Build Capacity with Your Capital Campaign

Whether you are considering a capital campaign or are already in one, you can take advantage of momentum, excitement and growth to advance the quality of the governance, effectiveness, program development and fundraising capability of your organization. Making a plan at the beginning of the process will help you to maximize the outcomes from your fundraising efforts.

Here are five areas of activity that you should consider wrapping into your campaign planning. Being proactive in this will give your organization the ability to weather severe storms and succeed beyond imagination under sunny skies.

Develop the Board and its Committees
Many organizations, particularly grassroots ones, are operating under “founder’s boards.” These are boards typically have a very high degree of commitment, some experience in governance practice, and a “hand-to-mouth” view of fundraising. It means generally that they operate in status quo mode, doing the same things this year that worked in previous years. Maintaining the status quo allows the organization to continue its mission, but offers little or no opportunity for change, progress, and breaking out to a new plateau of service.

A capital campaign provides an exciting, compelling impetus to attract new people to the board. In many campaigns, community members are invited to participate. When considered strategically, these additions should be men and women with helpful skills, who may have giving capacity, and/or have significant connections within the community. In these ways, additions to the campaign become prime prospects to be added to the board.

These prospects are often described as people who can bring to the organization at least two, if not three, of the following qualities: wealth, wisdom, work, and the “wow” or influence factor.

Grow the Donor Base
Because successful campaigns focus on affluent people that are often influential and can subsequently make an impact for your organization, you have an opportunity to network to them and through them. You must ask, “Who do you know who should know about us?”

Your Feasibility Study will have opened doors to community leaders who have not previously been involved with your organization. This is a wonderful time to pose a question that opens new networks to you. I have served an organization that everyone vowed “was not well-connected to the community.” Through the Feasibility and Planning Study, we were able to uncover people we did not know and discover that informal networks already existed.

Your donor base also can grow when you contact people who have been hanging on the periphery. These are people who may have had tangential exposure to your organization. Because of the momentum, publicity, and excitement of your campaign, you are in a much better position to capture them—to demonstrate to them the value and importance of giving to the campaign. You just need to reach out.

Raise the Level of Affluence
It only takes one. It only takes one key leadership gift to open the door to more people of affluence. That’s the starting point

In your campaign, you will be asking for gifts that stretch the prospect to consider involvement at a much higher level than they had previously. You not only do this at the highest levels, but you also meet and challenge others at all levels of ability to make a financial commitment. When you compare the average gift size of donors to the campaign with donors to your routine program or annual fund, you quickly realize that the campaign has raised your level of affluence.

It is then important to follow through on the campaign by challenging your newly acquired major donors to continue their giving in support of annual programming. It’s valuable to get the higher gift for the campaign, but how much more valuable to continue a high rate of giving for many years—the lifetime value of the donor is incredible!

Enhance Strategic and Operational Planning 
The process that you employed to come to the decision to conduct a capital campaign must continue in the future. In fact, many organizations are realizing that they will never truly step down from the campaign mode—it is efficient, the need is great, and the community deserves the resulting effect.

I’ve realized over 20 years of fundraising practice that improving the level of affluence on the board and its committees often improves the level of business acumen. And that means people who can help to drive your planning. Planning and execution must be a constant factor for a robust organization. Economies and enhancements go hand in hand.

The campaign is a key development function. It brings knowledge and experience into the everyday activities of your organization. When you plan for it and use it, the result can be an organization that soars like mare’s tails in the sky.

Improve your Fundraising Practice
Maybe this topic should not even be on the list. Too obvious? Probably not.

Here’s what you learn in a campaign: focus on the largest gifts, do the solicitation in person, promote a pledge payment plan, ask for proportional gifts, and more. Gosh, maybe that would work for your annual fund process! In fact, the concepts learned in a campaign can be applied to every form of fundraising. When you listen to Custom Development Solutions (CDS) campaign directors, they all say, “Follow the plan.” It’s not a rote mantra, it’s the truth developed over decades.

In the process of the campaign, you will have enhanced your development function, advanced your knowledge and capabilities with database records and pledge redemption, understood research and planning, and raised the sights of board members. With changes in the board, an expanded prospect pool, larger average gifts, and more forward-thinking planning, your organization can be poised to capture more than a fair market share. A little “blue sky” thinking at the beginning of a campaign can result in many sunny days afterward. Good luck!


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