Most nonprofits have a love-hate relationship with capital campaigns. We can imagine all the benefits the critically needed funds will bring but we have anxiety (might I say fear?) of failing to reach the goal. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.
We all know that a successful campaign takes a great case for support, a compelling story that draws in donors, volunteers and the community in a shared vision of a wonderful future.
We can also agree that we need motivated, energetic, committed volunteers, real leaders who share their passion for our organizations and believe we can reach our goals together.
Of course, it’s essential that we have our own nonprofit house in order: effective programs, great people, good processes and systems, efficient operations, balanced budgets and a good reputation in the community.
And what about talented staff, good software systems and great existing donor relationships? All critical in preparing for a capital campaign.
Isn’t all this enough?
I’ve been thinking about this and I’m just reflecting on my own recent experience of having lots of “to do’s” on my professional, personal and volunteer lists. My conclusion is that my ability focus has really decreased in the last few years. Is it my smartphone? The availability of so much information online? The ease of ordering books on my kindle? All the ways I can get messages on voicemail and email? I suspect it’s the perfect storm of all of the above. Do you feel this overload as well? I really believe this 21st century condition works against two basic requirements for successful capital campaigns: focus and discipline.
Focus means there is a shared fundamental belief that there is nothing more important than the campaign. In the last campaign I ran, we had a cup on the bookshelf in our development office and the entire staff understood that every penny they found on the sidewalk went into that cup for the capital campaign. It was symbolic, of course, but had the effect of keeping us focused on the goal. In fact, the entire staff believed so much in the campaign that we achieved 100% staff support.
Discipline is required to stay on schedule and on track. Let’s face it, many people find it difficult to ask others to make gifts, even for the best of causes. As an aside, I’d say that’s been great for fundraisers who will likely always have job security! But given that asking for gifts can be uncomfortable for many of our leaders, campaigns can lose momentum when too many well-intentioned volunteers don’t make their calls or do miss deadlines. In the nicest possible way, we have to impose campaign discipline, helping them stay on track, and, of course, feel good about their successes.
So let’s hear it for capital campaigns! They are unpredictable, energizing, anxiety-producing and just plain fun. Making sure we’re really ready for the roller-coaster is key. Focus and discipline will get us to the goal.