When Do You Break Ground?
Last week I visited with two prospective clients. They both are looking at a capital campaign. Both are taking the proper steps to get ready–including an essential campaign planning study.
Both asked, “When can we break ground?”
“When you have raised most of the money you hope to,” I responded.
Granted, we are very conservative. And I would like to think strategically.
We typically have a client go public on a major campaign when it hits 75 percent of the goal.
We don’t like strategy that has grassroots or community gifts taking them to the goal—we love plans that have grassroots or community gifts taking them over the goal!
As a consultant with another great firm, I worked on a few campaigns where the building project that was the campaign’s goal was in operation—they had leveraged debt. The campaign had not hit goal, and CEOs eager for a boost began construction. It was an ego decision, not strategic. The campaigns had been active for years when I got involved. In two of the three we were able to raise significant additional gifts.
But it took a lot of work, some tough conversations and another year of fundraising. Had the client initially orchestrated these campaigns correctly, campaigns that had a three-year length would have ended after a year—probably with more funds raised. In the two successful projects, they were community-born and key leaders had been involved. The third project never did get traction, because the organization did not involve the community originally or stress the importance of philanthropy as a part of the financial model. It just took an entrepreneurial approach and leveraged debt.
One community where I lived still has the shell of a museum gracing its downtown. The museum began construction without sufficient funds to complete the building—and frankly, without the proper planning because it is probably being far overbuilt and is not sustainable. The construction did not give donors confidence—it had the opposite effect. The then CEO soon left–it pains me to say to become a consultant. And 10 years later, the shell remains.
The messages you send early on in a project’s development, the leaders you involve, how you plan for and implement a campaign and when you break ground all impact the success of a major fundraising campaign.
Throughout a campaign, if people think the project is taken care of—by the organization, or other donors or volunteers—they will happily pass and let someone else do it.
Allow your key leaders—and eventually all your major donors—to “own” your project. Make it as much theirs as yours.
Break ground when you have the major gifts you need in hand. Hopefully that means you are right at your goal!
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.