Transformational Fundraising Campaigns
Large-scale problems demand large-scale solutions. In order to dramatically improve outcomes for the constituents and communities they serve, nonprofits are increasingly expanding their thinking and vision to tackle problems they might have deemed beyond their reach five or 10 years ago. The transformational campaigns to fund these initiatives may vary in size, but share the common objective of raising funds at an unprecedented level and dramatically accelerating an organization’s capacity to make change in the world.
So what is needed for a successful transformational campaign? As the number of campaigns in this category rises, it becomes easier to pinpoint the necessary attributes. Transformational campaigns succeed when they:
- Are built on a big idea.
- Harness the vision of inspirational staff and board leaders.
- Have access to prospects with the capacity and affinity to make the lead gift(s).
An unexpected benefit of these campaigns is that they often end up transforming not only the outcomes of an organization, but its whole fundraising operation by creating the foundation for a new, or dramatically expanding an existing, major gifts program.
Revolution Over Evolution
Transformational money requires a transformational idea, not just an incremental improvement. Worthy, though it may be to increase capacity by 5 percent or build a new hospital to replace the old one, this will rarely attract transformational gifts. What is needed to motivate transformational giving is the vision and drive to double the capacity of an organization or replace an old hospital with a whole new state-of-the-art health system.
Those with the capacity to make these transformational gifts want to see the good they are doing and magnify the scale of their impact. Entrepreneurial success, venture capital and private equity investment have created a new class of philanthropists; donors who act like investors and extrapolate their for-profit behaviors when investing in nonprofits, particularly as the gift levels get higher.
Those who have accumulated their wealth via entrepreneurship are committed to the notion that, with a good idea and hard work, change can happen quickly. Venture capitalists have seen how identifying a key differentiator or unmet need in the market can result in 10 times or 100 times in returns on the initial investment. Private equity succeeds when good leaders apply their insights to identify ways to do things better. The common thread is a belief that exponential results are possible—that is what drives this new philanthropy.
Inspirational Staff and Board Leaders
The adage continues to hold true: People give to people. The more inspirational and credible, the larger the investment. Entrepreneurs bet on themselves to succeed, venture capitalists on founders they believe in and private equity investors on their ability to do a better job than the management they’ll replace or partner with. They are accustomed to betting on people and apply this thinking in their philanthropy.
In any campaign, CEOs and board leaders must be willing to engage in active cultivation, solicitation and stewardship to ensure success. For a campaign that strives to be transformational, this is more critical. Campaign leaders need to be both expert in their subject and have a compelling pitch. Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defense Fund, needs to be able to convince a donor that he/she can leverage markets to literally save the word. Vanessa Kirsch, the CEO and founder of New Profit, has to engage donors in the belief that by joining forces with the New Profit community, they can drive change in new and exciting ways. These are the types of leaders who can, and indeed must, attract transformational investments.
Whether inspiring leaders are born or can be made is up for debate. With coaching and practice, anyone can get better at telling a compelling narrative. But authenticity and deep knowledge are fundamentally important, and not just in the CEO. Committed board leaders can also serve very successfully in this role.
Access to Prospects With the Capacity and Affinity to Make the Lead Gift
If a nonprofit’s goal is to realize its big idea and raise an amount larger than it has ever raised before, it will need a lead donor that can make a gift of at least 10 to 20 percent of the total goal. No matter how big the idea or inspirational the leader, a campaign is unlikely to succeed without a line of sight to who that lead donor is. They don’t necessarily need to be a large or historic donor (though it helps if they are), but if they do need to be aware of and have some relationship with the organization.
A campaign with the elements described above can be successful in raising funds that transform an organization’s impact. But it may also transform the organization’s fundraising. Embarking on the campaign will force a new degree of scrutiny and testing of the case for support, compel leadership to become more engaged in and better at fundraising, drive staff training and propel fundraising systems to new levels. New donors and attention provide an enhanced platform for the next campaign. In almost all instances a transformative campaign will break fundraising records and likely set new benchmarks for the top five to 10 gifts ever received. This increased level of investment will encourage bigger asks on an ongoing basis. Success breeds success, and it is important to maintain the fundraising momentum that is built via a campaign of this nature. Keeping this secondary goal in mind throughout the campaign will ensure this potential is realized.
Our society has the ideas, the people and the desire to achieve large-scale change. Transformational investment can resource this change. Nonprofits wishing to tap into these resources should think hard about how best to integrate the elements above in their campaigns.
Craig Shelley (@craigshelley) is a vice president at Orr Associates Inc. (OAI), a consulting firm to the nonprofit industry with offices in New York City and Washington, D.C. He specializes in serving as an integrated fundraising, leadership and strategy partner to leading nonprofits.
Prior to joining OAI, Shelley served in a variety of positions with Boy Scouts of America, most recently as national director of development and corporate alliances. He serves on the board of directors for Association of Fundraising Professionals New York City Chapter and the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York’s Nonprofit Excellence Awards Selection Committee, and is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE).