Are You Ready for A Campaign?

Michelle A. Turman, MA, CFRE

One of the most common objections to beginning a capital campaign is that the organizational leaders do not feel they are “ready” to begin. How do you know if your organization is indeed ready for a campaign? It’s best to begin with the needs: Are there clear needs that must be funded? Do you know for sure you need to raise extraordinary funds (those funds other than regular or annual fundraising)? If so, is there a sense of urgency toward raising those funds? If the answer to those questions is “Yes” then you are ready!

An organization’s financial needs may not always appear in a timely or convenient fashion. In fact, many organizations have ongoing capital needs that only increase or accrue over time. Unfortunately, however, they rarely go away and they will not be taken care of by time alone. To meet needs, you must fundraise.

My experience has been that a capital fundraising effort is often the perfect lightning rod for getting an organization “ready.” A campaign requires the organization to formulate a compelling “case” or needs statement, thus focusing the leaders’ energy. A campaign compels the organization to recruit leadership to conduct the effort. A campaign leads the organization to identify, research, evaluate, cultivate and solicit prospects. And, finally, a campaign forces the organization to develop a plan. Completing these four activities prepares an organization to conduct a successful campaign.

Understanding that, let’s examine a few of the most often heard objections to beginning a capital campaign and how those objections relate to the four elements of a successful capital campaign list above:

We need to develop a stronger Board of Directors before we start a capital campaign.
A capital campaign is the perfect Board development tool. Experience shows that donors and volunteers willing to give of their time, talent and treasure during a capital effort often make the very best recruits for new Board members. Why? Because they are now invested in the organization and its successful implementation of its mission. They have given, and want to ensure their giving is not in vain.

We need to have a better/bigger/more experienced development staff before we start a campaign.
If the organization is going to spend resources on hiring development professionals, why not do it as part of a capital effort where they can be evaluated during intensive fundraising? It is better to bring in new staff as part of a capital campaign so they might be part of the fundraising team, establish working relationships with Board members and volunteers and be given a “running start” to their ongoing fundraising efforts.

We don’t have the money to start a campaign.
If this is the case, you do not have the leisure of not starting a campaign. While there is often an initial outlay of cash to fund a feasibility study and the first few months of a campaign, the return far outweighs the investment. A well-run, effective and successful capital campaign costs pennies for each dollar raised and is the most efficient fundraising an organization can conduct.

The economy is bad – nobody can afford to give now

There is no “perfect” time to begin an effort. However, an organization’s needs aren’t reduced because of a downturn in the economy. If anything they increase. Further, the competition for charitable donations increases dramatically during weak economic times. Therefore, the organizations that are most aggressive about raising money will rise above others. A capital campaign is often the best response to those needs. If you are serious about the need to raise money, begin the process by organizing a steering committee of Board members, volunteers and Staff to closely examine your organization’s needs. List those needs in a prioritized order and put realistic costs with them and associate those needs to the mission of the organization. Draw up a wish list of leaders in the community and discuss possible networking options. Begin the process of compiling a list of prospective donors for later evaluation. Finally, contact fundraising counsel and START RAISING MONEY!

Catalyst Consulting Services (CCS) is a consulting firm specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits.  If you have a fundraising question, please call CCS at 813-839-2282 or send an email mturman@catalystcs.org