Here Is Your Permission to Take a Break From Capital Campaign Planning
I spent an hour talking with a client, Jenny, about capital campaign goals. She’d try them on and then toss them off again as though she was getting dressed in the morning and couldn’t decide what to wear.
Stuck in the Weeds
Over the course of our conversation, she sorted through the possibilities of what the focus and objectives of the campaign should be…
Should her campaign combine both immediate capital needs and a longer-term planned giving initiative?
Should she just focus on creating a bequest challenge?
Should she start with organizing the planned giving and then move to more pressing capital needs?
All of these are excellent questions and Jenny should wrestle with them. But I’ve had this conversation with her before.
In fact, we had talked this through not once, not twice, but three times. Each time, she had arrived at a decision, and I thought we were ready to rough out a campaign plan. But then, in our next conversation, around she’d go again…
“You probably hear the reservation in my voice,” she would say. “It’s because I’m still not sure of whether we should include all of this in our campaign or not.”
Jenny’s trying on one idea and then another. She plays with the ideas, turning them over this way and that, but none jumps out and grabs her. One day—soon, I hope—she’ll know just how she wants to shape that campaign.
Though I get frustrated with Jenny in my drive to help her create a campaign plan, I believe that she should think deeply about the objectives and shape of her capital campaign. And I know that it may take a good long time for her to get comfortable with a plan that seems right.
At some point though, she’ll have to settle on a plan and put her campaign goals and objectives and timetable and policies on paper. But before then, she can (and should) give herself time and permission to imagine what might be.
She should free herself from the daily grind of running an organization and let her vision of the future inspire her campaign plan.
Campaigns Follow a Plan
Part of the reason that capital campaigns work is that they are based on a vision of what might be.
You see, campaigns are far more than just deciding to raise money for something special. They’re not a simple laundry list of what you want to raise money for now.
Capital campaigns coalesce around a compelling picture of what your organization might become. They excite donors because they are future oriented and they build donors’ confidence by having a clear and believable plan for how the organization is going to get there.
If you’re in the early stages of planning a capital campaign, here’s a great little exercise to help you clarify your thinking.
Have some fun playing with ideas in the same way you might play with costumes or your clothes. Try them on, take them off and try something else.
Imagine Your Organization 10 Years Out…
Think about your vision for your organization ten years from now.
Leaping ahead and imagining what something looks like several years out—whether it’s your organization or your life—is a useful way of starting a plan. Rather than planning one step at a time from where you are now, let your mind drift ahead and paint a picture of what your organization might look like in ten years if your dreams could come to fruition.
Create a Breathtaking Vision
The best and most successful campaigns are based on breathtaking visions and those are hard to find if you’re focusing on the challenges you are facing today.
Give yourself permission to imagine what might be. Look for that sweet spot that’s between being utterly ridiculous and blandly trapped in reality. Let that vision drive your campaign.
This is a wonderful exercise to do with your staff and board. Give them permission to think in new ways about what might be. You (and they) may be surprised by what they see and how exciting their visions are.
Review and Take Stock
Once you answer these questions, you’ll be in a better position to shape your campaign plan. You’ll know if you have a vision that’s clear enough to drive a campaign. And you’ll have a better idea of the obstacles you’ll have to overcome.
My client, Jenny, is having such a hard time because she’s not sure of the vision. She knows she wants her organization to do more, but she can’t yet get out of the weeds of day to day administration. But once she does, she’ll finally be able to take that leap of faith into the future and imagine what might be.
When your vision of the future is clear, the path forward becomes increasingly obvious.
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.