Right on the Money: Building and Funding a New Youth Facility

Photograph of the new building at Synergy Services.

When Synergy Services, a youth- and family-serving organization in Kansas City, MO,  began planning to build their new Youth Resiliency Center four years ago, they weren’t expecting a collapse in the economy.

At the time, they simply wanted to create “the perfect drop-in center,” says Rachel Francis, who runs Synergy House, a residential center on the Synergy campus. The center would provide youth with a positive place in which to hang out and get services such as health care and nutritious meals.

Synergy paired their concrete vision with an ambitious goal of raising $8.4 million in four years. And the Kansas City community and other Synergy supporters responded by giving generously, enabling the organization to meet its goal even after the economic crisis hit with full force in 2008.

The result is a state-of-the-art, youth-friendly, 24,000 square-foot, award-winning, certified green building that opened its doors in March. The center includes a clinic, an art program, a gym and indoor basketball court, a recording studio and a kitchen – soon to be used to prepare delicious meals with foods from Synergy’s community garden.

“It has been very challenging, but we’re very grateful for community help -- it showed that homeless kids were a priority,” says Executive Director Robin Winner.

Here’s what Francis, Winner and other Synergy staff members told us about how to successfully plan and raise funds for a new facility:

A building for youth needs input from youth. Staff at Synergy Services made a concerted effort to seek out youths’ ideas about what they wanted in a drop-in center and what services best fit their needs. Many aspects of the new building’s design and function came directly from the minds of youth: the modern style with bright colors, the multiple services available in one building and the space for activities such as music and art. Synergy also involved youth in raising funds, by sharing with potential donors letters and personal testimonies from current and former participants. “Potential donors can see the impact their contributions can have on clients,” Francis says.

It won’t happen overnight. Expect the effort to plan, raise funds for and build a new facility to take several years. “We developed a specific plan and kept moving forward,” Winner says. Synergy’s fundraising committee made up of community members, staff and former clients stayed energetic over the four years of the campaign, keeping the momentum of annual giving going. And Synergy gave donors the option of contributing over a number of years rather than in one lump sum, easing the financial burden on their supporters and enabling Synergy to stay the course through the worst of the economic doldrums.

Collect eggs from many baskets. Consider all of the funding options available that you may be qualified for: corporate giving, community foundation and other private grants, individual giving and endowments are all areas of fundraising that you may think about. Synergy made use of “challenge grants,” which required them to raise money from additional donors before securing a promised donation. “They may seem daunting but they help to meet the funding goal,” Winner says.

Stay in the spotlight. Holding events throughout the year keeps the community’s focus on Synergy’s causes, Winner says, and underscores the need for new facilities. Synergy’s annual night of comedy, Stand Up for Synergy, featuring famous comedians such as Wayne Brady, Wanda Sykes and Jay Leno, brings its fundraising to a wider audience. But the organization also gets serious, staging an annual student sleep out that raises awareness about the plight of homeless youth.

Right on the Money is an ongoing series about how to keep the doors of nonprofit organizations open in good times and bad. If there's a topic you'd like us to address here, please e-mail us.

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