Essentials for Fundraising Campaign Success
Without research, any fundraising project becomes shoot-from-the-hip and cookie-cutter. With research, you are able to really achieve your potential—and ensure fundraising campaign success.
It comes as no surprise that we are huge advocates for conducting campaign feasibility and planning studies. Call them what you would like, but it is the essential research and benchmarking that determines campaign readiness. In the next Bedrocks & Beacons, I’ll share more about the benefits of a study.
Several times a year, we are approached by nonprofits asking us to submit a proposal for campaign counsel where another consulting firm has conducted the study. The time to “shop around”—if you feel this is necessary—is before the study process. We do not provide campaign counsel for a project where we have not conducted the study. When we get these calls, we ask if they were pleased with their study counsel. Most often, the answer is yes. We then encourage them to stick with that firm.
Without the essential insight garnered in a study, it should be impossible for a consulting firm to provide a firm cost for campaign counsel. However, they should be able to provide a range of fees to help you in that evaluation. Frankly, we find that the range of fees are typically similar for comparable firms. Inevitably, a sole proprietor or loose collaboration of consultants can charge far less than established firms. The difference between a sole proprietor and an experienced firm is that a firm can offer a range of talents, services and skills rarely found in an individual.
Each year, we learn examples of where a client—typically ones who have never run a campaign or do not have a CEO or chief development officer with solid major gifts or major campaign experience—shop campaign counsel after the study and go with a lower priced option. Most often, the campaign either never hits the goal or drags on for years. Too often, the result is a higher cost in the long run.
If conducted properly, consultants learn valuable insight—insight that was gained by a promise of confidentiality. As campaign counsel, the consultants can guide you to success without violating this vital pledge.
In addition, the consultants not only can and should judge organizational readiness (leadership, staffing, systems, etc.), but they also have experienced the dynamic of working with the organization and its key staff—those who will be relied upon during the campaign. This all comes together in an assessment of how much help and what kind of help (from strategic to hands on) the client will need to be successful. In so many ways, a successful study is a “test” for the eventual campaign.
A reminder: We firmly believe success means not only hitting the campaign goal but hitting it in a reasonable period of time. Campaigns that are not strategic and drag on forever do not build confidence.
After working for a large national firm, I returned to a chief development officer role at a major organization. When it came time for campaigns, I retained counsel.
Some of the more veteran nonprofit leaders reading this will recall the American Express advertisement: “Don’t leave home without it.”
Our advice: “Don’t embark on a major campaign without counsel.”
The average nonprofit leader may be engaged in a few campaigns over their career. Some maybe just one or two. Experienced counsel:
- Will have been running campaigns for decades.
- Will not only have the experience, but the strategic insight (most vital).
- Can craft the right plan.
- Can conduct the essential research.
- Can be your accountability partner and confidence builder.
- Can share things with volunteer leaders that you might not feel comfortable sharing.
Successful organizations invest in the right advice in the right areas.
One leadership practice is to learn from those more successful—and learn from their mistakes. In our nonprofit arena, typically higher education and health care have the strongest fundraising programs. It is in these arenas we find it most rare if an organization does not take the right steps, including retaining counsel, for a major campaign.
A few years ago, I was in a board room when a former client CEO and campaign co-chair were sharing with another organization about their campaign success (they doubled their original goal by investing in the right steps). The co-chair was asked, “What were the most important ingredients in your success?” His answer was to have:
- The right leadership—for the organization and on the campaign steering committee.
- A motivating case statement.
- The right plan.
- The right execution… and then he added, “… and the right counsel to create that plan and guide the exaction.”
When you look to embark on a campaign, you may be challenged by the thought of investing in campaign counsel. Plan to begin your relationship by establishing a partnership with a firm who will guide you throughout the process.
The right partnership with an experienced consultant and their team will reap lasting benefits for your organization, and you can be assured of a solid return on your investment.
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.