magazine and brings sixty popular Atlanta restaurants under one roof for a one-day charitable event, which attracts between 2,500 and 3,000 attendees each year. Like many nonprofit organizations, we have found a golf tournament to be an effective way to engage corporate support. Camp Twin Lakes' golf tournament is held every spring at one of the nation's top golf courses — The Tournament Players Club at Sugarloaf in Duluth, home to an annual PGA tour event. An additional revenue stream is added to the event with the inclusion of a silent auction. Camp Twin Lakes hosts another successful silent auction later in the year during an invitation-only cocktail reception held at a board member's home. With our Partners Card program, we work with local merchants (four hundred merchants participated in 2004) to provide a 20 percent discount on merchandise purchased during Partners Card week, which is held a few weeks before Thanksgiving. Now in its seventh year, the Partners Card program is Camp Twin Lakes' most successful fund raiser and in 2004 brought in $340,000 for the organization. This event includes corporate sponsorships and significant volunteer involvement.

Camp Twin Lakes has been fortunate to be the recipient of proceeds from a number of "external" events that are planned and/or hosted by corporations and restaurants. These opportunities frequently come about as the result of relationships cultivated by our board members.

Cultivating Relationships

Once Camp Twin Lakes has engaged new friends via a special event (internal or external), we continue to cultivate them and educate them about our mission. Cultivating relationships with donors brings them closer to the organization and strengthens connections. The stronger the connection, the deeper the relationship. The deeper the relationship, the more likely that donor is going to make a larger and more frequent gift.

We have instituted several steps to cultivate our donors:

  • Thank each donor quickly and accordingly.
  • Send each donor two newsletters annually.
  • Send each donor Camp Twin Lakes' annual appeal.
  • Invite targeted donors for a site visit.

Camp Twin Lakes uses numerous methods for raising funds from established donors. For example, after donors have been added to the database and have received a thank-you letter and newsletter, they also receive either a spring or a fall direct mail appeal letter soliciting additional support. These direct mail appeals are a part of our Annual Fund campaign. By reaching out to our donor base with regular communications and by using consistent efforts to capture donor information at our fund-raising events, we have increased the number of donors in our database by 75 percent in the last two years. Keep in mind that a donor database is effective only if it is updated regularly. It is even more valuable if you can capture as much detailed information as possible about individual donors.

Strategic Planning
The Alliance for Nonprofit Management
Association of Fundraising Professionals
National Committee on Planned Giving
Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Organizations: A Practical Guide and Workbook by Michael Allison and Jude Kay (John Wiley & Sons)

Traditional Funders
Traditional funders such as foundations are an important source of support for nonprofits. However, you should not rely on them to carry your organization. They prefer to support organizations that have several active revenue streams. A revenue stream option: individual giving in the form of memorials and contributions. Also, consider putting a planned giving program in place. For more information about setting up a planned giving program, we recommend the National Committee on Planned Giving.

Board Members
Board members are instrumental in the development of a fund-raising plan because they are fiscally responsible for the organization and as such should be actively involved in how the organization meets its fund-raising goals. A board of directors that financially supports your organization clearly adds credibility when it comes time to seek other sources of funding.

Board members are also invaluable ambassadors for your organization. Whether it is through six degrees of separation or by way of a direct contact, board members can be the crucial link to corporate and individual donors and other prospects for support. At charitable functions or even at the grocery store, board members can be indispensable representatives of your organization — sharing the mission of your nonprofit and building awareness for the organization through their influence in the community.

Camp Twin Lakes has taken the board concept a step further with its junior board. Made up of twenty individuals, all under forty years of age, our junior board serves as an extension of the board of directors and helps to generate revenue. One junior board representative attends each of the board of director meetings. We have found junior board members to be enthusiastic, energetic individuals who, with a stake in the organization, have been able to open up relationships with funders.

Once you have developed a fund-raising strategy it will undoubtedly change. For a fund-raising strategy to be effective, it has to remain adaptable to your organization's shift in leadership and unexpected situations that may arise. You will find yourself adding, rescheduling, and updating all the time. Remember, a good fund-raising plan provides you with a road map to identify and achieve your fund-raising goals.

David Schaeffer is director of development for Camp Twin Lakes in Atlanta, Georgia. You can contact him for more information at

Originally published in the 2005 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.