How the Kansas City Repertory Theatre Nailed the Classic "Anniversary" Fundraising Hook

Sometimes nonprofit organizations looking for foundation dollars need a "hook." Sometimes this hook can be novel and unique; other times it can simply fall flat.

One of the most effective hooks for generating foundation attention is the "anniversary" hook. Organizations say, "It's our 20th anniversary! What better time than now to show your support." It can be a viable approach because it underscores the fact that an organization has been around for 20 years, so clearly it's doing something right. Countless organizations have adopted this strategy, and you can add the Kansas City Repertory Theatre to the list.

The Kansas City Repertory Theatre is in the midst of its 50th Anniversary Celebration and has been wisely using this milestone as a springboard to solicit funds from donors and philanthropic organizations — and it's working. It recently announced a $3 million lead gift from the Hall Family Foundation in support of its primary anniversary-related project — the renovation of its Spencer Theatre and lobby.

All told, the 50th Anniversary Celebration project set a reasonable goal of $5 million. This goal must be reached by the end of this year to allow construction to begin in the summer of 2015, just in time for the premiere of "A Christmas Carol" during the 2015 holiday season.

The Hall Foundation was most struck by the theater's commitment to the arts and youth education. It also didn't hurt that the theater has made a name for itself as one of the preeminent regional theaters in the country. It employs more than 250 professional artists, technicians and administrators, and serves more than 100,000 patrons and 12,000 school children annually. In addition to the $3 million for the lobby renovation, the foundation also pledged $600,000 in program support.

But ultimately, credit has to go to the planners behind the theater's 50th Anniversary Celebration fundraising drive. First off, they agreed to a very attainable goal of $5 million dollars. Secondly, they didn't put all their eggs in the "waiting to be saved from a foundation" basket. Their annual benefit, for example, raised a record-breaking $724,000. Third, they used the anniversary to address a tangible and simple goal: The renovation of its theater. And fourth, by selecting A Christmas Carol as the debut performance in the newly renovated theater, they gave donors a deadline to help build urgency.

Kansas City isn't the only Midwest city looking to foundations to help them renovate aging theaters. Check out our take on the Milwaukee Repertory Theater's efforts to fix its (literally) sinking building here.