Troubleshooting Tips for a Capital Campaign Falling Short of Goal
Are you worried that your capital campaign is going to fall short of its goal? Here are two stories about campaigns that had goal problems, along with some troubleshooting tips.
Story No. 1: When a Campaign Is Just a Little Short:
Our campaign has gone well. We hired a consultant, recruited a good campaign chair, and developed a strong case. We were to have finished the campaign by Dec. 30, and by mid-November we had completed the lead-gift and major-gift solicitations and were busy soliciting the broad base of donors in our community. But it’s Dec. 20, and we are still about $250,000 shy of our $3 million goal. What should we do?
The shortfall provides a wonderful opportunity to breathe a final spark of energy into the campaign. You might want to have your solicitation team meet with several major donors to ask them to close the gap. Or, consider inviting all donors who have made one-time gifts to extend their gifts with a second- or third-year pledge.
Go back to donors who have been solicited but have not yet made a commitment, and let them know they have an opportunity to take the campaign over the top. Although specific deadlines are important, people are usually far less concerned about the specific date than the overall success of the campaign. If Dec. 30 comes and goes, and the campaign has not quite reached its goal, it does not mean that the campaign has failed. You’re just a little late in announcing your success!
Create a hero.
In addition, relatively small distances to the end of the campaign provide opportunities to create a hero. In one campaign, the steering committee met just before the end, when there was still a $30,000 gap. At that meeting, the steering-committee member who had made the very first gift to the campaign pulled out his checkbook and wrote a check for $30,000, saying that he would have to refinance his mortgage to cover the check, but would do so if necessary. He asked every person in the room to do their part in closing the gap, but said that his check would close the gap if needed. His generosity sparked others to increase their gifts. In the end, the donor did not have to go to the mortgage company, but his commitment made him one of the heroes of the campaign.
Story No. 2: When a Campaign Is Very Short of Its Goal:
Most of the donors have been solicited and the projected end-date of the campaign is in sight, but the campaign has raised less than one-half its goal. Lead gifts have been disappointing. Governmental grants have been delayed and may not come through at the level we hoped for. Volunteers and staff are disheartened and tired.
The situation may be the result of poor campaign preparation, but even the best campaign planning doesn’t guarantee that gifts will come in as anticipated. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s time to gather your leaders together, take stock and find ways to turn the tide.
You’ve got three choices that are not mutually exclusive:
- You might stick with your goal and refresh your efforts to find lead gifts.
- You might lower your goal to one that you know you can reach.
- You might extend the timetable.
Regroup and revise the plan.
It is natural to turn a blind eye to problems and to keep going as though nothing’s wrong. But when it’s clear that the results are disappointing on all fronts, find the courage to assess just where you are and review your options.
Don’t try to solve the problem by yourself. Recruit your campaign leadership to help identify opportunities and solutions. There’s no shame in regrouping. In fact, it’s likely to breathe new life into the campaign and come up with the spark that enables you to succeed.
The solution is likely to lie with your lead donors and campaign chairs. They have every reason to want the campaign to succeed. Everyone will be relieved to understand the options and embrace a revised plan, even if on a different timetable and for modified goals.
Hire an outside expert.
Consider hiring an outside expert to take stock of the situation by interviewing key donors, staff and board members. Through this process, you can look at what has and hasn’t been accomplished through the campaign, and work with a group of committed volunteers to help shape a plan. The plan might include rolling out your plan in phases, lowering the goal, extending the time frame, or exploring other ways to finance the project.
Dial in a public relations and communications plan.
Along with a well-conceived plan to get beyond being stuck, you’ll also need a public relations and communications plan to reposition the campaign and the project in the eye of the broader community. Be sure not to throw the campaign on the mercy of the community. It is tempting to believe that people will send money if they know an organization is in trouble. The reality is, while people will often send money if they read a heart-wrenching story about people in trouble, they are seldom inclined to support a failing campaign or a failing organization.
This post has been adapted from the brand new fourth edition of "Capital Campaigns: Strategies That Work." Get yours for 30 percent off and don’t pay for shipping with the discount code you’ll find 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.