We talk a lot as fundraisers about listening to a donor and creating giving opportunities that match their interests. That’s important. But just as important is creating giving opportunities that are exciting. The reason why capital campaigns are the most effective way to raise money is that they harness all the tools of box-leaping: visually exciting materials, naming opportunities, volunteer engagement, celebratory events, and a clear goal. You don’t have to launch a capital campaign to employ any of those techniques. But a compelling, multi-year vision is the most important thing.
To get to that vision, step away from your organization’s challenges and ask yourself: what would it take for us to achieve our mission? Or to take a bold, measurable step in that direction?
There is an old fundraising fable about a philanthropist who is on the board of a small, struggling organization, and faithfully writes modest checks every year. The executive director hints at every board meeting about financial need, debt, narrow margins, and slim reserves. The philanthropist makes a million-dollar pledge to an organization across town. Finally, the executive director loses patience. “Why don’t you give US a million dollars?” he asks. The philanthropist replies, “Because you gave me a million-dollar proposal.”
Of course, there are variables in a donor’s life that also affect how much he or she gives. One organization I work for received $100,000 out of the blue from a donor who had given thousand-dollar gifts for many years. She was an artist whose work had recently been recognized. Those surprises are what makes opening the mail exciting. But after the letter opener has been returned to the desk drawer, it’s time to get back to work on that million-dollar vision.
Paul Jolly is a fundraiser, a creativity coach, and a poet. His first book of poems, Why ice cream trucks play Christmas songs, was published recently.