Capital Campaigns in the Perfect Storm
Fundraising is very hard. The amount of time and effort needed for a successful capital campaign is vast. On the internal side, the number of staff, volunteers, board members, campaign leaders and prospects consists of a small army. The focus of the internal organization is keen as priorities and finances are determined. Engage consultants in the mix, and you have a major undertaking.
On the external side, the environment for giving must be right. Prospects need to be identified and cultivated. The economy and stock market need to be very positive. The needs for the campaign must parallel the mission of the organization and meet needs of the broader community the organization serves. When all elements are in sync, a beautiful performance and success occurs. If a balance is not met of various positive factors, capital campaign success is threatened.
“The Perfect Storm” was a 2000 movie starring George Clooney and others who were fishermen in the Atlantic. They encountered a perfect storm that led to their demise. The plot centered around the actual 1991 perfect storm in the Atlantic Ocean. At that time, a Nor’easter occurred, and the storm caused $200 million in damage and 13 deaths. This type of storm only occurs every 50 to 100 years.
With respect to capital campaigns in the U.S., a perfect storm has developed involving the unbelievable societal impact of the COVID-19 virus, the free fall of the U.S. economy and stock market, funding focus diverted from needed priorities to the national political campaigns and focus taken away from capital campaigns to operational needs. These developments have caused many capital campaigns to pause. In some cases, this pause may lead to weak campaign closures.
According to Capital Campaign Toolkit, the coronavirus likely has your nonprofit, your fundraising and your personal life in a tailspin. Anxiety is high all around. We are in uncharted territory with regards to capital campaigns, and fundraising overall. It is likely that operational giving is taking priority over campaigns during this crisis. Many current capital campaign solicitations are being put on hold and pledges are being delayed for a time.
The world is on a holding pattern now. You must circle back to your donors to see how the crisis has changed their perspective in the coming weeks and months. Avoid face-to-face visits for now. Think about existing donors as opposed to prospective donors. Everyone is distracted and nervous, and it will take time for staff to figure the right next step to take.
The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University has produced continual webinars and research information on a variety of recent topics regarding the COVID-19 virus, fundraising and campaigns. Their research has shown that given the unprecedented nature of this virus and the reactions around the world, there is not another historical episode with relevant data to which they can compare.
The capacity to give is not altered by this crisis. People will tend to give in direct, informal ways through gifts to neighbors and groups in need. There will be an inequitable economic impact through a recession, unemployment and industry damage. The stock market collapse will make potential donors feel poorer. They will be less likely to give to charities. Major gift face-to-face fundraising opportunities will decline as donors decline or defer requests to meet. If the uncertainty in the environment continues, fewer households will give.
Future Fundraising Now pointed out that COVID-19 will destroy your fundraising if you let it. Don’t pause your fundraising, and do not cancel your fundraising activities. You may need to postpone face-to-face meetings with donors and prospects. If so, seek another date with them. If you have fundraising events, seek to move the date of the event. Seek to keep on raising funds from any source possible. If you are a social service organization or medical or health organization, shift priorities for a time to help those in need. Every organization will need to determine what short-term direction is taken for long-term success. In every case, show continued movement and not stagnation through inactivity.
Capital campaigns are currently in a perfect storm. Like the weather, the elements that are currently affecting us will eventually go away. What you do at this moment will determine how ready you will be when it is truly “go” time. The wild card is uncertainty as to actions.
I strongly recommend with respect to capital campaigns, use the current time to achieve the following:
- Tell your campaign leadership you love them, and keep them motivated.
- Determine which volunteers want to stay with the campaign when it is back to 100%, and retrain them.
- Identify new prospects to be added to volunteer portfolios.
- Reprioritize your top prospects for special cultivation now.
- Create a campaign newsletter and send to it volunteers, donors and boards, etc.
- Refine campaign priorities and make sure they sizzle with prospects.
- Determine where each campaign prospect is in the donor cycle and proceed to move them toward an eventual ask.
- Work more closely with your CEO and internal leadership with an eye on how you move the campaign forward when the fog lifts.
- Work closing with campaign staff to see how you can encourage them.
- Seek to maximize advice from campaign consultants and evaluate performance to date.
As opposed to the movie ending, take all steps not to survive, but thrive, and eventually surpass the capital campaign goal, knowing that the finish line is further in sight than it used to be.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at email@example.com or 317-224-1029.