The Myth of a ‘Silent Phase’ in Capital Campaigns
To those in the nonprofit and fundraising worlds, the “silent phase” of a capital campaign is well understood. It’s a time before the official announcement of a campaign when, by virtue of significant effort and through the commitment of large gifts, the majority of funds are typically raised — but when marketing communications are officially silent, or at least quiet.
At Healing Transitions, we’ve learned that a successful silent phase is actually anything but silent; though a capital campaign may not have been officially announced yet, this time is critical for intentional, public communications that impact giving in powerful ways.
This crystallized for our team when we received a $1 million donation from the A.J. Fletcher Foundation during our most recent silent phase. For gifts of this magnitude, we typically spread the news far and wide, but the question became: How do we handle this in a customarily quieter time? Our consultants encouraged us to move forward with a press release, publicizing this contribution, regardless of what stage we were in. That’s when we understood the misnomer of the silent phase.
From a communications perspective, our most successful campaign communications tactics have included dropping a line or two about an upcoming campaign in news coverage about other happenings; communicating internally to ensure our staff is prepared for queries; and soliciting input via feasibility studies and development assessments to streamline our messaging.
In other words, to reap the benefits, a silent phase should really feel akin to a duck paddling like mad beneath the water. Perhaps the efforts aren’t visible to the wider world, but there is plenty of strategic thinking, preparation, research, large donor outreach and input seeking.
For Healing Transitions’ latest capital campaign, this “paddling” began about a year before the silent phase through campaign branding, donor packet development, campaign landing page creation and insider communications. The official kickoff meeting with our steering committee was in January of this year, a milestone moment to gather, thank our supporters, discuss roles and responsibilities and review our campaign case for support.
We equipped our committee members to manage the campaign, which launched its quiet phase this fall, with both hard and digital copies of our campaign packets, including a one-pager about the leadership team, an impact sheet, naming opportunities, a floor plan, renderings and a gift chart. We use these pieces to differentiate ourselves from others in the community and “seed the ground” with awareness about our work and its impact. This depth of information can be customized, with certain pages left out or included, depending on who may be receiving our packet. These offerings, though still “silent” to the public, are essential to education our committee volunteers, potential donors, foundations and even staff members.
Critical to our capital campaign success in every phase has been the use of moss + ross campaign consultants. Having expert advice, particularly as a rookie team who has never executed a capital campaign, was invaluable. Even for organizations with experience, external consultation can be helpful for adding a richer, objective point of view to the work you’re doing.
What I’ve learned through this process is that the silent phase influences strategy and resource allocation far more than its name would imply. Much of what we do during this time is identifying potential donors and major gifts; we take the campaign public when we reach a certain benchmark, perhaps 75% of the goal. At that point, we look to a wider audience to step in and close the gap.
Although the majority of our mass donors will see the work being done in the more public-facing stage, the bulk of what fuels a successful capital campaign takes place long before the general public is aware. As far as stakeholders and major donors are concerned, there’s no such thing as a quiet period; we want to be very loud about our success at every stage among these audiences.
In the final push of our capital campaign, when we’re closing the gap and within reach of our goal, our community partners became an integral part of the process. This is what differentiates our “quiet” and “loud” phases and makes the final stretch most effective; advocates who are deeply rooted in the community help us open doors. Paired with our knowledge, messaging and impact, these volunteers allow Healing Transitions a gateway to parts of the community we might not have access to otherwise — and credibility once those doors are opened.
As Mary Moss, founder of our consultant group moss + ross, has always told us, “In the silent phase, it only seems like you’re being quiet. In fact, this is the busiest, most fruitful season of any capital campaign.”
For leaders who have never managed a capital campaign in a significant way, our best advice is to seek outside expertise, plan and prepare far longer than you think you need to and throw expectations about a silent phase right out the window. That quiet-but-busy time may just be when your campaign exceeds your expectations; plan to be strategic, but never truly silent.
Chris Budnick, MSW, LCSW, LCAS, CCS is the executive director at Healing Transitions and has been working in the addiction treatment and recovery field since 1993. Chris became a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor in 1998. He graduated from East Carolina University in 2000 with a Master of Social Work. He has been fully licensed as a Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialist since 2001; a Licensed Clinical Social Worker since 2002; and a Clinical Certified Supervisor since 2003. He was an intern from 1999 to 2000 with Healing Transitions and has been employed with them since 2000.
Chris has been an adjunct instructor with the North Carolina State University Department of Social Work since 2002, and has served on their Advisory Board since 2003, serving as chair on two different occasions. He also serves on the Recovery Africa Board.
Chris has conducted training and presentations nationally and internationally. Some of his most rewarding work has been collaborating with Mr. William White and Mr. Boyd Pickard on the history of mutual aid recovery fellowships.