Managing Your Time During a Capital Campaign

Posted by David G Phillips on Aug 10, 2018 7:01:59 AM

At CDS, our work provides many opportunities to meet with non-profit organizations as they consider the idea of capital fundraising projects. This is always a serious process, as it should be. Because we see it play out time and again, we begin to notice a number of similarities. As we say, every organization is different and every organization is the same. It seems as though each group considers the same litany of concerns.

To be sure, it is the burden of every non-profit board and executive director to perform due diligence before embarking on a major fundraising project. A certain amount of self-assessment is critical to that process. The inherent risk, though, is that an organization might be “always getting ready to get ready.” An analogy, which many of us can understand, is that of having children. How many times do you hear a couple declare, “We are not going to have children until we can afford it.” The (sad) truth is that you can never afford diapers, and formula, and cribs, and all the necessary equipment. You have to make room for it and trust that the joy and satisfaction of parenting will balance the few gray hairs you gain by making such a bold, strategic decision.

It is also that way with major fundraising efforts. Just as childbirth is a life-altering experience for you and your spouse, so also does a major capital campaign alter the life of your organization. Such a transition is never easy, and there must be some short-term sacrifices for the long-term gains.

All that having been stated, in our experience many non-profits overestimate the burden that a capital campaign will place on their organization. One specific point often raised by senior staff members is the amount of time they will need to put into a campaign. They tend to have a vision of years of frenzied activity, with other duties (such as their primary job of leading the organization) falling by the wayside. In reality, a successful capital campaign is a methodical, well-orchestrated, efficient process.

One of the major benefits of retaining a full-time resident fundraising consulting firm to direct a capital campaign is that the group gains a seasoned director, capable of orchestrating all of the campaign activities in the most efficient manner and streamlining them into the normal operations of the group. To be sure, a capital campaign adds to everyone’s workload. There is no easy way to the top of a mountain, and extraordinary results call for extraordinary effort. Having an experienced campaign director in place, though, ensures the most efficient use of everyone’s time.

Projecting how much a capital campaign might impact an executive director’s time depends on a number of factors. The nature of the organization, the choice of daily verses full-time fundraising consultants, the presence of in-house development staff, the involvement of board members, the executive director’s management style; all of these can influence the result. As a rule of thumb, however, the early phases of a campaign should not require more than a few hours of the CEO’s time each week. If there is no in-house development staff or if the executive director practices a very ‘hands on’ style, that may expand to as much as one hour per day.

One of the key factors in providing this efficiency is that, with the full-time presence of an experienced campaign director, the CEO does not have to handle the minutiae of the campaign. Their time is instead devoted to strategic issues: questions that require the attention of the executive. A competent resident campaign director will also need little more than concise decisions from the executive director before taking the issue off the executive’s plate. The resident campaign director should be a top-notch professional in their own right, capable of putting the CEO’s directives into action, particularly in the development arena.

Even with this expert assistance, many non-profit executives still find difficulty squeezing a few more hours out of their schedule. This speaks to the organization’s overall commitment to the campaign, and to fundraising in general. Raising capital dollars is the key to strategic growth for most non-profit organizations. The board of directors and senior staff must recognize that and make development part of their core duties. If an organization is embarking on a capital campaign, it may be wise for the board to formally direct that 5% of the executive director’s time should be devoted to the impending development effort. This gives the executive some firm ground on which to stand as he or she examines their time-management priorities. In truth, it is not a bad idea for an executive to have a similar mandate from the board for fundraising in general. The CEO’s commitment to development should not begin and end with capital campaigns.

The other individual who often cites concerns over their time commitment is the potential campaign chair. Every campaign director has heard a prospective campaign chair beg off by saying they do not have the time. Should that deter the organization from pursuing that individual? Absolutely not! The very fact that they are busy is evidence they are the right choice. The reason they are so busy is that they are recognized as someone who can get things done.

Instead, this is an invitation for the campaign director to spell out the many ways in which they will lighten the chairperson’s workload. So many community leaders are used to helping on poorly organized campaigns, where they are asked to commit all their spare time toward the management of the campaign, in addition to their role as a leader. A successful capital campaign will have a clear division of duties, with the most laborious tasks falling on the resident campaign professional. Campaign directors orchestrate campaign activity. Campaign leaders lead by their example of generosity and commitment to he mission of the organization.

We always spell out for the potential campaign chair just how much we intend to do to help them. Drafting correspondence, writing speeches, conducting prospect research, putting together proposals, assembling meetings, writing agendas, even chauffeuring duties; all of these might fall under the purview of a good resident campaign director. As with the CEO, the campaign chair should only have to provide those things that only they can provide: leadership, leverage, and strategic decisions. The workload for a campaign chairperson is also shared among a committee. Like a pyramid, the chair might only be responsible for soliciting and recruiting their campaign committee members. Those individuals will in turn be responsible for the next, larger tier of supporters. Throughout all of this, the campaign director is acting as a staff person to each of the volunteers and sub-committees.

Capital campaigns are major projects and the time they require should be considered sacrosanct by the staff and volunteer leadership of an organization. However, with the presence of a skilled resident fundraising counsel, that time commitment can be handled in a focused and efficient manner, without impinging on the mission of the organization. The organization will not only earn respect for their fundraising success, but also for the professional and mature way in which they pursue their development efforts.

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

Topics: capital campaign organization, capital campaign planning, capital campaigns, Capital Campaigns, Professional Skill Building, strategic planning

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