Considering a Campaign? Five questions to answer in the beginning to be successful in the end

By: Leigh Page, Director, Orr Associates, Inc.  

Nonprofits launch fundraising campaigns for many different reasons: to build or expand facilities, grow the endowment, enhance programming, or execute on a new CEO’s grand vision. Or simply because they feel due for a campaign. Regardless of the reason, there are important campaign planning questions an organization should consider to improve its chances of reaching or exceeding its revenue goal.

1) Does your organization have a compelling campaign case for support?

The most successful campaigns have a case for support that clearly tells the story of urgent need and potential positive impact. Many organizations face stiff competition for fundraising dollars, therefore it is critical for your organization to differentiate your unique value.

When developing the case, consider: why should donors support this campaign and why now? Creating a sense of urgency can prompt your best prospects to act in a big way. To determine whether a case conveys a message that resonates, test it with stakeholders with varying degrees of buy-in. Feedback from trusted board members, mission experts or potential new donors will help you craft a case that truly resonates.   

2) Will your board and volunteer leaders enthusiastically support a campaign?

A successful campaign starts and ends with leadership support. It is imperative that an organization secures board campaign support from the onset. Not only will you need your board and volunteer leadership to provide financial support, they should also be willing to open doors, make connections, host events and publicly advocate for the campaign.

3) Does your organization have the staff to support a successful campaign?

Campaigns require accelerated effort from executive leadership and development staff. When planning for a campaign, be sure to think through the increased activities and time the campaign will demand to be successful. You will need to do additional prospect research, recruit new volunteers, and train and manage them.  You will need to develop new marketing collateral and effectively steward existing and new donors. Most campaigns take place over 3-5 years, with the greatest and most important effort happening up-front. Consider partnering with external fundraising counsel in the initial 1-2 years of the campaign to finalize the campaign plan, secure the largest gifts, and successfully launch the quiet phase.

4) Will your prospects and donor base give to a campaign?

This question requires honest reflection about your organization’s relationship with its donors.  One way to discover how your donors are feeling about the organization and a potential campaign is to ask. Conducting a series of interviews, often through a feasibility and planning study conducted by outside counsel, is a great way to understand how your donors feel. This process with help the organization understand stakeholders’ overall attitudes towards the organization and its mission, the proposed case elements, and their willingness to support the campaign financially and with their time.  

5) Do you have a realistic goal and timeline for your organization’s campaign?

Seek answers to this question by reviewing your donor prospect pipeline and developing a gift table with an estimate of the number of donors and gifts you will need to achieve your goal. To populate the gift table, use information like past giving data, research tools, and feedback from the feasibility and planning study (if available) to determine how many donors you have at each gift level. Next, determine a moves management plan for each major gift prospect and set a date range for requesting and securing each gift. Finally, think about how many staff and volunteers you will have during the campaign to visit donors and make requests.

If you answered “no” to any of the 5 questions, there is work to be done. Often, organizations need a campaign readiness period of 6-18 months to be fully ready to launch the silent phase of a campaign. Your due diligence and preparations now will pay off in the end, when you are celebrating campaign success!

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