To Maximize Potential, Begin Your Campaign Case Planning Years in Advance
Too often, nonprofits don’t invest the time and capacity building needed to truly excel and maximize their potential in a major campaign.
How much time is enough time? We’re talking years. Yes, years—unless there’s an urgent and critical need that suddenly becomes apparent.
And this planning process must include an evolving case statement that clearly outlines the need for an organization’s plans, and explains the outcomes and why the organization is uniquely qualified to meet these needs.
Today, let’s focus on the process leading up to a campaign case statement; not the writing of one.
Any nonprofit should have a strategic plan, outlining its priorities and focus. The best plans are the results of a dynamic process that has a research phase engaging key constituencies who share their insight and opinions, as well as a careful review of the key background data—facts, figures, trends—needed to make good choices. Too often, planning takes place in a vacuum without this vital information.
In higher education, the planning process can be intensive, but too often, it is internally focused and does not consider the perspectives of alumni and other funders. A strong planning process with volunteer engagement ensures that potential and developing plans are vetted and viewed by key leaders from outside the organization who have a pulse for its mission and constituencies.
From this planning process and perhaps other needs assessments, a prioritized menu is developed—many times through a master planning process for capital needs. Again, this process should engage key leaders and be thoroughly vetted.
One thing that can seriously hinder the success of a campaign is when key stakeholders feel that projects feed the ego of the CEO rather than meet vital needs. This is especially true when projects have not been part of a strategic planning or master planning process, or if the priority is suddenly changed. I’ll never forget watching a new CEO re-write a major organization’s strategic plan to meet his interest and comfort zone and being unquestioned by the board.
As a menu of potential campaign initiatives evolves over time, it should be thoroughly vetted internally and externally. Don’t be afraid of people asking tough questions or challenging assumptions, major donors will ask—especially if the initiatives have not been properly vetted. At some point, this menu of potential projects needs to be costed and prioritized.
Campaign Planning and Feasibility Study
Then, as the campaign horizon nears—ideally about a year before you plan to ask for the first gift—conduct a planning and feasibility study to vet the concepts and how your organization (including its programs and leadership) are perceived by prospective major donors. This allows you to address any concerns or communication challenges before asking for the first gift, identify what positive themes to build on and discover your current potential for a campaign—then to have a plan to increase that potential by addressing what is discovered through confidential research.
A study case statement should seek genuine advice and be more of a prospectus—not a fundraising piece. Properly conducted studies are invaluable.
The study process is also an excellent opportunity to call the question on what is included in the case statement. Too often, we find an organization has not thoroughly vetted these projects, or even costed them. You don’t need fancy renderings for a study (though anything visual you can provide is a plus). The caveat is that you are still asking for feedback—genuinely. If a project appears to be a done deal, people will sense that and maybe think their input isn’t being valued.
Too often, we have clients approach us when they want to begin a major campaign in a few months or even tomorrow. The reality is that they would be much better off had they approached us a year earlier. Sometimes, clients have real deadlines to deal with, but, in most instances, a shift of the timeframe by a few months or even a year is well worth it to ensure that the campaign’s successes maximized.
If there was a CEO transition, for example, the organization may “pause” for six months or a year during that process. So why not invest in the right time and resources to fulfill your potential on what should be a periodic, needs-based major campaign?
To maximize success and the opportunity and momentum that a successful campaign includes, be sure that your case statement development:
- Begins years in advance
- Is thoroughly vetted
- Comes from a comprehensive planning process (strategic planning, master planning, programmatic planning—i.e. curriculum planning, etc.)
- Is defined conceptually in terms of costs and outcomes
- Is tested in a campaign planning study
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.