Check-Up Clinic: Capital Campaigns

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Is It Time to Move Your Capital Campaign Forward?

by F. Duke Haddad

NOTE: Under advice from counsel, many CapDev campaign clients made the decision to stretch out campaign timelines at the beginning of the pandemic. Rather than putting important campaign missions on hold indefinitely, this has allowed cultivation and solicitations to continue at a slower pace with strategic guidance from counsel, and has led to much success in furthering the progress of campaigns.

In the last three months, I have talked to several colleagues experiencing a capital campaign pause. They felt they were on a cruise ship during COVID-19 and stuck in a harbor without being able to get off the ship. Think of the hundreds of hours of preparation, engagement, training and execution needed by those involved in a capital campaign.

The goal of a capital campaign is to reach its financial goal. Success takes many elements including luck, timing and continuous shots of stimulation and motivation. Campaigns are not a sprint. They are a long marathon and take many turns. Luckily, we are at a point where most campaign directors have determined a decision needs to be made whether to stop a campaign permanently, continue being paused or proceed forward at various speeds.

While doing a great deal of research on capital campaigns by many authors, I was recently asked to guest lecture a university class on capital campaigns via zoom. While reviewing books in my library, I picked up “Fundraising for Dummies,” a reference for the rest of us, written by John Mutz and Katherine Murray.

According to this book:

  • The capital campaign encompasses a massive, organized fundraising effort.
  • The campaign is designed to raise a specific amount for a specific need.
  • The campaign cycle stretches over a long but specific timeframe.
  • Lead gifts make up half of your fundraising goal.
  • Donors pledge large gifts to be paid over a multiyear period.
  • Lead gifts are dependent on face to face solicitation.
  • Capital campaigns raise funds for bricks and mortar campaigns, endowment campaigns, project campaigns and combined campaigns.

For so many campaigns, how do you move your capital campaign forward when it has been in paused mode for weeks?

Major elements to review include the following:

  1. Documents, plans and results to determine where you are in the capital campaign and what is needed next.
  2. Review your timetable, plus funds received and funds needed.
  3. Determine which solicitations have been made, which are in process, which need to be scheduled now, etc.
  4. Check the status of your lead donors, and determine which lead prospects are next to be contacted.
  5. Prepare communication vehicles that say your campaign is alive, well and ready to go!
  6. Check your volunteer portfolios. Do they have the right mix and do these volunteers need to be retrained?
  7. Have you added an element of donor wealth research to your analysis and database?
  8. Are your pledge systems working, and are they up to date?
  9. Re-engage your consultants, and seek to be on the same strategy page.
  10. Determine if a challenge gift program is needed to boost fundraising results.
  11. Are you fully ready for the public phase and if so, when should a public event be held?
  12. Do you need to go back to campaign donors and ask for a second gift?
  13. Are your campaign priorities still relevant?

You must discuss moving the campaign forward with these key stakeholders.

    1. Administration. Talk to the CEO and leadership to make sure they own the campaign, will help educate, motivate and stimulate others and are committed to make the campaign a priority to its completion!
    2. Consultants (paid and unpaid). Take a hard look. Are the consultants really providing value for the money spent to them? You have questions. Try to work with the most senior members of the firm. Can they help you move the campaign needle ASAP?
    3. Development staff. Do you have the same committed staff that you started the campaign with at the beginning? Can this staff help you train and work with teams of volunteers? These staff members may have other fundraising responsibilities. You need to re-engage them on the priority of the capital campaign as a primary focus.
    4. Capital campaign leadership group. Internal and external leaders. A campaign is a long process. It is hard to keep leadership volunteers and high-level staff focused for a long period of time. How can you have your best advocates motivate their peers without your help?
    5. Capital campaign volunteers. Believe in the rule of thirds. If you have 27 volunteers, nine will be excellent, nine will not meet your needs and nine will have good and bad days. The trick is training them, rotating them, recruiting new members and gently releasing nonperformers.
    6. Are the top 10 lead gifts in play? If not, can you replace high-level prospects with other high-level prospects? Follow the gift table and remember that campaign failure is a certainty without the highest level gifts identified, cultivated, solicited and secured.
    7. Many miscellaneous elements are in play. Make sure you dot every I and cross every T. This includes having fundraising and communication meetings on an ongoing basis, public events when appropriate, creation of a capital campaign newsletter, etc.
    8. Make sure the infrastructure is in place and ready to resume at a high level. This includes such things as data systems, wealth analysis programs, naming opportunities, updated marketing materials, constant recognition for volunteers and celebration for every significant gift as it occurs. Do your prospects have organizational linkage, ability to give and inclination to give?

Since capital campaign directors are all participating in this unique time, one size does not fit all. Some campaigns that have been in pause are now quickly moving forward. Other campaigns are moving forward but at a slower pace. Many campaigns, in pause mode, still wait for marching orders not knowing if their campaign will continue or end in its status. For many campaign directors across the country, it is a very frustrating time. That said, isn’t it time to move your capital campaign forward?

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