Fundraising Imitates Art: 6 Tips From a Musician's Capital Campaign
Alone, needing money to do a new project, without a development director or fundraising systems. No gift history. No fundraising experience. Just a big idea for a music project that promised to do what art does so well: get people thinking differently about an important topic—in this case, war.
That describes musician and composer Theresa Wong.
So, when she called to ask me for advice about how to raise $7,000 to fund her project, I scratched my head.
Could I really apply my years of capital campaign experience to her project when she had so few of the standard tools at her disposal?
Being a sucker for a challenge, I agreed to help Theresa. And for the next three months, we spoke every week, as step by step she put together a miniature version of a capital campaign.
By the time it was over, Theresa had raised nearly $15,000. She created her project, “The Unlearning.” It premiered in New York and again in San Francisco.
Here’s the model we used. It worked for Theresa. If you’re planning a capital campaign, it’ll work for you too—even if your campaign goal has a few more zeros.
1. Clarify Your Fundraising Goals
When Theresa started, she was afraid that she couldn’t raise much money. She set her goal at $7,000. But when I asked what her ideal project would cost, the answer was closer to $15,000. So we upped the goal to what it would actually take to complete her project.
You probably have the same challenge. Many nonprofit organizations do.
Are you low-balling what you really need? If so, raise the goal. It’ll be easier than coming up short for your project. And if need be, you can lower the goal later.
2. Write a Draft of Your Case for Support
This took Theresa some time. And it’ll be tough for you too. The writing process forces you to become clear, not only about what you want to raise money for but also about what impact it will have.
Start with a simple Word document of two to four pages, and aim to capture the essentials of what you’re raising money for and why it matters. It’s got to be clear, simple and compelling.
It might sound easy, but you’ll find that writing simple prose can actually be tougher. It forces you to become crystal clear in your thinking. And for most of us, that kind of clarity is hard won.
3. Develop a Gift Range Chart
Even for Theresa’s little campaign, a gift range chart, like the one below, was a must. You may know it as a “donor pyramid.” Her top gift was $3,000 (or 20 percent of her goal). Then she needed a gift of $2,000, three gifts of $1,000 and so on down. As I said, it was a little chart for a little goal. But for Theresa, it might as well have been $1,500,000. It’s only a question of zeros!
You probably know this chart as something to fit into your donor package, but it’s not just a side sauce. It’s the real tamale. Most everything in a capital campaign hinges on your chart. Who you ask, how you ask them, how you communicate with people, how you thank them, and, most of all, where you invest your time—it all stems from the chart.
4. List Prospects by Giving Level
Theresa was doing fine until we reached this part. Creating a list of people she knew who could give gifts of the amounts in her chart stopped her cold. She told me in no uncertain terms that all of her friends were artists, and she didn’t know anyone at all who could or would give $3,000 or $2,000 or any of those triple-zero gifts.
But, little by little, as we talked about people she knew and people who cared about her and her project, a list of reasonable prospects took shape.
Theresa’s response is common. One of my nonprofit clients recently sent me an email that reminded me of Theresa. He doesn’t think they know anyone who can give at the top of the chart. But if experience is a guide, as my client starts to think more carefully about who he knows and why they might care, his list of top prospects will grow too.
5. Contact Your Best Prospects
Now, if coming up with the list was hard for my young friend, you can imagine her response when I told her she’d have to go ask for gifts in person, face to face. And, to make matters worse, she’d have to ask for specific gift amounts on the chart.
But what I’ve learned about people who elect to spend their lives as artists is that they’ve got courage! And Theresa had courage.
So, with a good deal of coaching and hand-holding, she started approaching the people on her list of top donors.
Perhaps, like you, the people she felt the most uncomfortable about were the ones who were closest to her. But she mustered her courage and approached her parents, siblings and immediate friends. And once she started, she found that they were willing to give—and that they were pleased that she had asked them for help.
6. Follow Up With Every Donor
As the gifts for Theresa started to come in, the work shifted from the anxiety-filled task of asking to the joy of keeping her donors connected.
She stayed in touch with everyone. And as the first New York performance drew closer, she even reached out to her California donors and invited them to the performance.
I’ll never forget the party after her show. So many of the people who had supported her project flew all the way across the country for the performance and celebrated with her afterwards. They were proud to have been part of her project.
That fundraising was a first for Theresa. But the relationships with her friends and supporters only grew, making it possible for her to invite them to participate in many other projects.
Now doesn’t that sound like just what you hope for at the end of your campaign to raise many millions?
Andrea Kihlstedt is an innovative leader and expert in capital campaign fundraising. She wrote "Capital Campaigns: Strategies That Work (4th ed)," often referred to as the “bible” of capital campaign fundraising. She founded Capital Campaign Masters and co-founded Capital Campaign Toolkit, an online capital campaign resource and platform.