You Never Know: The Importance of a Study Before a Major Campaign
In this business of fundraising, to maximize your success you must always be willing to learn. And be eager to listen.
We were recently working with a client on a feasibility study. The two staff leaders were insistent that they knew everyone who should be interviewed. The staff leaders even pushed back on the effort to get volunteer engagement.
When the key volunteers we pulled together reviewed the list developed by the staff, it began to change. The volunteers provided valuable feedback, and the list of top prospects became quite different.
Likewise, the case development process was too insular. Although we pressed consistently, there was not enough involvement from other staff leaders or volunteers. When we began to test the menu of projects in confidential study interviews, it became clear that some things — major concepts — needed to change. That is why, if you really want to maximize success, you embark on a study before a major campaign.
For example, our staff liaisons had insisted on certain language to describe a building. One of them had been to a seminar, and a fundraising consultant said that no one was giving to capital projects. She couldn't get this out of her mind. We pushed back, but she insisted that a new building was to be called a creative, ambiguous name. With the name, you really didn't know what the purpose of the building was, and it wasn't consistent with the names of other buildings on the campus.
As we interviewed leaders, it became apparent — yes, there was an appetite for capital projects. Being creative with what to call a facility was really confusing and distracting from the fact that the organization was trying to meet what leaders felt was a valid and pressing need.
This client was willing to invest in the vital step of a campaign feasibility and planning study and to secure feedback from some of its brightest and most successful leaders.
By listening, it paved the way for increased success in the pending campaign.
Several times a year, we encounter a CEO who refuses to embark on the process because "I know what my donors think." In the scores of studies I have been a part of, at least one major "aha" moment occurs that changes strategy and direction for the client. In each case, that alone was worth the investment!
Always be willing to listen and learn. None of us ever have all the answers.
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.