What does it mean to have a successful campaign? Clearly, reaching or exceeding the dollar goal is a significant and meaningful measure. Winning campaigns, however, create, multiple and diverse ripples of activity throughout an organization which help it become stronger and better able to fulfill its mission.
I directed a successful capital campaign for Habitat for Humanity of Dane County, based in Madison, Wisconsin, where both the dollar goal was exceeded and capacity-building was increased in other arenas of the organization. “The campaign really raised our sights. We knew we had a good plan for expanding our services, but were uncertain about how to fund our vision. Our CDS campaign director gave us direction and helped us focus on leadership and major gifts. He showed us that we could get it done,” says Dane County Habitat Executive Director Brian Miller.
When I met Brian and his board, I quickly saw that the primary focus of fundraising had been grant-writing and the potential for major gifts sought from individuals had been largely unrealized. Building relationships with individuals who could channel significant dollars to the agency was considered lower on the priority list than writing a significant number of grants. My goal in raising sights (and keeping them high) was to help build confidence and encourage everyone to become more proactive in major gifts fundraising by developing these relationships. It didn’t take long for Brian and his key board members to feel and, ultimately, embrace the power of success as prospects became donors.
Our diligent work in the corporate sector focused on involving corporations in Habitat through their contribution of both dollars and volunteers. This strategy provided the additional benefit of enhancing the agency’s networks.
“Not only did we get major gifts from the many corporations we approached, but we began to see that their corporate leadership could be part of Habitat’s leadership. We have asked several to join our board and committees to contribute through their visioning, organizational skills, knowledge of real estate, or financial background,” Miller adds.
After working with Habitat for a short time, I began to understand that the $3.5 million campaign in which we were engaged was the final step in the agency’s transition from an organization run by volunteers to one managed by professionals. Creating a smooth transition demanded special attention and care and Miller handled the job well.
But the staff and workload increased rapidly as the campaign’s success attracted significant dollars and additional volunteers. Suddenly there was more work to be done than sending acknowledgements and receipts. We needed to review and strengthen internal systems.
We began the process by hiring a campaign assistant who would become the development director after the campaign ended. The strengthening continued with additions in the program area and field staff at work sites.
Responding to this shift, Brian Miller says, “The organizational picture changed significantly during the year of our campaign. I felt stretched thinly at times making presentations, but I was exhilarated when another prospect said ‘yes’ to our appeal. Having CDS here to train our campaign assistant in all aspects of development and to talk through ideas was helpful in assuring that what we had achieved would continue after the campaign was over.”
One of my concerns revolved around the pledge redemption process so it would work smoothly and effectively. After researching appropriate options, Habitat decided to purchase Blackbaud’s Raiser’s Edge software to help manage the process. Another important issue that needed handling involved the delivery of in-kind gifts. We needed field crews to be ready to accept a donated load of rafters or a truck filled with cement.
“We were able to work through these kinds of organizational issues to ensure we had the internal systems in place to capitalize on the achievements of the previous year. We completed our active campaigning three months ago and I can see already that we have the infrastructure in place to support our increased activity,” Brian Miller says.
A major benefit of campaigns is the opportunity to meet many new people. As we developed new relationships, we corrected misconceptions, showed the value of partnership, demonstrated that support of the agency was good for the community, and provided a worthy place to invest philanthropic dollars. This was not something that I did—volunteers involved in the campaign made these achievements happen. While I created some wonderful relationships myself, it was fulfilling to see an organization and its leaders following the campaign plan and reaping the reward of relationships and friends. Those relationships are now being nurtured by Habitat’s board members and staff.
“I was pleased to see how the campaign plan unfolded; how CDS trained us in major gift solicitation, gave us the help we needed, went on visits (especially early on) with us, and kept track of the details. We now have a group of seasoned campaigners among board members who know how to get the gift,” Miller adds.
What were the results of the campaign? We raised our $5 million on our $3.5 million goal. Habitat for Humanity of Dane County has a vision for major gifts fundraising, new leadership is getting the necessary experience and training, systems are in place to ensure good stewardship of gifts and people, and new relationships are developing. And the money really is a means to an end—more people are being served through the mission than ever before. That’s what it’s all about!