A Failing Capital Campaign Is Not Possible (If You Do It Right)
Queen Victoria famously said:
"We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat. They do not exist."
I suggest that you take the same approach to your capital campaign.
4 Ways to Make Failure Impossible
Once you recruit powerful volunteers to serve in leadership positions of your capital campaign, you have an obligation to make sure they succeed. Period!
The leaders and philanthropists of your community put their reputations on the line when they agree to serve on your campaign committees or in leadership positions. To let them down and embarrass them by letting a campaign fail will have serious negative consequences for years to come.
So, don’t make failure an option.
Here are four things you can do to eliminate the possibilities of failure.
- Prepare for your campaign thoroughly.
- Make sure your largest donors are on board.
- Don’t announce your goal too soon.
- Be ready and willing to be flexible about your project, financing and timetable.
Let’s look at each element in turn.
1. Thoroughly Prepare Your Campaign
Don’t start a campaign on a wing and prayer. Develop thorough campaign plans for what you want to accomplish.
Make sure that you get reasonable cost estimates for your projects, so that once the money is raised, you’ll be able to complete the project. Raising the money and then finding out that you haven’t raise enough to cover the costs is even a worse defeat than not being able to raise the money.
You also need to be sure that your board knows about and endorses the plans. The board must be able and willing to take the risk and bear the responsibility for the success of your project.
2. Your Largest Donors Must Be On Board—Make Sure Of It
Every successful campaign depends on a very few large gifts. You should consider the prospective donors for those gifts to be partners in the project. Be sure you have shared your plans with them long before your campaign takes full shape.
One key is to have early conversations with them about their likely commitment. Do this through direct conversations with your donors, and then double check their commitment with a feasibility study. While you may not be able to tie down the specifics of the gifts, you should be able to get a pretty good indication of where your top donors’ gifts are likely to come in.
3. Hold Off on Announcing Your Final Goal Until...
During the planning and quiet phases of your campaign, you should use a “working goal” that allows for some flexibility before you announce it publicly. You may do better or worse in the early phases of your campaign than you imagined. A “working goal” allows you to raise or lower the public goal once you have a clear sense of how you’ve done with the top donors.
Then, do some careful analysis of where the rest of the money will come from. Don’t announce your final campaign goal publicly until you are quite sure that you can reach the goal.
4. Be Creative and Flexible
As the realities of your campaign take shape, you may find that you have to rethink some of your plans. There’s no sin in doing that. You might lower the goal before you announce and rethink the financing and/or the timetable so that the project is successful.
Use these four strategies and your campaign is likely to succeed.
If Your Campaign Is Floundering, Consider These 4 Things
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your campaign falls into a hole. Here are four simple alternatives.
- Break your project into phases and announce the success of the first phase.
- Declare success! Highlight the accomplishments and have a party. Most people don’t remember numbers well.
- Ask one of your leaders for a challenge grant and celebrate the success of reaching that challenge goal.
- If you must, extend the timeline. But be sure to set a specific end date. Don’t let it drag out indefinitely. (Interminable campaigns are deadly.)
What else can you do to eliminate the possibility of failure for your campaign? Share your ideas in the comments.
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.