One of the very first activities of any capital campaign is setting up a central administrative and operations center for the campaign – the campaign office. While this may seem rudimentary, it has been my experience this is also one of the least understood aspects of setting up a capital campaign in most organizations. When explained, most people understand the need for such a facility, but have put very little thought into actually how it might be established.
Just as in real estate, the first three most important things about a campaign office are: (1) location, (2) location, and (3) location. The physical location of the campaign office is part of the strategy of the entire campaign. Simple but true. This is true because a capital campaign is not ‘business as usual’ for a non-profit organization. It is an extraordinary undertaking requiring much attention and involvement of the principals of the organization. I find the best situation is an office near the executive director of the organization so there may be easy communication.
The term “campaign office” may be overly grand when describing what is actually required. Most organizations are space constrained before undertaking a capital campaign and have very few options for setting up a campaign office. The office must therefore reflect the nature of the organization. It would be folly to set up a plush office in an organization struggling financially. Likewise, it is foolhardy to establish a bare-bones office on the premises of a major institution. Common sense is the rule of thumb.
In setting up and equipping the campaign office, several basic points should be considered:
- It is better to set it up properly in the beginning than to have to make changes halfway through the campaign.
- It is important to have access to the decision makers of the organization.
- The office is the central organizational and operational hub of the campaign and should reflect the character of the project and the type of campaign being conducted.
- It is necessary to have a space where counsel, executive staff and volunteers can work comfortably and effectively.
Understanding what goes on in a campaign office may help communicate the requirements for an appropriate location and corresponding equipment. The office is the central hub for the campaign. It will be the primary workspace for the campaign director and an administrative assistant. Campaign leaders will use the office for meetings and work sessions. Volunteers will help create, assemble and distribute campaign materials.
The term itself is revealing. What do you think of when someone refers to a “campaign office?” Many people I speak to think of an office with a lot of activity, charts on the walls, phones ringing, etc. That is exactly what a campaign office is and what it should be designed for when setting it up. At various times I have used as a campaign office: old workout rooms, unused office space, a conference room, a storage room, and (believe it or not) an entirely empty six-story building next to the organization. Anything with enough room to accomplish the purpose will serve.
Once we have a location, the next step is equipping the office. The first aspect to tackle in equipping the office is communications – telephones, fax and internet connections. It is important the office have either a direct line (so that volunteers and donors may contact the office with ease and confidence) or a dedicated extension. A basic element of any successful campaign is reliable, effective communications – we must be able to communicate with our leaders, volunteers and donors. A dedicated fax line is a must for constant operational and public relations communications with leaders, workers and donors. And, finally, the internet is the fastest, most reliable and, often, the most answered form of communication as well as an indispensable tool for prospect research. As the Internet is continually evolving, the days of screechy dial-up connections are gone. Cable modems or digital subscriber lines (DSL) are much more the norm.
Ok, ok, just as you are busting your calculators trying to figure out where the money for such an operation is going to come from, remember this – the campaign office is a temporary site. Often unused space can be converted for the duration of the campaign or sometimes a volunteer will supply unused office space or meeting space at their place of business. Phone systems need not be fancy or expensive. Phones can be extras or rented/leased or on loan. Often phone companies can be persuaded to provide equipment at no charge or minimally at cost. Cell phones often provide greater value when you factor in the added mobility they provide.
The one area it is ill-advised to skimp on is on computers. With today’s available technology, it is possible to save a lot of money by doing more internally such as graphic design and layout, printing, pledge redemption and tracking, etc. Bear in mind that, once the campaign office clears out at the end of the campaign, this equipment will revert back to the organization. Buying a mediocre computer to save money will mean it is obsolete long before the campaign is over. Investing in a top of the line machine will increase the efficiency of the campaign and provide a usable computer for the organization at the end of the campaign. Again, the office is temporary, the computers stay with the organization and can be put to use for years to come. With prices plummeting on the best computers, it is unwise to look for further savings here.
It is also critical to hire competent staff to serve in the office. The goal is to increase the efficiency of the campaign director and the overall campaign operation. If the campaign is given the appropriate place on the priority chart (i.e., very high) then it warrants assigning the best staff available. A campaign is not the time to break in an inexperienced assistant. Nor should these duties be added on to a current employee’s workload. Campaign tasks are important enough, and plentiful enough, to warrant their own full-time staff. Other necessities for the campaign office include:
- Desks or workstations for the campaign director and administrative assistant.
- Internet enabled computers with word processing suites installed.
- High-quality laser and color printers.
- Extra chairs and a worktable for meetings and volunteer activities.
- Normal office supplies.
Create a campaign atmosphere that communicates to the organization that this campaign is a tremendous priority and is headed for success. The old premise of ‘stack your firepower’ holds true: find the best professionals, give them the best equipment, the best accommodations, and the toughest goals—and watch what wonders they can accomplish.
Custom Development Solutions, Inc., (CDS) has become one of North America's best and 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.