Ten Back-shop Questions to Ask Before a Campaign

Coordinating the operational side of a capital campaign fundraising effort is like pushing a big rock up a huge hill – it’s a tremendous amount of effort to get everything started, and once that rock goes over the top, it accelerates quickly and doesn’t slow down. Some initial planning can put you in much greater control of the back-office demands during a capital campaign, preventing avoidable crashes! This article contains key questions to ask “before” your campaign kicks-off. Answering these questions requires discussion and thought, and documenting the answers can help you avoid costly mistakes.

  1. Are any contributions excluded from campaign totals? For example, do gifts to the Annual Fund count? How about ticket purchases for a campaign-related event?
  2. Quid pro quos – full amount, tax-deductible amount or none? CASE (Council for the Advancement and Support of Education) standards suggest only counting the tax-deductible portion of these gifts toward your campaign goals. Most of our clients count the full amount. Whichever you choose, be sure your systems are set up to report the same way every time.
  3. Planned gifts (irrevocable) – face value, current value, or NCPG (National Committee of Planned Giving) suggested calculated fundraising value?
  4. Promises of estate gifts (revocable) – Some organizations count these in campaign totals, some count them only under certain circumstances, and some discount for current age of the donor.
  5. Gifts in kind – Some organizations count their Gifts in Kind. Some only count certain types. Do you differentiate between gifts of service – like the organization’s accounting firm agreeing to do the audit for free – and gifts of property? What if a contractor agrees to install the roof for the new addition at half price – do you want to count that discount toward campaign totals?
  6. Gifts through affiliated entities – (e.g. individual donor gives to the Guild, which in turn gives combined gifts to your entity – Guild is credited as donor at level of combined gifts. Do we count the individual’s gifts to the guild in their campaign totals?)
    a. Example: Joseph Board Member says to you “I will commit to giving $100,000 to the campaign over 5 years. This includes the $10,000 I give every year to the Guild.” Every year the Guild combines all of their proceeds, less expenses, and gives them to the Foundation. As such, the Guild has already made a pledge for the campaign, which includes what they anticipate getting from Joe each year. Is Joe Board Member listed at $50,000 or $100,000 for donor recognition? If $100,000, do you ask for all individual donor’s names from the Guild to recognize each individual as well, or just in the case of Joe?
  7. Employee giving – if an employee gives via payroll deduction but also gives with their spouse through other means, do you want the employee to be listed on employee-specific displays at the level of their combined household giving? Example: Susan Smith is an employee, and pledges $4,000 through payroll deduction. She is married to John Jones. As a couple they have given $1,000 to the campaign through other means (not payroll deduction). On the employee display, should Susan be listed at $5,000? Should the listing include John’s name?
  8. Combined family giving – under what conditions can family members’ contributions be combined for recognition? Can donors request that their giving be combined for a “family total” recognition listing? If so, does each member record also get listed at the family total level?
    Example: Susan Smith and Jane Baker are sisters. Each gives, with their spouses, $125,000.
    a. Can they request a memorial listing for their father at $250,000?
    b. If so, then is each sister with spouse additionally listed at the $125,000 level?
    c. Can each sister with spouse request to be listed at the $250,000 level?
  9. Corporate giving influenced by individuals – under what circumstances is an individual credited with company giving? Must they own the company, or can they be influencers?
    Example: Tom Tanker is a top executive of XYZ Corporation. He is able to direct a certain amount of charitable dollars from XYZ, and plans to direct those dollars to your campaign. He considers the contribution from XYZ as payment toward his personal overall campaign commitment.
  10. Any other pledges or promises which cannot be recorded for your financial statements – Are there circumstances under which a commitment which is not recordable for the purposes of financial reporting should be counted toward a donor’s campaign commitment for recognition? Challenge pledges can present some real reporting and recognition headaches.
    Example: Joe Board Member has made a conditional commitment to the campaign – he’ll fulfill his pledge if you raise a certain amount by a certain date. You expect the conditions to be met to enable his giving but those conditions prevent us from recording the pledge on our financials. Do you list him for recognition at his commitment level before you receive the contributions, like you would a traditional pledge, or only after the cash has been received?

Communicating Your Policies – Be sure to document the answers to these questions. Then communicate these decisions and policies to your volunteer solicitors and development officers.

Heller Consulting specializes in fundraising operations and technology, with a special focus on Blackbaud’s Raiser’s Edge® fundraising software. Through their experience at over 400 organizations across the nation, they’ve developed a clear, sound process for optimizing clients’ use of the Raiser’s Edge® software. For more information, visit www.teamheller.com.

The mark Raiser’s Edge® is a registered trademark of Blackbaud, Inc. Heller Consulting, Inc. is an independent consulting firm and as such is neither sponsored nor endorsed by Blackbaud, Inc.


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 info@cdsfunds.com.