Clive Pedley and Iyanthi Wijayanayake explain how the Heart Foundation of New Zealand pulled off an award-winning capital campaign to build a $5 million endowment fund during the global financial crisis.

In 2008, The Heart Foundation decided to take a big step forward by generating new major donor support for heart health research. Having identified the strategic importance of growing this aspect of their fundraising, the foundation engaged Xponential Philanthropy to work with its team to build a $5 million endowment fund.

This fund, called the Cardiovascular Research Fund, was to form the basis for ongoing research, including establishing and sustaining a professorial Chair in Heart Health at the University of Auckland.

Over the past 40 years, the Heart Foundation has achieved significant success in its commitment to stopping New Zealanders dying prematurely from heart disease. Now there is an increasing urgency to its work, due to the increase in obesity and diabetes resulting in an epidemic of heart disease among relatively young and disadvantaged New Zealanders.

Endowment as a philanthropic investment

The need for a significant fund to address these issues was urgent. A feasibility study was carried out which highlighted a number of challenges and opportunities around communicating the need for an endowment fund.

Endowment campaigns can be a mind-hurdle for some donors because donations are not used for an immediate, tangible purpose. In this case, the endowment fund was presented as a philanthropic investment in perpetuity to beat the number one killer of New Zealanders through preventive heart health research – it was an opportunity to save lives.

There was a strong undercurrent of support from potential major supporters and people who had previously been modest donors to the Heart Foundation, but understood the urgent need for the research being proposed. The feasibility study led to some key outcomes, including:

Developing a campaign strategy that capitalised on unique aspects of the Heart Foundation and the people who supported it Identifying major donor prospects and key influential advocates Giving the Heart Foundation sufficient confidence in its ability to raise $5 million to establish a Chair in Heart Health Former PM heads up task force

The next key step was the formation of a planning task force. Well-known New Zealander Dame Jenny Shipley was approached to lead the task force and she graciously accepted the role. She was shown the results of the feasibility study, a proposed campaign strategy and the draft case for support.

As a former prime minister of New Zealand and someone who had overcome a major heart illness, Dame Jenny proved to be an ideal and effective leader who worked together with key leaders from the cardiology and business community and the Heart Foundation’s marketing and campaign team. This group significantly enhanced the draft campaign plan and case for support.

All in the timing?

Campaign timing was less than ideal. The Heart Foundation campaign kicked off just as the global recession began to hit New Zealand, making major corporate partnerships difficult to secure. In addition to this, the endowment fund eliminated some traditional campaign funding options and placed extra importance on securing major individual donations. The project took 18 months to complete, just three months more than originally planned.

The campaign leadership team, chaired by Dame Jenny, met regularly throughout the project to ensure its success and keep track of key aspects of the campaign.

The Great Ride for Heart

A major feature of the campaign was the Great Ride for Heart. One of the key people involved in the project was leading Auckland cardiologist, Malcolm Legget. When interviewed in the feasibility study, Malcolm had said he was keen to help by riding the length of New Zealand on his bike – something he’d always wanted to do. He could not have known how big that idea would become. The event contributed $1.2 million to the capital campaign target and achieved many other important goals and objectives, including:

Securing the support and involvement of the cardiology community at unprecedented levels Raising over $700,000 in mainly online donations from over 4,000 new donors 30 new corporate and business partnerships Attracting very high levels of media attention at the culmination of the wider campaign Generating support through several regional events, including a breakfast event at Parliament, a mayoral send-off in South Auckland and fundraising events in Christchurch, Nelson, Dunedin and Hawke’s Bay Early lead gift spurs fundraising efforts

Malcolm helped gather over 70 healthcare professionals, including many other cardiologists, to ride the length of New Zealand (or at least part of it). Malcolm also took the very brave step of approaching a well known philanthropist Graeme Douglas, whom he had a close relationship with, and asked for a specific amount for a specific purpose. The result was a $500,000 matching gift donation for the Great Ride for Heart from the Douglas Charitable Trust.

The early success of this benchmark gift gave the campaign a great head start and spurred the riders on to achieve many other fundraising successes. It was a great inspiration to have such generous support and gave the whole team a very tangible goal to work towards at a crucial early stage in the campaign.

Success breeds success

This saying is never more true than in capital campaign fundraising. The Heart Foundation went on to receive donations that were up to 2,000% larger than any previous non-bequest gift. In addition to this, a significant number of ongoing prospective major donor relationships, established and supported by influential advocates, remain an ongoing opportunity requiring careful cultivation by the Heart Foundation.

Sound capital campaign fundraising

Fundamental principles for sound capital campaign fundraising were employed with classic peer-to-peer approaches being a strong contributor to the campaign’s success. Eighty-five per cent of funds raised came from just nine donors – people in whom time and energy had been appropriately invested and where moves management principles were carefully applied.

The remaining 15% of funds were raised mostly through online fundraising where communities all across the country threw their support behind the Great Ride for Heart. This was an outstanding online achievement.

Cardiovascular Research Fund – Gift Table

Size of Gift ($)

Number of gifts (donors)

Total ($)

% of Target
1 million + 1 1,100,000 22
1 million 2 2,000,000 40
500,000 – 999,999 1 500,000 10
100,000 – 400,999 3 500,000 10
25,000 – 99,999 2 135,000 3
1 – 24,999 4000*+ 775,000 15
Total 5,010,000

*The majority of these gifts were made through the online campaign.

The Cardiovascular Research Fund capital campaign won the 2010 FINZ award for major gifts and capital campaigns; donor acquisition; and a merit award for online fundraising.

Clive Pedley is the managing director and Iyanthi Wijayanayake is a senior consultant with Xponential Philanthropy NZ.

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