Cover Story: A Historic Challenge
“So it’s scary, but it also gives us an autonomy that’s beautiful,” she adds. “We’re committed to being a nonpartisan organization, so without having to rely on any government money, we don’t have to worry about who’s in political power.”
In the beginning
The development staff at the NCC currently comprises 10 full-time staffers plus a number of interns. But when the NCC dream was first conceived, there was just a handful of folks working on fundraising. They started by asking board members for pledges and then for names of potential donors. Those potential donors went on the list. Teachers who requested lesson plans went on the list. Basically, anyone who showed the slightest interest went on the list.
The earliest donors, Seiter says, “really were investing in a twinkle in people’s eyes.” One of the largest early gifts came from media magnate and Philadelphia philanthropist Walter Annenberg, who gave $10 million in 2000.
But even before that, million-dollar gifts were coming in as early as 1998, and there were those who began giving $200,000 annual gifts that same year. Board members had started giving annual gifts from the very start, in 1988.
“There were some wonderful early believers, some very early friends,” Seiter says, expressing amazement that so many of those huge early gifts were unrestricted.
“It was just like, ‘Here, go build your dream,’” she says. “If they needed the money for construction, it went there. If they needed it for the endowment, it went there. [Now] it’s harder to get people to give unrestricted gifts. They’re more project and program oriented.”
Former Philadelphia City Councilwoman Joan Specter was one of those early fundraisers, and she’s still with the NCC development staff. Back then, she was called the campaign manager and set her sights on raising major gifts. Given that the NCC was nothing more than a dream, fundraising was an in-the-trenches kind of experience.