Successful community centers bring together a wide variety of folks from the surrounding community for social, educational and recreational activities that improve the quality of life for area citizens. A well-managed community center is particularly useful in addressing gaps in available resources for community members. Because the center is local and addresses local needs, your search for funding should begin at the local level.
Organize a committee to create a community center for your town or neighborhood. Committee members should represent a broad sampling of community groups and interests, economic, educational and social groups. Each member should bring a unique perspective to the project and will help you ensure that the center represents the entire community and not just one distinct group. Approach city officials regarding the project and ask whether the city would consider managing it and/or contributing to the project.
Draw up a proposal for the center listing the types of programs it will offer, the space required to offer those programs and services, the equipment needed, staffing, operating budget, marketing and advertising costs and construction estimates or estimates for remodeling the building to your purposes.
Identify a piece of property. Scout some likely locations with help from local realtors and develop a startup budget that includes property purchase, construction, staffing and operational numbers for a 1-3 year period. Think about where money will come from to keep the center running after it’s built. Include 20 percent over the cost of construction to provide a maintenance fund and cash reserve for the center.
Approach the city with your proposal. Ask them about funding or partially funding the project. An offer to write grants or approach individual donors so that the city doesn't have to bear the entire cost of building the center could convince the city to fund some of the operating costs as well as the building. If the city chooses not to take the lead, form a nonprofit corporation to operate the facility or partner with an existing nonprofit to handle funding and management. If you elect to start a new nonprofit organization, form a board of directors. The new board will then assume leadership of the fund-raising process.
Form a fund-raising committee to search for potential grants for the project. Your public library might have a funding section with materials about state, local and federal grants, foundations and corporate funders with an interest in funding community centers. Find other nonprofit agencies, churches or civic groups willing to contribute resources, volunteers or cash to the fund-raising effort.
Send out an across-the-ZIP code bulk mailing to folks in your area asking for donations. While you might not make much, if any, money on the mailing, you will at least put the community on notice that you are fund-raising for a community center. Also, the mailing could attract the attention of philanthropists or people who sit on foundation boards who can help you. See if you can get a sponsor to pay for the mailing in exchange for a mention in the letter.
Organize a special event to publicly start the capital campaign and draw attention to what you are doing. Use the event and surrounding activities to identify local philanthropists and private donors who would be willing to donate to the project. Approach corporate sponsors, local businesses and media outlets to sponsor the event and pay for expenses. Contact the marketing people at TV and radio stations about sponsorships. Media outlets often buy "sponsorships" for special events through free advertising on their stations or in their newspapers or magazines.
Find friends of local potential donors or philanthropists who you have identified, who will go with members of the fund-raising committee to visit the donor prospect to solicit a contribution.