Below is a follow-up by Gail Perry and Andrea Kihlstedt to a handful of questions submitted by participants during the October 8, 2013, webinar “Capital Campaigns for the 21st Century: What's New and What's Not.” To view the presentation or listen to the recording of the webinar, please click here. We've posted even more answers to your questions from Gail and Andrea on our Tumblr here.
Question: When donor attrition starts to set in, what are ways that an organization can revitalize the base to prepare for a capital campaign?
Answer: Donor attrition and preparing for your capital campaign are two quite distinct issues. If your donors are leaving you, you should spend some time and energy to figure out which segment(s) of your list are fleeing and why. If the attrition is apparent among your top donors—those with the ability to give the largest gifts—then you’ve got a problem that relates to your capital campaign You’ve GOT to find out why and correct the situation before you launch your campaign.
Question: Regarding the quiet phase: does that mean you can’t announce the campaign even if you are not soliciting large gifts publicly?
Answer: In most campaigns, you solicit the large gifts quietly, without fanfare or announcements. People feel special when you talk with them early and when you still have some flexibility in what you are doing. It’s wise not to announce a campaign publicly until your key gifts have been committed. In reality, these lines between what’s public and what’s not are blurry. Throughout the quiet phase of the campaign you actually want people talking and building excitement about what’s going on. You just don’t want big public fanfare.
Question: Is the advice given in this presentation applicable to endowment/comprehensive campaigns that do NOT include capital for construction?
Answer: Though comprehensive campaigns have some specific characteristics you should understand, they generally follow the same rules as simpler building campaigns. If building the endowment is going to be part of your campaign, you should think carefully about how you will state your campaign goals and how you will count planned gifts. You might, for example, include as a campaign goal that you will get xxx number of people to include your organization in their estate plan. That’s what we call “an activity goal” rather than a dollar goal. You will also need a complete set of gift accounting policies for planned gifts.
Including your annual operating goals for the campaign period is common practice in academic campaigns. It’s a great way of giving a role for everyone in a large alumni-driven donor base. I find the practice confusing, but not everyone agrees with me (AK). This should be the subject of a longer blog post.
Question: Can nonprofits complete their own feasibility study or does an outside party need to do that? How important are they?
Answer: We believe that you should hire an outside consultant to complete your feasibility study. Not only are consultants experienced in the capital campaign business and interviewing donors for this purpose, but people will often tell consultants things they would hesitate to say to you. Finally, an enthusiastic, optimistic report from an outside consultant about the potential of your campaign will give your board and donors alike the confidence they need.
A word of warning: be careful not to hire a consulting firm until you are ready! You don’t want to spend lots of money on consultants just to have them say you’re not ready. For more on this, sign up for our free webinar. Registration link: http://capitalcampaignmagic.com/free-webinar-planning-a-capital-campaign/
Question: How do you find someone to run a capital campaign?
Answer: Capital campaigns need three kinds of people: 1) experienced consultants to make sure the campaign is structured for success; 2) someone who really understands major gifts fundraising—because that’s primarily what a campaign’s success depends on; 3) someone who is great at managing details of all sorts. How do you find them? I’d start by talking to people in your community or in related organizations that have done campaigns and get an active grapevine going. These days grapevines are even more effective than ever!
Question: What can an organization do that operates in a rural area, competing with a larger city nearby, with only a few large donors that has been running a capital campaign for three years and are still a long way away from getting the funds they need?
Answer: You might consider pausing the campaign and taking a close look at what your campaign’s potential really is. Have someone come in from the outside to help you assess where you are and to help you reframe your goal so you can claim success...even if it’s not the success you thought you were going to have.
When a campaign just peters out or gets stuck, it’s not healthy for the organization. Better to claim success. Work on building new relationships with major donors and then one or two or three years later finishing up the original intention in a new, smaller campaign.
Andrea Kihlstedt is the author & co-founder, AskingMatters.com and Gail Perry is the founder of Fired Up! Fundraising.