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The Iditarod of Capital Campaigns: Multi-Use Projects

Dogs pulling a sled with a musher in the Iditarod.I had the opportunity to meet with a woman who has completed the Iditarod several times. She’s amazing, and she told me her biggest challenge wasn’t the weather or the long hours or the isolation. It was keeping her team of dogs happy by ensuring that each was fed, rested, and doing what he or she loved, whether that was breaking trail, being calm or enthusiastic, or pulling. When each dog is given the opportunity to do what it loves in a team environment, the race goes more smoothly.

Multi-use campaigns are similar to the world-famous sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome. They cannot be completed, much less won, by anything less than a team that understands and values individual strengths.

Starting about seven years ago, our client list began including multi-use projects—two or more organizations combining resources and missions in a shared facility. For example, instead of helping to fund a stand-alone project like a library, we began planning and leading campaigns for multiple partners, like the Missoula Public Library, which includes three additional partner organizations all under the same roof.

Our multi-use capital campaigns have been wonderfully successful and rewarding, but not before our company had to travel through steep and at times daunting learning curves. Some of the challenges we faced were familiar ones:

  • We had to build buy-in among the partner organizations’ leaders.

  • We had to honor each partner’s mission while creating a unifying vision for all.

  • We had to manage partner-specific campaign expectations and responsibilities.

The new challenge we face in multi-use projects is building trust within the partner organizations. Each has specific goals, but those goals may not be complementary. Space is a good example. One partner organization might need more space for clients while another needs more space for storage. How do we make each of them happy? More important, how do we build trust within the partner organizations, so they are willing to sacrifice a little to achieve a lot?

The answer is synergy, working with the partner organizations to discover and nurture a new paradigm that improves their capacity to serve.

Synergy is not a mythical force; it’s real, it’s wonderful, and it’s a game-changer. It is also hard to achieve. The key to developing synergy in multi-use campaigns is to create and nurture interdependence among the partner organizations. We work with each partner to identify, quantify, and integrate its unique strengths into a collaborative vision.

Like the Iditarod, multi-use campaigns cannot be completed, much less won, by anything less than a team that understands and values individual strengths.

One more thought about multi-use campaigns: philanthropists love them! We have found there are two primary reasons. First, these projects achieve economies of scale—lower construction and maintenance costs because the partner organizations are sharing space along with overhead expenses. Second, these projects fix an age-old donor complaint: “Why don’t these organizations collaborate more?” There is no higher level of collaboration than actually sharing clients and workspace.

If your organization is considering building a multi-use facility, prepare yourself for a hugely rewarding experience, stock-up on antacids, and write down the three virtues that my Iditarod friend shared with me:

  1. Patience

  2. Persistence

  3. Vision

You will need them when navigating a multi-use capital campaign, along with the assistance of a capital campaign consultant with experience working in this space

Kevin WallaceKevin Wallace is president of, specializing in capital campaign planning and management. Kevin has 20 years of fundraising experience, conducting more than 70 campaign planning studies and capital campaigns around the country that have raised more than $175 million. Reach him at or visit

Topics: capital campaigns Multi-Use Capital Campaigns