Non-profit organizations invariably suffer from limited resources and a small staff trying to do the work of many. The resulting workload, as well as the personal connection many executives feel toward the group's mission, can cause staff members to focus their attention within distinct boundaries. True objectivity can be clouded by fierce loyalty and passion for the mission. One of the challenges of non-profit management is that leaders are acutely aware of their organization's needs. That is a critical vantage point, but it must be viewed through the lens of what is most attractive to potential supporters. To achieve effective fundraising results, need must be balanced by a determination of what is feasible.
Every organization should have a grocery list of major improvements they would like to fund. Unfortunately, fundraising based only upon need oftentimes leads to problems. That comprehensive "wish list" might represent a "case for support" that is vague, complicated, and unpopular. This can cause organizations to suffer from a "disconnect" with their donors. A staff person's personal connection to the cause can lead to assumptions about what level of support others might offer. The length of the "wish list" and the inflated hopes for tremendous support can combine to create unrealistic goals for campaigns. Organizations must balance what they want against what is popular among their supporters, and fit that under the umbrella of a challenging but realistic goal.
The first step in a successful fundraising process is, indeed, for the organization to develop a list of potential line items for inclusion in the case for support. At this early stage, this can be developed among the organization's insiders. In fact, well-organized groups often have a synopsis, or list of prioritized needs they might fund with a windfall of money. There are those who would make the observation that an organization that cannot readily state how they would spend an unexpected million-dollar gift will never attract such a contribution. Awareness of what is needed is the first step in raising people's sights to lofty heights.
Once the organization has assembled its "wish list" they must test the popularity of those needs among their best prospective supporters. These individuals can help the organization prioritize their needs. What better source of feedback about fundraising goals than the very people who will be asked to contribute toward those plans. Furthermore, these individuals will identify like-minded people who might also offer support.
This process should lead to a clear determination of the possible scope of a campaign. This can be a difficult process for the organization. Certain priorities, if not shared by potential supporters, may need to be given a lower priority or even set aside. There should also be a clear indication of how much the organization might hope to raise through a well-directed capital campaign. This is not simply a tally of all the gifts suggested by those people who were consulted. Nor is it determined by multiplying such a sum by a predetermined factor. As we so often hear, capital campaigns succeed based on a rather small number of very large gifts. As such, a great deal of effort is placed on trying to identify viable prospects for some of those key gifts. Creating a preliminary table of gifts--with a lead gift of 15% of the goal, and ten pledges accounting for half of the money--can serve as a powerful visual aid for this process.
This preliminary table of gifts can be shared with the potential supporters for a campaign. The goal, again, is not to run a tally sheet. Rather, the aim is to "fill in" the key positions on the leadership roster and table of gifts. For example, an organization may be testing the possibility of raising $5 million. The presence of three viable prospects for the lead gift of $1 million, and sufficient prospects for each of the gifts at the $500,000 and $250,000 levels, suggests that $5 million may represent a challenging but realistic goal for the campaign.
The process being described here is a classic approach to a feasibility study. This is best accomplished under the direction of an objective study director. Bringing in professional fundraising counsel, experienced in conducting feasibility studies, yields a number of benefits. The addition of a person solely dedicated to this task ensures it will be completed quickly. An outsider can often get people to open up with greater candor. The study director does not need to balance their commitment to the project against their personal feelings for other staff members or their dedication to the organization's mission. Finally, a professional study director brings a great deal of experience. A professional director moves from one study and campaign to the next, honing their specialized skills to a keen edge. It is often that professional edge, honed through years of experience, and combined with strong, fundamental fundraising principles, that makes the difference.
Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is among the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada. If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to email@example.com.