It has been suggested that David Mersky and I are the ultimate optimists. Maybe it is a firm value, maybe it is personal. The real questions are, “How important is keeping optimistic during a capital campaign?” And furthermore, “When the optimism wanes, can you still achieve your goals?”
It goes without saying that every board and fundraising committee has optimists and pessimists (or extreme realists). Both serve their purpose as they represent a portion of the population, but they don’t always agree on the best plan to raise money during a campaign. Finding the balance between the two – assuming anything is possible and avoiding any risk – is essential. But I still stand by the idea that without a dream and the belief that your community should reach for the stars, why even bother to begin a campaign?
You start a fundraising process with an idea that you need money for a building or endowment fund. And some segment of the community will give to the cause because they believe in your organization enough that whatever you think you should do, they will support. But that is not the majority. Everyone else needs to be convinced that your idea will provide a good investment for them. The leap from concept to reality requires a fair bit of passion, excitement, and optimism. Of course, donors want to see the financials and proof that the plan is viable and well thought out. But they give based on this belief that everyone else in the community will give and help achieve the lofty fundraising goal. Now that’s optimism.
What do you do when optimism is nowhere in sight?
As campaigns move through their various stages, there are almost always points at which you wonder if you will be able to achieve your goals. The truth is, sometimes you have to fake it to make it. It has been proven that if you act optimistic about something in particular, you will, in fact, become more optimistic. And you can spread the enthusiasm. But the converse is also true too. Allow one too many negative thinkers to hijack a meeting and even the overly enthusiastic participants will start to question the possibilities.
Do anything you can to limit the negativity before it spreads. Require that each speaker offer a positive note before listing negative concerns. Start each meeting with a reminder of the positive steps that have been taken in the past week, month or since the beginning of the project. Have a list posted of all of the potential benefits the campaign can achieve and hand it out at the beginning of each meeting.
It’s not always easy to stay positive, but the surest way to fall short of your goals is to become negative. And remember, optimism and pessimism are only mindsets – make sure your pervasive sense of optimism leads you in a successful direction.