Financial Goal Setting for Your Campaign

Posted by David G Phillips on Aug 10, 2018 8:47:58 AM

You want to choose a minimum goal that is both challenging and attainable. Nothing is more discouraging than running a great campaign and coming up a few thousand dollars short of the minimum goal.

There are several important things to keep in mind when setting the financial goal for your campaign, such as:

  • Strength and Appeal of the Case for Fundraising
  • Past Campaign Results - both Annual and Capital Campaigns
  • Time Since Last Major Capital Campaign Was Completed
  • Giving History of Constituents
  • Number of Constituents and Level of Affluence
  • Leadership Available To Reach Out To Constituents
  • Community Support and Affirmation
  • Other Initiatives Underway in the Community
  • Failure to carefully scrutinize the facts at hand can lead to bitter disappointment later in the campaign process.

You always want to set your minimum goal at an achievable level, completely unrelated to the cost of the project and the amount you would like to raise. You want to choose a minimum goal that is both challenging and attainable. Nothing is more discouraging than running a great campaign and coming up a few thousand dollars short of the minimum goal.

In an important campaign, you are asking people to make the some of the largest commitments they have ever made, to any cause, in their lives. You don't want to tell them you need them to do this to ensure your success, and then fail to succeed. That can leave them with a very hollow feeling, indeed.

Expenses or Revenues: Which to Consider First?
One of the most common blunders in goal setting is to move through the process in the wrong order. Goal setting is an orderly process and when "the cart gets placed before the horse", the process disintegrates very quickly. This happens in our federal government because the committees that spend the money are not the same committees that raise the money. Oftentimes, the congressmen spending the money get way out ahead of the congressmen raising the money.

The same thing can happen when any organization finds itself in need of a new building, a new wing, more space, a ball field, etc. When an organization decides to focus entirely upon its wants and needs, without considering how to pay for improvements, we invariably see further problems develop.

Let's say your church is overcrowded and needs more space. Rather than work with a committee to study their need in view of the resources available, the pastor has plans for a sleek new cathedral drawn up. The cost, with all the fancy new material and space, will exceed the congregation's ability to fund the project by a significant amount - even with a very successful capital campaign and significant borrowing. This brings on a disappointing trip back to the drawing board. Worse yet, an unsuccessful effort to achieve the organization's goals can lead to a divided church leadership and even a split in the church.

The ideal process involves a careful analysis of the organization's "needs" and even its "wants". These needs and wants are then placed into a priority funding order (Number one would be funded first, Number two on the list would be funded second, etc.) to be studied further, in view of the funding available. Each component part of the project is funded and undertaken according to the agreed upon "listing of priorities".

At this point in the process, cash and current assets are combined with long-term assets to determine cash and borrowing power. Cash and borrowing power can then be combined with the estimated amount you would receive from a successful capital campaign to help pay for the proposed improvements. The total of all these resources provides the maximum amount you should budget to spend.

It is often difficult for an organization to say, with any degree of certainty, exactly how much it will raise in a capital campaign. The best approximations always involve an estimate of what the majority will do, based upon an extrapolation of what a few specific people said they would do.

That Dog Won't Hunt!
Frequently, as fundraising consultants, we are asked by people to help them pursue the funding to make their dreams come true. Sometimes, because of the circumstances, it is much easier to raise that money than it is in other situations. In some difficult instances, you can see from the outset that "this dog just isn't going to hunt".

In the some cases, you can distinguish the very easy campaign from the very difficult campaign right over the telephone. But with the average campaign, it is often very difficult to assess the potential of the organization without the benefit of a professionally directed campaign planning and feasibility study.

The key, in a nutshell, is to decide what you can afford to spend before you go shopping. Too many people go shopping, pick out what they want, and then have to go in search of the resources to buy it, whether they exist or not. Anyone who has run a "little short of cash" in the checkout line knows the disappointing feeling of putting things back, or cutting back your plans to what you can afford. It is a completely different experience than counting your money beforehand and only placing the things in your shopping cart that you know you really need and can afford.

The process I would recommend would include five-steps:

  1. Determine your long-term "wants" and "needs" including operating support, capital improvements and endowment funds,
  2. Prioritize these needs through a careful planning process,
  3. Conduct a professionally directed campaign feasibility and planning study to help you determine your fundraising potential and to help you formulate a working campaign plan,
  4. Undertake a professionally directed campaign to raise this money in pledge type gifts,
  5. Celebrate your success and begin planning for your next cycle.

Take the time to carefully assess your wants/needs and your response to those needs and you will be happy you did. Success simply means having your eyes wide open and learning to


David G. Phillips is president of Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS).  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 info@cdsfunds.com.

Topics: Campaign Feasibility and Planning Studies, capital campaign fundraising, capital campaign planning, Capital Campaigns, fundraising consultants, Fundraising Principles, General Articles, strategic planning

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