5 Capital Campaign Myths Debunked
Many of the concerns people have about capital campaigns—and the majority of mistakes they make during campaigns—can be laid at the foot of five common capital campaign myths.
However, once you understand the facts, you will be less stressed and more likely to succeed.
Myth No. 1: We Must Finalize All the Details.
We have to tie down all the details before we start our capital campaign.
No, you don’t want your prospective donors to think your plans are half-baked! But think again…
If your plans are already complete when you talk to your largest donors, it’ll be hard to involve them.
Think about it from your donors’ point-of-view. Wouldn’t you like to be asked for your opinion long before you were asked for money?
Yes, capital campaigns are about raising money. More importantly, though, they’re about finding donors who are passionately involved with your project—and that needs to happen long before your plans are finalized.
Myth No. 2: We Need a Professional Brochure First.
We need a professionally-produced, full-color brochure describing our project BEFORE we can start raising the largest gifts.
This isn’t true at all—most of the largest campaign gifts are made during informal conversations, and the only “props” involved are blueprints and drafts of documents.
Sound far-fetched? Think again.
Your largest gifts will be solicited by your capital campaign’s “insiders”—people who are already experts on your project. They won’t need a fancy brochure to guide those conversations. And if you’ve set up your campaign right, the largest donors will know a great deal about the project before they are asked for their gift.
So, neither the solicitors nor the largest donors need fancy brochures!
You will need brochures, though, when you move into the campaign’s public phase. That’s the period in you campaign when you will broaden the number of people asking for gifts. Those people won’t be complete experts on your project, and they won’t necessarily have a lot of experience asking for gifts. A brochure, then, will be a real Godsend for them!
The good news for your bottom line: You don’t need to spend the money on brochures or other high-end capital campaign materials until after you’ve received commitments for most of your lead gifts.
Myth No. 3: Rich People Will Give Us Money.
Rich people, even strangers to our nonprofit, are going to give us money.
This is a critical lesson: People don’t give just because they have money!
Yes, they have to have money in order to give it. But the reverse is simply not true.
To qualify as a capital campaign lead or major donor, a person must have:
The Ability to make a gift
A Belief in your mission
A direct Contact with your organization
Without A, B and C, you’re relying on the wrong kind of magical thinking!
For a great exercise using this method to qualify donors, download "The ABCs of Identifying Prospects." It’s from my most recent book, "Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise More Money."
Myth No. 4: 'No' Means 'Never!'
“No” means “not now—not ever.”
“No” is, very frequently, the first step to “Yes.”
For example, imagine you’ve developed a list of 20 people to approach about serving on your capital campaign’s steering committee. When you ask them, eight say yes; the others decline.
You’re not going to ignore the twelve people who declined! Instead, these individuals are ripe for a next step—perhaps serving on another committee or being a volunteer solicitor and, of course, making a gift.
So start seeing NO as a step along the process of a successful capital campaign. Gentle persistence and a positive attitude in the face of NO, are two of the primary skills you’re going to need to make it happen—and taking the sting out of NO will radically decrease your stress.
Learn more in this post: "5 Simple Tips to Make Your Asks Easy and Effective."
Myth No. 5: The Key Is Lots of Small Gifts.
We can raise our capital campaign goal by getting lots of people to give us lots of small gifts.
WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!
We hear this over and over again:
We need to raise $500,000—so we just need to find 500 people to give us $1,000 each, right?
Again, it’s just not true! Here’s how your campaign will work.
Your top gift should amount to 15 percent, or even 20 percent of your total goal. Half of your goal, or even as much as 70 percent, needs to come from your top ten gifts. Then, the rest will come from lots of donors giving you lots of smaller gifts.
Capital campaign fundraising has used this formula for a long time for good reason — it works!
Don’t be mislead by someone who tells you that you can raise a lot of money from a lot of small gifts—unless some fluke like the “Ice Bucket Challenge” hits your organization, that’s just not going to happen!
5 Ways to Ensure Your Capital Campaign is a Success
So if you’re planning a capital campaign, get the basics right:
Start talking early on. Start talking to your donors early, while you are still in the planning stages.
Skip the fancy brochure. Don’t worry about creating a glossy brochure. You won’t need it for a good long time.
Determine your strongest prospects. Make a list of the people who have financial resources and already know and love you. They’ll be the ones to make your campaign successful.
Ask often and repeatedly. Ask enough people for enough things so that you hear “NO” lots of times. Then go back to those people and ask for something else. Saying “NO” the first time sets them up to say “YES.”
Focus on your top 10. Remember that roughly half of your entire campaign will come from ten donors. Focus your attention there! Like Willie Sutton famously answered when asked why he robbed banks, “That’s where the money is.”
Questions? Leave a comment below or send me an email. I’m happy to offer further advice.
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.