How Our Team Helped Leverage a Successful Campaign to Transform a Fundraising Program


A Blueprint for the Future

The only aquarium in Virginia, the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach is committed to the guest experience, creating inspiring exhibits and nature paths, and supporting research and conservation. When we began our partnership with the aquarium in 2014, they recognized the need for a transformational campaign.  We conducted an extensive campaign planning study that identified the potential to raise substantial dollars and created the blueprint for their successful campaign.

Here’s how we helped the Virginia Aquarium surpass their campaign goal and transform their development department into a fundraising powerhouse.

The Fundraising Building Blocks

With the planning study blueprint and our consulting services, the Virginia Aquarium spent four years focused on relationship-based fundraising for their campaign. They built connections with philanthropic community leaders who stepped up to chair one or more of the campaign committees. They strengthened the commitment of the board, emphasizing the importance of philanthropy. They spent time getting to know their donors and members, cultivating and engaging them through hands-on experiences at the aquarium.

And it paid off. Five seven-figure gifts secured early in the campaign laid the foundation for success, generating excitement and encouraging other stretch gifts. They increased the campaign goal multiple times and ultimately raised $14 million. These transformational dollars are helping to bring the new Darden Marine Animal Conservation Center and Marsh Pavilion to life and created a substantial endowment.

“When the Virginia Aquarium Foundation set out to mount a capital campaign, The Curtis Group didn’t tell us what we wanted to hear. They told us what we needed to hear.  As challenges appeared in our Planning Study, they worked with us to craft a plan to address each one.  They gave us confidence that we could reach our campaign goal.  They know the landscape and the people of Hampton Roads.  They are professional, enthusiastic and respected in the philanthropic community, both locally and nationally.  After all, we made it easy for them!  We gave them cool subjects to work with like otters, a giant octopus and a live animal show!” – Lynn Clements, Former Executive Director

Keeping the Momentum

The Virginia Aquarium successfully raised more than they ever had before, built relationships with their donors, increased awareness of their exceptional conservation work and demonstrated the importance of philanthropy to the board. After all this success, facing leadership staffing transitions, the Virginia Aquarium did not want to lose the incredible momentum they generated during the campaign.

They needed a partner, and they once again turned to The Curtis Group for strategic advice and support. Our team was able to come alongside them to build upon their early success and help prepare them for larger future efforts.

Transformation Realized

“To sum it up in one word: transformational. With The Curtis Group’s help over the past eight months we’ve strengthened our organization in countless ways. We have seen growth in our annual fund, heightened board member involvement, and deepened the focus on our donors and the impact of their investments. Together, partnered with The Curtis Group, we didn’t climb the mountain, we MOVED it!” – Cynthia Whitbred-Spanoulis, President & CEO

The campaign provided the platform for the entire organization to commit to relationship-based major gift fundraising. Our team brought this focus to the day-to-day fundraising operations of the organization. During our capacity-building work, our team guided fundraising processes and plans by supporting the implementation of moves management systems, the creation of policy manuals and bylaws, a communication plan, improving the use of donor data and drafting a powerful case for support. To recruit and engage board members in the fundraising process, we improved job descriptions, fine tuned board and committee structures and provided coaching and an ongoing training plan. Our partnership was particularly helpful during the selection of new staff. Our team provided critical assistance to ensure that the Virginia Aquarium had a sustainable relationship-based fundraising program.

Today the Virginia Aquarium’s fundraising program is built for success, raising more dollars, cultivating, stewarding and soliciting current and prospective donors, engaging the community, strengthening the board and building the foundation for future campaigns. This fiscal year, with our support, the Virginia Aquarium increased the Aquarium Fund goal by 20% and, as of January 31st, has already surpassed their annual goal with five months to go!


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