Hands on Means Hands Down (Victory, That Is!)

It has become increasingly clear to me with each capital campaign I am involved with, that the single most important determining factor in the magnitude of success is the level and intensity of involvement by principals of the organization—both professional staff and volunteers. That is, I find a direct correlation between the level of success of a campaign and the level of personal involvement of the leaders.

The difference is striking when the top leaders of an organization take personal responsibility for the success of their campaign—that’s right, personal responsibility. First, they make a more sacrificial gift themselves, and then they serve as passionate, convincing and persuasive advocates for the effort. They make an extraordinary number of gift requests, challenging others to consider once-in-a-lifetime commitments and getting them. Besides just asking for gifts, they also recruit donors to serve as volunteers and spokespersons for the campaign, turning every donor into a public relations asset for the organization. They create atmosphere. They provide energy and enthusiasm. They make the project come to life. In short, they get results. Why? Because people give to people.

I recently have had a wonderful experience of this sort—that is of leading from the front, rather than cheering from the rear. We are currently serving as campaign counsel on a parish campaign in Virginia. The campaign goal is $2,000,000. There are 662 registered families in the parish. The annual income for 2002 was approximately $297,000. To date, the pastor has personally visited 117 families in their homes to make a personal and specific gift request. So far, there have been 108 gift decisions resulting in 104 gifts totaling $1,912,590. That is a 96% rate of participation (number of “yes” answers from decisions made) with an average gift of $18,390. We “kick-off” the campaign parish-wide next week, then, over the next eight weeks, we will personally visit another 50 families and have group meetings to make requests of the remaining families in the parish.

Why have the results been so dramatic? Why has the campaign nearly reached its goal before even being announced to the majority of the parish? Why has the campaign raised nearly 650% of its 2002 annual income from just the first 104 gifts? Why is the rate of participation so high? Why is there such a high average gift in an average income area? Why is there incredible energy and excitement among volunteers?

Because of the personal, hands-on leadership of the pastor. Period.

Let me place this in context. I reviewed 16 comparable parish campaigns that met or exceeded their fundraising goals by conducting a normal fundraising campaign without extraordinary personal involvement of the pastor. I found startling differences in results! First, for the complete campaign, these parishes raised an average of 372% of their annual income. Second, not quite 3% of all gifts received were $25,000 or more, yet those gifts represented 47% of all funds raised.

While the campaign in my example is not yet complete, it appears likely to raise at least $2,500,000. That represents nearly 850% of annual income—a truly extraordinary feat. Likewise, gifts of $25,000 and above are significantly above norms, as is the cumulative total raised from donations at that level.

This is the case because of the impassioned leadership of the pastor, the leader of the organization. Father recruited a group of parishioners to help guide the process of building a new church—a much-needed new church! Then he solicited and recruited a number of key parishioners to help with the fundraising for the new church. These leaders compiled a priority list of parishioners from whom to seek support with those deemed most financially capable being asked first, then on down the list in a prioritized, serial order. This served not only to get the most influential and highly regarded parishioners involved early (which created credibility for the project), but also raised the standard for fundraising. It achieved the high rate of participation and high average gift—which attracted other “yes” answers and higher gifts (success begets success). The pastor has brought persuasion, logic and passion to the process and it has become irresistibly infectious!

When we begin a campaign, we always ask that the effort be a “top institutional priority,” if it is to succeed. This is clearly one of the best examples of “top institutional priority” I have ever been fortunate enough to witness. When we began the campaign, the pastor asked that I define exactly what that term (“top institutional priority”) meant. I told him it meant a commitment from him to buy into the campaign plan, to make more than a token number of gift requests personally (I asked him to make as many as 75 personal visits!), and to be the chief advocate, spiritual leader and recruiter for the campaign.

Further, I explained it meant a commitment of resources—money to produce quality campaign literature, volunteers, space, and pulpit time. Father gladly met and exceeded every request and the results are plain for everyone to see. In fact, he went one better! In every presentation he spoke of his personal conviction that this was as important a challenge as the parish had ever faced and asked each person to clearly understand the needs (in detail), buy into the vision, and believe in and participate in the process to achieve that vision. Father asked for pride—pride in the process and the outcome. Father spoke of personal responsibility—then demonstrated by being the first to give and carrying the biggest workload. Father led this campaign from the front, not pushed from the rear.

I share this with you because of the way in which this experience has touched me personally. I often speak of the importance of commitment and leadership in a fundraising campaign, but rarely see such a wonderful example of total commitment. It makes all the difference to an organization undertaking an extraordinary effort such as a capital campaign. My belief is that if an organization decides to conduct a capital campaign, they should derive every benefit from the process. That is, they should raise the money they need, but also build a sense of community and a singleness of purpose within their constituents. The vision and the victory should be shared and they should experience leadership from the front.

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