“Proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance.” – Paul Paris, father & mentor
As an executive leader at your nonprofit organization, and for your entire staff, gearing up to run a capital campaign is an exciting time. You’re preparing to realize your nonprofit’s vision. To succeed, it’s important to get as campaign-ready as possible. Preparing for something as large as a capital campaign isn’t something you can do halfway.
Prior planning increases your chances of success. And the sooner you start planning, the better.
How to Get Started
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to getting campaign ready. What’s right for an organization in their first campaign multi-million dollar campaign likely won’t be right for one that has successfully completed three or four multi-billion-dollar campaigns.
The team you need to select depends in part on the gaps you have in your own organization. If you have done quite a bit of fundraising over the last five to ten years, you likely have a robust in-house group. You also likely have a strategic plan you’re working from. An organization earlier in their major fundraising journey may have one, both, or neither.
For this reason, don’t think of getting campaign-ready as a list of checkboxes. Instead, look at it as a series of items, each of which exists on a spectrum. You’ll need to consider each item in the list, but the degree of effort required will vary depending on your unique situation. These key items include:
- Developing a strategic plan — starts the vision-shaping process
- Finding your fundraising consultant — helps bring the vision to life via funding
- Choosing your branding consultant — helps clarify the vision and how to communicate it
Develop a Strategic Plan
Your organization’s strategic plan can be anything from a one-pager to the back of a napkin to a substantial three-ring binder (if you go for this version, make sure to have a simplified back-of-the-napkin version — it’ll help bring clarity for you and your team). It all depends on the size and complexity of your organization. Whether it takes a couple hours or a couple months to develop, you’ll be able to refer back to your strategic plan again and again to make sure you’re staying on track.
As you develop this plan, think big. Be bold. It’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae, but stepping back and considering the larger picture will be essential when crafting it. Consider the vision you have for your organization and how it will be shaped by your upcoming campaign. After all, you’re not raising money to build a building — you’re raising money for the lives you’ll save and the world you’ll change within this building. It’s okay to get fired up about that change. You can ground yourself later.
Once you have a strategic plan in place, you’ll have a better idea of how extensive your goals and how aggressive your fundraising targets need to be. Now you can consider who to hire as a fundraising consultant.
Select a Fundraising Consultant
You may already have a team in place that can run a capital campaign, but there will be gaps to fill. This is where a technical fundraising consultant comes in. They’ll be able to provide resources you don’t have at your fingertips. They’ll also be able to deploy those resources quickly, instead of your organization having to build them in-house. That means you’ll get the information you need faster.
It’s crucial to find the right people to help your organization meet its capital campaign goals. This doesn’t mean just choosing folks with the right experience. You must also find a fundraising consultant who has great chemistry with your organization. Without this connection, your partnership may still succeed, but it won’t be as successful. After all, if you have chemistry, you’re going to enjoy working together. Because you enjoy working together, your consultant is going to go out of their way to help you. With chemistry also comes trust, and if you trust your partners, you’re going to be able to take this journey with them.
You know what chemistry feels like. But what feeds that chemistry? So many things. And it’s not just personality, which is a huge component on its own. You must also consider if the people you’re interviewing as consultants are strategic and truly smart about fundraising. Do they have their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the modern world [of fundraising]? Do you all “get” each other. Are you just another number?
Evaluate Consultants and Board Members
It’s essential to make sure any consultants or new board members would not only be a good strategic partner, but that they also have a clean bill of (social) health.
The beauty and the downside of the growth of social media is that transparency has now become a non-negotiable norm. If you hire someone with a troubled background on social issues, like racism and sexism in the workplace, the truth will come out — and it will spread like wildfire through social media. Check their truth.
To build momentum, you have to look at the foundation to make sure you run the organization with integrity. Who you align with reflects on your organization. Your brand and the associated mission and values must have real meaning or you’ll be crucified.
That means diversity, equity, and inclusion must be baked into the DNA of your organization. That includes everything from how the organization’s mission is operationalized, to the org’s values, to the talent you attract, retain, and develop — and even the kinds of donors and donations you accept.
It also includes your board. There are many different types of board members, and each one is appropriate for a different phase of an organization’s growth. When you’re entering a capital campaign, you must focus on building a fundraising board. That is, you need to develop a board that can so passionately represent the campaign that the people in their network are tripping over themselves to get involved and write checks.
Who might that be? Consider donors that are simply well-connected. You should also consider those that represent the beneficiaries, or those volunteers who consistently show up to do the work.
Build Your Brand
Your brand is essentially your a visual identity wrapped around your messaging, and it’s one of the most crucial elements of a successful campaign.
Creating a thoughtful, well-developed brand (or brands) is a key step in getting campaign ready. Creating your campaign brand should begin around the time you have at least a broad idea of the amount you’ll need to raise. Doing this exercise will be so vision-clarifying that it will help clarify any gaps and ultimately rally your stakeholders.
Finding the right brand partner is similar to finding the right fundraising consultant: There is no one-size-fits all solution. There are few that truly specialize in branding, messaging, strategy, and naming for capital campaigns, but the right one can dramatically impact the success of your campaign.
A memorable brand that helps your message remain in the minds of those who encounter it again and again will result in a campaign message that sticks. And a sticky campaign brand means a successful campaign.
Putting it All Together
Remember, your campaign is about your vision for the future of your organization — and the world. As soon as you know you’ll be running a campaign, you should immediately start your roadmapping. If you plan properly, you’ll not only prevent “piss-poor performance,” but the campaign (and its execution) will really sing.