An Inside Look at Being a Capital Campaign Consultant
I was a successful capital campaign consultant. Every one of the campaigns that I worked on from assessment through the campaign reached and surpassed its goal. Was that because of my talent? Because I wave a magic wand?
No, the real key to my success was that I chose projects that had a good chance of succeeding, and then I encouraged my clients to pick goals that they could accomplish!
Consulting Gigs Have 2 Parts
Most capital campaign consulting gigs have two parts—assessing an organization’s chances of success and then helping it through the campaign process.
Assessments also fall into two segments—inspecting the internal functioning of the organization and its development program (“internal audit”), and assessing the key donor’s commitment to the project (“feasibility study”).
At the end of the assessment process, it’s up to the consultant to pronounce how much money the organization might raise. An awesome and unnerving responsibility. With some projects, the potential is clear. With many, it’s not.
What’s a consultant to do, for example, when the organization functions very well internally, but no donor—I mean NO donor—gives any indication that they will even consider the top gift you’d need to reach the goal?
Consistently successful consultants tend to select projects that have a real chance of succeeding. They select projects for which they have identified potential for at least half of the largest gifts. And consistently successful consultants encourage their clients to set realistic goals.
Important Consideration: Risk Tolerance
Sometimes I wonder if I was right to encourage my clients to pick “attainable” goals. Did they leave money on the table?
What kind of consultant do you want to select? Someone who will encourage you to take a surer path and set an attainable goal? Or do you want a consultant who believes that passion, commitment and courage can take a campaign to levels not yet dreamed of? There’s not a right or wrong answer to that question.
The answer will lie in the culture of your organization and the temperament of your leadership.
But you should think about that when you are selecting a consultant. If consultants tell you that every one of their campaigns has reached and surpassed its goal, they’re probably a bit conservative. If they’ve had a few campaigns that have fallen short and the goal has had to be reset downward, perhaps it’s because they thought it was worth the risk to encourage their clients to think big.
My Personal Consulting Career
As my consulting career matured, I found myself becoming more and more audacious, encouraging my clients to set goals that were far less safe. I came to believe that I should encourage and reward the vision and commitment that lets people believe they can do just about anything they set their minds to.
My last few capital campaign clients did, indeed, reach goals that I never would have predicted from my assessments. Had I encouraged them to set goals I knew were “attainable,” they would have left money on the table.
But I’ve stopped capital campaign consulting. I no longer wanted to play safe, but I’m not sure how many more remarkable rabbits I can help pull out of big, audacious hats!
When you are selecting a capital campaign consultant, ask them about their risk tolerance. Find out whether they play it safe or shoot for the moon. And if you’re a consultant yourself, be honest with yourself about your own risk tolerance, so you know if you’re a good match for potential clients.
If you’re interested in building your own consulting business, or amping yours up, I’ve got a good learning opportunity for you. Andy Robinson and I are giving a webinar on Apr. 25 on the topic called, How to Build a Successful Consulting and Training Business. We’ve both been able to build and sustain consulting businesses successfully over many years and would love to share our knowledge with you. Learn more and register here.
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.