May 2017 Message from the Chair
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Dear Fellow Members,
As my time as Chair draws to a close, I find myself particularly reminiscent. I have, of course, countless fond memories and many successes to celebrate in working with all of you these last two years. But this past month, my nostalgia went a little further back in time as I recalled one of my most memorable fundraising experiences.
On April 6, 2017, our nation commemorated the centennial of the United States entering World War I. While most U.S. citizens favored neutrality or isolationism after the war began in 1914, Germany’s continued naval attacks forced our hands, and in 1917, both houses of Congress voted in favor of a declaration of war.
On November 11, 1918, the war ended. While there was elation and relief over the Allies’ triumph, more than nine million soldiers had died – 116,000 of them Americans – and 21 million had been wounded. An additional five million civilians had died from by-products of war like hunger or sickness.
An editorial in the Kansas City paper urged the city to create a monument to honor those Americans who had served, and a group of local leaders formed the Liberty Memorial Association to construct the memorial. In 1919, Kansas Citians raised more than $2,500,000 in only 10 days during an amazing public fundraising campaign. That’s the equivalent of approximately $34,000,000 in today’s dollars – and an effort most of us consultants would advise our clients to plan three or so years to accomplish.
By 1994, the physical structure of the Liberty Memorial had deteriorated to the point where it needed to be closed over safety concerns. Yet again, Kansas City rose to the occasion: it passed a sales tax to fund restoration and plans were developed to add a museum to display World War I collectibles the Liberty Memorial Association had been accumulating.
My firm and I were part of a multi-phased effort that raised public and private funds to support this great national treasure. One moment stands out to me, a transformational experience that to this day shapes my approach in all my “asks” (fundraising or otherwise.) I will never forget sitting with my campaign volunteer, in front of our prospective donor, when I courageously and very directly asked for $10,000,000 for the project. The ensuing silence felt interminable, but I’m sure it only lasted a minute or two. “OK,” responded the donor, “that sounds like something we can do.”
To this day, I still cherish that all-around great moment: a great ask made with a great volunteer to a great donor for an incredibly great cause. Yes, the request was significant, but so was this donor’s capacity and so was our preparation for this solicitation. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive.
More than $102,000,000 was ultimately secured for the restoration and expansion of Liberty Memorial, and today, it is a National Historic Landmark. The National World War I Museum and Memorial brings history to life and fosters timely discussions of ethics, values, decision-making and conflict resolution. I am extremely proud to have played a part in the creation and preservation of this Kansas City-area funded and national icon, just as I am proud to play a part in advancing philanthropy with all of you.
Jeffrey D. Byrne
President + CEO, Jeffrey Byrne + Associates, Inc.
Chair, The Giving Institute