Capital campaigns are extraordinary endeavors. According to Webster’s, extraordinary means “going beyond what is usual, regular, or customary.” That is certainly the sort of approach a not-for-profit organization needs to take when conducting a capital campaign. Your objective is not just to achieve a goal but also to maximize your potential, to know that the campaign reached the highest level of success possible. Just as a professional athlete wants to know they “left it all on the field,” you want to know you did your absolute best to further the mission of your organization.
The key to succeeding at this extraordinary effort is to demonstrate to everyone involved that this campaign is not something “usual, regular, or customary.” That means doing things a little differently than you otherwise would. It will require a lot of hard work, some eccentricity, perhaps some theatrics, and maybe even a little fanaticism. There are some concrete things you can do to convince people, both inside and outside of your organization, that this campaign is special.
A successful campaign is a “top down” endeavor, therefore you want the commitment to start at the top. In a not-for-profit organization that means the board of directors. They need to truly believe in the campaign, both in its importance and in its ability to succeed. At the very least, the board should issue a proclamation declaring the campaign to be the primary institutional priority for the duration of the active fundraising. Better still, some people look for the board of directors to each offer a testimonial, illustrating their personal support of the campaign. Regardless, the key is that they truly believe it, not just mouth the words. The rest of the community will look to the board for an example of how to treat the campaign. Any sacrifices (whether they be of time, effort, or money) will need to be most pronounced at the board level. This will inspire great things from the larger body of prospects.
Another device that will reflect the importance of the campaign will be its objectives, both its financial goal and the intended result. A major campaign should have ambitious goals. This is the time for your organization to move beyond just incremental growth and experience real strategic progress. The financial objective should be one that is toward the upper limit of your organization’s fundraising capability. When people see that you are trying to create a real tidal wave of growth, rather than just a ripple on the pond, they will sit up and take notice.
One necessary step to defining the objectives of a campaign is a professional feasibility study. Every not-for-profit has a grocery list of needs. A feasibility study will identify which of those items are supported by your potential donors, and what their level of giving might be. A feasibility study will leave you with a tested and proven case statement, a list of potential leaders and donors, and a reasonable but challenging financial goal.
Beyond gaining the sincere support of your board members and developing objectives that are exciting and ambitious, there are other steps you can take to lay a firm foundation. One thing you definitely want to do is give the campaign an air of professionalism and priority. First and foremost, that should mean securing professional direction for the duration of the effort. There are any number of reasons to hire professional campaign counsel. One reason, that is most relevant here, is that the director will be a seasoned veteran who has taken many campaigns past their goal. Your staff, board, and prospects will all sense a greater level of importance when they realize that you have retained a pro. When a football team goes out and signs the big-name, all-pro quarterback, they are communicating to the world that they intend to win.
There are several other tangible things you can do to communicate the importance of the campaign. Set aside a special office that can be used as the campaign “war room.” Develop a budget that allows for the necessary level of staffing, supplies, printed materials, and technology. The defining characteristic for all of these things should be that they are the best. What else does your organization, and your campaign, deserve?
Internally, the mood will be set by the actions of the CEO. They should communicate to the world, in very clear terms, that the campaign comes first. On a staff level this can be accomplished by introducing the campaign director as a senior team member and making it clear that, while the campaign may not require a majority of the CEO’s time, it will always be priority number one. The CEO should ask for, and expect, the same helpful dedication from all of the staff members. In public, the CEO can show his enthusiasm by never passing up an opportunity to educate people about the wonderful things happening at the organization.
Providing this sort of institutional commitment will make it much easier for you to attract the sort of leadership donors that are critical to your success. Large gifts, made at the outset of the campaign, will communicate to the rest of the prospects that this is an endeavor worthy of a significant commitment. Everyone loves to join a winning team. Seeing that the organization is united behind its strategic vision and has attracted some leadership gifts will draw in support from others.
The unveiling of these leadership gifts is usually accomplished at a campaign public announcement. This does not occur at the start of the campaign, but rather near the midpoint, after the leadership prospects have been exhausted and 60-70% of the money has been raised. When the greater public sees that the donor list is a “who’s who” of their community and the work is more than half done, they will be eager to join.
Finally, the professionals and volunteers working on the campaign will communicate its importance. Every time you go on a solicitation, everything about your team should communicate the criticality of that prospect’s support. The team should set a formal appointment, and arrive in their Sunday best. They should carry with them professionally designed campaign materials; containing top-notch graphics and a compelling case statement. They should deliver a concise, polished presentation, culminating in a challenging and specific request. They should have an answer ready for any question, or at the very least the promise of a rapid response upon returning to the office. And they should push for a decision as soon as possible, preferably within seven to ten days.
The secret to achieving extraordinary results is to conduct your campaign in an extra-ordinary way. If, as you unveil your campaign plan, you have people tell you, “That’s not the way we usually do things,” then you know you are getting them to treat this campaign as an exception. When you show your prospects how serious you are about your organization, they will show you how serious they are. When you hear a prospect tell you, “No one has ever given me such a thorough and professional proposal,” get ready; you are about to hear a yes answer.
Custom Development Solutions, Inc., (CDS) is among one of 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.