Brick Paver Campaigns: To Follow The Yellow Brick Road… Or Not?

Nonprofits often engage in brick paver campaigns with good intentions and sincere motives, but, in fundraising terms, about 4 out of 5 are financially unsuccessful.

While they may seem like a good idea at the outset, the end results can be disastrous, as evidenced by the following horror stories I’ve been told:

One organization’s one-size-fits-all campaign sold bricks for a plaza – but each individual brick was sold at a single price point. When the campaign ended and it came time to install the plaza, they were in for a shock. The total cost of installation exceeded the amount they had charged for the bricks!

Another organization tried selling bricks that would be used for an outdoor patio that wasn’t a part of its master plan – the area was created simply to hold a brick campaign. They ended up selling about 200 bricks – 800 less than the amount required to complete the project, which ended up costing far more than the amount of funds they had raised.

We also worked with an organization that had to relocate an area of brick pavers from a previous campaign, because of expansion plans that required the paved space to be used differently. As you might infer, the cost of doing so was greater than they had originally raised by selling them.

Here in Atlanta, there is a fascination with brick paver campaigns dating back to the development of Centennial Olympic Park for the 1996 Olympic Games. Many Atlantans purchased these bricks as an act of community support, and were under the impression that the campaign was a huge success. The park was built, but not without downsizing its construction from the original plans and scrambling to secure the funds necessary to complete it (for the history buffs out there, the book Olympic Dreams describes this on pages 107 and 108). The campaign had raised nowhere near the tens-of-millions of dollars that were needed, and, while the city enjoys the use of the park today, it cannot be touted as a successful brick campaign.

As we ponder these unfortunate circumstances, we see the reality of philanthropy that is reduced to a transactional state by the implementation of brick campaigns and their gifts. The focus of the gift creates a culture of expectation that becomes about “buying” something from the organization rather than helping it achieve its mission. This is “give to get” donor relationship is unhealthy and is certainly not the type you want to build in your development program.

Additionally, these campaigns appeal to the misconception that equal giving from the masses is all you need for a successful fundraising campaign. We’ve all heard someone with the belief that “If we can just get 2,000 people to give us $1,000 each, we can raise the $2-million we need.” But those of us in development know this is a myth… and so are brick paver campaigns. And, might I add, an 80 percent failure rate is never worth it.

So, if someone tells you the easiest way to solve your fundraising problems is to hold a brick paver campaign, suggest they first look behind the curtain and see the reality of following the Yellow Brick Road.