Development directors for non-profit organizations are often laden with the responsibility to determine how to raise greater and greater amounts of money to help balance their organizations’ ever-growing budget. The most popular and traditional means employed is to increase the goal of the annual appeal. For a number of reasons—the economy, reduced governmental funding, weak stock market or just plain apathy, to name a few—the annual fund approach just isn't working anymore.
What do you do? Your board and executive staff look to you for answers. What are you going to advise them to do? If you are smart, you will advise them to conduct a multi-year capital campaign incorporating your annual operating requirements for those years, along with the raising of additional capital to build an operating reserve, add to an endowment or implement a new program or service.
Everyone is impressed with your suggestion and for fifteen seconds you feel pretty darn good about your solution. Then panic sets in! You realize that you know very little about major capital campaign fundraising and your only salvation will be to hire an experienced fundraising consultant. Much to your surprise, your board leadership agrees with you.
After an extensive search, you find yourself with two fundraising consulting firms as finalists and your board leadership is once again asking for your advice. One firm is known and recognized nationally, the other is a local, one or two person fundraising company that has a good reputation in the region for numerous smaller campaigns. The board wants you to offer a recommendation.
What do you tell them? Your instinct tells you that several powerful board members are leaning toward the local firm. They believe the local firm will be less costly, know the community better and “good old Joe” will make the board members feel more comfortable when they are asked to make calls on donors. You on the other hand are more impressed with the national firm, but need some strong reasons to justify your feelings and ensure their selection. Here are some common characteristics that separate national firms from smaller companies, and underscore the value of inviting a national firm to the table in the first place:
Whether conducting a Planning and Feasibility Study or a full scale Capital Campaign, national firms are more likely to utilize a highly qualified fundraising professional in residence, five days per week, often ten to twelve hours per day. Resident campaign directors arrive early and stay late on the client’s behalf. Since they do not live in your community, they do not have to be home by five for dinner. As a result, they provide their clients with a substantially greater number of hours per week than any firm offering intermittent direction.
A national firm brings the very important component of objectivity to the client’s project that is difficult for a local firm to accomplish due to “knowing too much” about the community and its group of donors. In order to provide the client with the best possible advice on which to facilitate decision-making, one has to approach a feasibility study or campaign with a high degree of neutrality and with no pre-determined opinions about the outcome. Although a national firm may be new to your community, they bring extensive knowledge from having conducted campaigns in a variety of communities.
National firms often have a diverse collection of highly qualified fundraising professionals at their (and your) disposal. When the campaign director needs professional opinions from multiple perspectives, all they have to do is call one or more of their colleagues. This wealth of major capital fundraising experience ensures a national firm has major advantages over most local companies.
Because national firms conduct a great many feasibility studies and capital campaigns, the quality of the custom-designed study questionnaires, final study reports, campaign plans, vision and needs statements, campaign brochures and other printed materials is beyond reproach. Creating this level of quality is second nature to highly experienced campaign directors. Clients save substantial money as a result of this value-added advantage, which other firms often have to farm out to advertising agencies.
Greater Volunteer Cooperation.
Hiring a national firm puts your volunteer leadership on notice that their investment in contracting a highly regarded, well-established company requires that they approach and complete their assigned tasks with a greater sense of urgency. To do otherwise wastes valuable time and money. The consultant’s job is to train the volunteers to feel comfortable making solicitations to important individuals, asking for substantial amounts of money. The campaign director is also responsible for ensuring that a highly professional campaign atmosphere is present at all times. Sometimes this requires finding a delicate way to move volunteers outside their typical comfort zone in order to meet the campaign’s timetable and financial goal.
Higher Donor Comfort Level.
Most interviewees and prospective donors in a planning and feasibility study speak more openly to an outside campaign director. Even though they are meeting that director for the first time, they freely answer each carefully crafted question about their interest in being considered for a campaign leadership position and their potential level of financial support. The absence of any local connection to the consultant creates a non-threatening method that elicits the vital responses needed to properly advise the client on how to proceed. Yes, in some cases, it is easier to talk about sensitive matters to someone you don’t know but whom you respect.
A Campaign of Distinction.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, engaging a national firm brings with it a certain element of distinction for your campaign. It sends a clear message to your donors and the community as a whole that your capital campaign is different from others that have been recently conducted. It lets them know that you have cut no corners and taken no risks as relates to your desire for the campaign to succeed, both for the community and for those donors who will make it happen. Everyone wants to be a part of a well planned and properly conducted fundraising effort.
All of the above are characteristics that set apart fundraising consulting firms that are national in scope, and Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is proud to offer all these benefits to each of our clients. If, as a fundraising professional, you convince your board leadership to stop for a moment and consider these items during the selection process, you will have scored a major victory for yourself and for your organization. Not only will the board members have a greater appreciation for your efforts on their behalf, you will have provided them the tools to make a much more informed and smarter decision.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.