Almost everywhere we go, prospective and current clients ask us, “Is this a good time to start a fundraising campaign?” Of course, everyone can make good use of more financial resources, but is now the time? Can you handle this type of endeavor with existing staff? Is the geopolitical situation stable enough so that it does not serve as a distraction to your donors and funders? Will the perception of the state of the economy thwart success?
Surely, there is great uncertainty with respect to the economy and the world situation. Each day brings increasing confusion to the minds of us all.
Yet, in spite of that, there is reason for great optimism for those who have the courage to create a compelling case, recruit a great leadership team and engage their constituencies in a campaign that will enrich and enhance the life of the community. In the work that our firm does, we help leadership develop the understanding and skills to mount successful programs—to initiate or enrich existing annual fund programs, capital and endowment campaigns or planned giving programs.
When it comes to nonprofit fundraising best practices consider that:
1. Campaigns Are Won or Lost Before They Start
The Planning Phase – which should begin well in advance of any potential fundraising program – is the essential building block upon which successful campaigns are built. This phase includes a number of components, including the establishment of institutional priorities, financial planning, internal consensus building, initial case development, lead prospect identification, and a feasibility study.
While each of these activities involves tremendous work, and a lot of discussions, the most important element during each step is listening. Is there agreement on and, more importantly, enthusiasm for the case? Is the financial goal based on what you’re hearing through the feasibility study, or is it based on what the institution wants or needs? In essence, the chief objective of the planning stage is to develop credible plans and credible responses to any issues major gift prospects may throw your way when you finally get out there and ask.
2. Charismatic Leaders Trump Strong Cases
Strong cases presented by weak leaders face an uphill battle. But, the converse is not necessarily true. You can raise a lot of money for a mediocre case if the leaders are passionate. The bottom line is that people are ultimately more important than the case: donors are considerably more likely to invest their charitable dollars when they believe in and are inspired by an institution’s leadership.
How can you best motivate campaign leadership to do the things they may least be inclined to do? Read on.
3. The Single Major Factor Behind Most Successful Campaigns is…
… a pervasive sense of optimism. Campaigns succeed when people believe they will succeed. You already know that to be true, by virtue of the way campaigns are designed: you don’t take them public until you have raised sufficient funds in the private phase, and you have clearly mapped out where the rest of the money is coming from. Prospective donors need to believe that they are contributing to a winning enterprise.
Optimism has to originate with the leader: the one who has to initially impart the sense of inevitable success to the organizational and campaign leadership. If there is a leader who can do that with integrity and passion, you’ll find that your campaign leaders will be more likely to make the calls, to set up the campaign visits, and to reflect that optimism when making the ask.
4. The Single Major Factor Behind Most Failed Campaigns is…
… the leaders were afraid to ask. They procrastinate in making calls and in setting appointments, and when they finally get to the solicitation, they don’t put a specific gift amount on the table.
This is not rocket science. Despite the economic or political conditions, we know that solid planning, great leadership, pervasive optimism and fearless pursuit of the goal, will enable any entity to succeed. Your organization has great assets. We can help you, and your leadership, leverage those assets—now.
Note: this post was originally published in 2004
Interested in learning more asking for nonprofit donations?
David wrote a series designed to help you create a culture of asking in your organization.
Why You Shouldn’t Take It Personally When a Donor Says “No” by Abigail