I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up

As much as we plan, plan, plan, there inevitably comes a time in most capital campaigns when activity slows dramatically. I have wrestled with this phenomenon and have found several helpful solutions or “fixes”. My hope is these might be of use to you, as well.

There are few things more frustrating in a capital campaign than losing valuable momentum. Properly planned campaigns should get off to a quick start because of the types of gifts solicited during the early phase. Typically, there is a great deal of excitement after finishing a feasibility study and interest has been raised in the project. You have a good sense of who your best prospects are and how to solicit their support. These early prospects are those financially capable of giving the largest gifts and bringing their friends, family and others to the campaign. Therefore, you tend to raise significant funds early and leverage those gifts by recruiting others. All of a sudden, you are off and running, excitement builds and expectations are raised.

Then comes the REAL work. You begin to broaden the base of the campaign by identifying larger numbers of prospects, researching those prospects, evaluating the research and, prioritizing them into categories of how they can help. Now it begins to take more and more volunteers (who, of course, are donors themselves) to get out and solicit support. This is where the campaign should take on its own vigorous life. Increased solicitations bring increasing number of gifts, albeit at lower and lower levels. You now should have raised a significant percentage of your goal and the campaign is on easy street, right? Wrong!

I have repeatedly seen campaigns lose momentum at this stage. Why? Because they are often the victim of their early successes. Volunteers start to feel it’s not as important as it once was to carry out their assignments in a timely manner. I have often been told by very generous, very committed campaign volunteers that the campaign is going to reach its goal anyway, so why the urgency? They no longer feel their personal commitment is key to the success of the campaign. This could not be more wrong!

An impasse such as this becomes a crucial moment in the life of a campaign. Those first, largest, most likely prospects have already been solicited. A much higher degree of effort will be needed to sustain the fundraising effort. Therefore it is important to properly educate your volunteers and campaign leaders in advance to the ebb and flow of a campaign, so they recognize and understand the phenomenon when it occurs.

There are several ways to combat a slow-down situation. One of the first things I like to do is find 2-3 key leaders who are highly regarded by other volunteers and urge them privately to help motivate others. In this case, you are co-opting their credibility with the other volunteers and making it work in the campaign’s favor. I ask them to call the other volunteers and express their concerns about the slow-down in campaign activities, and to personally urge their colleagues to commit to finishing their campaign assignments and tasks.

Another good tool is to herald any campaign accomplishments. Send a daily fax to every campaign volunteer highlighting recent gifts or campaign milestones. Send e-mails and text messages to volunteers, publicly congratulating one of their colleagues for a campaign success, urging everyone else to action. Communication is the key to increasing campaign activities.

In campaigns with which I have been recently involved, I see less and less of the “slow-down effect” mainly because we now recognize the inevitability of it and have prepared our clients in advance. I select a couple of key volunteers upon whom I can count to complete their tasks in a timely, effective manner. I increase their workload and encourage them to “carry” the campaign through the anticipated slow period. This way, the other volunteers observe this sustained activity and are more likely to be encouraged to complete their own assignments.

Another scenario to be aware of is the “battle of the calendar”. While September through December are perhaps the strongest fundraising months of the year, July and August, without your professional vigilance, will be the most challenging in which to generate activity. January may be slow as people recuperate after the holidays, but February through June are rich fundraising months. Therefore, advance planning is in order. During these slow months, I plan activities that will continue to move the campaign forward but are less volunteer-dependant. Getting out foundation and corporate requests are good activities as they are often staff driven. By getting out a flood of foundation and corporate requests while little other activity is going on, you show your volunteers progress, raise significant funds and leverage the activities to get volunteers back on track for the busy fundraising months to come.

In the end, though, success begets success. Giving extra effort to getting a particularly tough appointment or closing a substantial open request at a higher than expected level are key ways to pick up the pace again. These are re-energizing accomplishments that will motivate your volunteers to feel that their own particular assignments will be easy in comparison. Also, they will want to feel like they have contributed to the celebration of these campaign successes.

Finally, nothing beats good organization. Write your campaign plan to address the considerations discussed above. Plan, plan, plan and you will be successful, successful, successful!

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