Why Your Capital Campaign May Be Failing
I went to the movies to see the movie, “First Man,” last weekend because I was interested in what happened July 20, 1969. I remember being on a date that night, attending a moon-watching party in Charleston, WV. On that day, I watched Astronaut Neil Armstrong walk on the moon live via television. In watching the process of sending him to the moon, I was amazed at the complex steps consisting of a rocket launch, propelling a craft into deep space, landing of a lunar spacecraft and returning the craft to earth. This very complex process reminded me of a capital campaign.
When you think of a capital campaign, you must understand that this type of fundraising effort also consists of complex steps. These steps include at least a silent phase, major gift phase and public phase. Think of the silent phase as a private launch of the campaign. The major gift phase propels the space vehicle to deep space and the public phase includes the space craft returning to earth and subsequent celebration of success. Like NASA rocket launches that have also seen failures in its history, capital campaigns can also fail because of its complexity.
According to the Goettler Associates, capital campaigns that “stall out” or unravel are a result of poor planning, preparation and execution. Most organizations, like most people, generate their own problems by omission or commission. In the high stakes environment of a major capital campaign, weaknesses and errors in judgment can be decisive.
There are nine reasons capital campaign fail, according to Goettler:
- Negative image or perceptions
- Lack of organizational leadership
- Lack of a compelling vision and/or strategic plan
- Out of touch with community
- A narrow or uninvolved donor constituency
- Jumping the gun when not ready
- Lack of competent development staff, campaign budget or functional systems
- An unrealistic campaign plan, schedule or goal
- No planning or feasibility study
The Giving Institute states that a capital campaign is perhaps the most intricate fundraising project that a nonprofit will ever take. Nearly every nonprofit institution struggles when it comes to successfully executing capital campaigns.
Capital campaign don’ts include:
- Set a fundraising goal based on your project’s price tag.
- Keep your capital campaign running indefinitely.
- Decentralize leadership with too many cooks in the kitchen.
- Spend unnecessary time developing collateral.
- Resign yourself to failure by not going for your goal.
Marc Pitman exclaims that capital campaigns are a wild roller coaster ride of “vision-fueled” excitement, followed by long stretches of slow, slogging work. Avoid stripping a planning stage, underestimating the cost of the project and thinking the money will magically come from “someone else.” Starting a capital campaign with a correct goal after a planning study and a board that is already invested gives your effort the strongest foundation possible.
According to a Bloomerang article, the consultant group Generis suggests the following seven essential elements that should exist for a capital campaign to be successful.
- Mission statement.
- Compelling reason to move forward.
- Reputation of trust and achievement.
- Unified board that assumes mantle of responsibility.
- Fully engaged president or chief executive/CEO who is the chief fundraiser and not just the vision caster.
- Wise and competent advancement team that executes vision of CEO/board.
- Qualified & capable givers—identify your top 100 givers.
A capital campaign must be inside-out focus which means make internal contacts before making external contacts; up-down focus which means secure the largest gifts first and move from a quiet to public phase, secure at least 50 percent of goal before going with a public declaration.
NASA moon missions succeed because many talented people inside the organization correctly direct the processes needed for success. The same can be true for capital campaigns. To achieve a capital campaign goal, you need to have a number of correct elements at play. Some of these key elements include ownership by the CEO, administration, board, staff, volunteers, donors, prospects and having wise counsel assist the development team.
In some respects, capital campaign success feels like a trip to the moon. Imagine the joy of planting the American Flag on the moon to acknowledge success. Plant your organizational flag when you achieve your capital campaign goal. Remember, if you are thinking about a launching capital campaign, realize you and your organization will be challenged in ways that you never realized. Make sure all of the elements are in place for a campaign to be successful or you will never get the rocket off of the launching pad and your goal of landing on the moon (achieving capital campaign success) will just remain a dream.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, educator and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 10 years and has had the CFRE designation for the last 26 years. He has also been a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals for over 35 years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division plus Adjunct Professor for Olivet Nazarene University. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.