Lyn Moorfoot explains how the nonprofit that teaches deaf children to listen and speak has raised $11.6 million and counting towards the Project Possibility campaign – a hybrid major gifts-capital appeal designed to ensure sustainability well beyond the fit-out of a new home.

Hear and Say Artist's Impression

 An artist’s impression of the new Hear and Say facility, being funded by a campaign to raise over $12 million.

Hearing loss is the most common disability in newborns worldwide. In 2008, Queensland-based nonprofit Hear and Say, a world-leader in teaching deaf children to listen and speak, was experiencing an extraordinary spike in growth. This was due to universal newborn hearing screening, the pace of implantable hearing technology, broadening candidacy and increased community awareness of effective technologies such as cochlear implants and modern hearing aids.

There was an urgent need to acquire more space and expand our services and programs. A $2 million commitment was gained from the Queensland government for a new property. The team determined to not ‘make do’ and to undertake what would become the organisation’s largest capital development project to date.

Project Possibility gets off the ground

The organisation’s founder, the pioneering speech pathologist Dr Dimity Dornan, and chief executive officer Chris McCarthy, with the board’s active support, started searching for a property to meet criteria including a pleasant natural environment, room for expansion and new collaborators, and good access to arterial roads and Brisbane airport. This was vital as all regional families access medical and surgical expertise in paediatric cochlear implants through Hear and Say’s Brisbane centre.

A site was found in mid-2011 on two hectares in Ashgrove within 5km of Brisbane’s CBD. It was a de-commissioned TAFE facility, ideal for re-purposing, next to a popular local bike path and shady creek. The purchase was finalised with the-then Labor State Government just before the March 2012 Queensland election.

Rebecca Hazell – the director of fundraising strategy company, Giving Capacity – worked with the founder, CEO and board to develop “Project Possibility” which became the organisation’s catch-cry for sustainable growth and transformation. The Project Possibility case for support was drafted in consultation with more than 20 current and prospective donors, plus staff, parents and government.

Rugby league legend, Wally Lewis, and his daughter, Jamie-Lee Lewis, one of Hear and Say’s early graduates, became the public face of the campaign.

The lead gift – a pledge of $500,000 – was secured from an existing supporter from the feasibility stage in mid-2012.

Key features of the building

Hear and Say considered future needs and planned for a world-class purpose-built facility that the architect described as “a cross between grandma’s house and the Guggenheim”. It would house the spaces, programs and technology to best assist deaf children and their families in a nurturing, empowering environment. Features included a Telehealth learning and training centre; welcome sanctuary with family therapy spaces and a regional families’ retreat; and facilities for research and interdisciplinary care programs.

Initial costings identified the need to raise around $10 million, which was refined to a target exceeding $12 million to sustain ongoing funding requirements. The funding model was based on partnerships between government, philanthropy and business, with Hear and Say able to realise funds – if required – from the sale of its current Brisbane premises, which are owned outright.

Strategy and approach

Conscious of having to maintain operational fundraising along with any potential capital fundraising program, Hear and Say decided to invest in building internal philanthropy capacity.

The strategy was to secure the most funds from a small group of lead and major gift prospects and also reach their networks. The hybrid major gift/capital campaign that had been decided on, suited Hear and Say’s culture, fundraising capacity and transparent approach.

Dr Dimity Dornan is a high-profile and influential champion, comfortable with ‘asking’. This strength was also supported through planned and methodical qualifying and cultivation of donors, along with gift tables and other supporting plans such as a recognition framework. An experienced fundraising and philanthropy practitioner was appointed in November 2012 to provide internal focus for the campaign and guide and support staff and volunteer leadership.

From the start, the team recognised the significant long-term opportunity of a fundraising campaign to cement current relationships and reach new prospects. A volunteer leadership committee was formed to expand our existing networks. This internal foundation and sub-committee of the board was launched in July 2011. Michael Rosengren, a resources sector leader, agreed to become inaugural Chair – inspired by seeing a baby’s cochlear implant switched on.

He progressively recruited a small but diverse group of volunteers whose role would include ambassador, advocate and asker. They quickly learned that few people or organisations responded straight away if they asked for money:“It is about investing in relationships, in allowing people to experience the story, developing momentum, sharing the load and over time results start to emerge,” he said. Meanwhile the board, foundation and senior management took part in several education sessions around the donor cycle, phases of a capital campaign, asking and handling objections.

June 2012 began the frantic intensity of the quiet phase of an anticipated three-year campaign. By July 2013 (one year into the quiet phase), over $4 million had been raised in spite of challenges like the incoming Queensland government’s budget constraints and the 2013 floods.

At this time we were fortunate to also secure a transformational pledge of $4 million from an existing philanthropic supporter. However the gift was in the form of a challenge in hopes it could be leveraged to achieve further government support. The first pledge payment of $2 million rested on demonstrating our ability to fully fund our $12 million-plus target. We stepped up our efforts in engaging with government and top prospects!

The public phase was launched in September 2013 at 66% of target by Queensland Premier Campbell Newman the same day he promised a further $2 million from government. A direct mail acquisition campaign leveraged the media launch of the public campaign, adding new donors to our database. 

Construction helping build momentum 

By December 2013, $11 million in gifts and pledges was secured. In February 2014 the board green-lit commencement of the formal construction phase, while fundraising continued. Construction has provided momentum and opportunities for stewardship including hard-hat site tours and media activities profiling the need and the example of our generous supporters.

Among them is Alan Larkin – the founder and director of the Brisbane company, Aspect Property Group – and his wife Michele. “Michele and I were looking to support a specific charity whereby we could see a tangible result for the ‘investment’ we were making. The ‘return’ on our investment through Hear and Say is three-fold. It enables deaf children to hear and speak, delivers much needed support to family and friends through the process, and allows the affected child to participate in a normal life, progressing through to contributing to society in their own unique way.”

As of 25 August $11.6 million – 90% of target – has been raised (see Figure A). October 2014 is the first anniversary of the public launch and this milestone is another chance to engage current donors and prospects who have indicated they would like to support the project but are yet to give. We eagerly anticipate reaching our target, completing the building and being on our way to sustainability.

Figure A: Hear and Say Project Possibility gift chart

Gift amount $

No. of gifts

Total gifts

% of funds raised

$4 million




$2 million




$500,000 to $1 million




$25,000 +




Under $25,000








Lyn Moorfoot smallLyn Moorfoot joined Hear and Say as philanthropy manager for the Project Possibility major gift project. She has over 15 years’ experience in fundraising, marketing and communications with state and national organisations including Mission Australia, National Seniors, Royal Victorian Eye & Ear Hospital and RMIT.


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