There are any number of reasons why a not-for-profit organization should retain fundraising counsel for their capital campaign. Having an experienced resident director guide you through the pitfalls of capital fundraising can be the secret to success. A decision to not get additional help can place your campaign, and therefore the growth of your organization, in jeopardy. Anytime you undertake such a serious endeavor the last thing you want to do is cut corners.
If you do retain counsel, you will see your investment repaid many times over. Benefits include: help with solicitations; management of overall campaign activity; training for volunteers; tried and true campaign plans; and experience with potential problems. One of the most intangible but critical rewards is that you have someone who will always tell you the cold, hard truth.
No organization is without its faults and, try as we might, no campaign goes off without a hitch. As the old adage says, “If you want to make an omelet, you have to crack a few eggs.” One of the keys to overcoming these trials is to have someone with an objective viewpoint.
Senior staff members and local supporters tend to view their town and organization as unique. So often we hear people say, “This won’t be anything like the other organizations with which you have worked.” The truth is there are a finite number of situations that might occur, and a relatively small number of personalities that will be encountered. Insiders naturally view their group as unique out of a sense of pride. While admirable, and always justified, that stance can often push organizations to find some entirely new and undiscovered method for handling situations. In reality, an experienced, well-traveled campaign director has probably encountered a similar problem before. They have a ready solution, tested and proven on previous campaigns.
The details of different campaigns and individual solicitations will always be different, and the need for personalization cannot be overstated. But tracing things to a few root categories helps keep a handle on things. For instance, novice solicitors often feel overwhelmed by an imaginary myriad of possible responses to the ask. In truth, there are only four possible answers: "yes", "no", "I need some time to think about it" and, "I can’t do that but I’ll do this." This is an example of the “even keel” that an objective outsider can bring to a campaign.
A resident director also benefits from being outside the typical chain of command. Imagine if you were a development director and you took your boss on a solicitation. If your boss made some grievous error at the meeting and failed to realize it, you might be reluctant to point out their mistake. Part of your job is to maintain a good rapport with your boss, and your criticism might not be well received. But a resident campaign director has no such dilemma. Their only allegiance is to the success of the campaign. Anything that damages the success of the campaign must be addressed graciously, but frankly and quickly. This is not to say that outside campaign directors represent remorseless “Terminators.” It simply means that they have been retained to do a particular job – direct a successful campaign – and it would be unthinkable to allow anything to interfere with that success. That specialization, their ability to focus on the campaign to the exclusion of other projects and interpersonal issues, is one of the resident director’s greatest tools.
Perhaps the most tangible benefit of a director’s objectivity comes in rating prospects and conducting solicitations. Inevitably, the best prospects for a campaign are going to be close friends of the senior staff and board members. That can create a lot of baggage when it comes time to pick a solicitation amount and approach prospects for a gift. People are reluctant to place great burdens upon their friends. Some people would feel a natural desire to let their friends off the hook. An objective viewpoint can help you keep the needs of the organization in the forefront of everyone’s mind, and challenge your prospects to stretch themselves.
That objectivity will also help during the actual solicitation. Volunteers will inevitably be sitting across from their neighbor, or friend, or colleague. The resident director sees only a prospect. Of course, if that is the only viewpoint in the room it can be equally damaging. The prospect will give, not because the campaign director has worked their magic, but because their friend has presented a compelling case and asked for their help. Again, the tugging of heartstrings by the volunteer is balanced by the experienced objectivity of the campaign director. The director can recognize different responses and steer the conversation toward an answer of “yes.” We like to say that, in a solicitation, a campaign director’s job is not to say anything, but to make sure everything gets said. That is accomplished through preparation, follow-up and experience.
Undertaking a multi-million dollar campaign is a monumental task. Success is critical-- failure is not an option. With that in mind, the greatest potential results lie in bringing together a team of dedicated volunteers and professionals. Gaining an objective, tested and proven viewpoint is just one reason to retain a professional director to show you the path to success.
Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is 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.