A Shortcut to Failure in Capital Campaigns!

A shortcut to failure in capital campaigns! - May 1995

Your Board has decided it needs to raise $10 million to build that new community centre (or perhaps create an Endowment Fund). You are the Director of Development and charged with the responsibility of organising the campaign (and really, with the responsibility for its success or failure). You decide that your organisation doesn't need professional help because "consultants are expensive" and they might make it appear that you don't know your job -- or worse still, that you are no longer needed.
What's the first thing you should do? According to one North American consultant, you should start getting your resume in order, because you are almost certain to be looking for another job when the campaign fails.
Campaign consultants focus on just one outcome -- the success of an organisation's fund-raising effort. That often means making and implementing unpopular decisions, which staff usually find difficult. It also means working alongside to ensure that you and the key volunteers get the full credit for campaign success.
A consultant will also steer you past the seven common myths and mistakes that surround a major campaign effort; namely:

MYTH #1 - " A campaign brochure will do the trick."
All we need is an attractive printed brochure to mail out to everyone and the money will roll in.
FACTS: Brochures almost never raise any money. A campaign relies on face-to-face, peer group solicitation to a handful of donors who have been carefully researched and cultivated about the vision of the organization. A brochure may only be shared with them at the solicitation appointment by a member of the campaign committee.

MYTH #2 – “Our Board is very enthusiastic about the project and will see that it succeeds.”
FACTS: Enthusiasm and energy are very important in a Board of Directors/Trustees. But of greater importance is a commitment to make this campaign a top priority for their time and their treasure (100% of your Board must invest in the campaign) before anyone else is asked for a gift. And if your Board composition is right, more than half of your board members will be major donors to the campaign.

MYTH #3 – “The Corporate Sector has always been supportive; they will make up the largest portion of the money we need.”
FACTS: An annual corporate gift of $1,000 or even $5,000 is seldom an indication that there might be a key gift of $100,000 or more. That sort of commitment needs a closer relationship and/or personal contact plus careful preparation and negotiation to ensure the “fit” between their corporate philanthropy and your campaign project.

MYTH #4 – “We have a strong public appeal and with the right publicity, we’ll get a large part of the money from the public.”
FACTS: Most campaign fundraising efforts raise almost all of the money from less than 100 gifts. Remember the 80-20 rule 'eighty percent of the dollars come from twenty percent of the donors' (More like 90-10 rule, these days). Only after more than 60-70% of the campaign goal has been reached, should an organisation consider a public appeal. Only when a campaign is close to target will people believe that their $50, $100 or $1000 will make a difference.

MYTH #5 – “Donors will give money to an Endowment Fund or Trust. We can invest this money and never have to raise money again.”
FACTS: While more and more donors are willing to consider endowment-giving options, a facility or expanded programs still offer the best potential for support. If you want to raise money for endowment, concentrate on a bequest program (and an active bequest society). The thought of an organisation “never having to raise money again” should be painful and avoided at all costs. An organisation that doesn’t have a vision for donors, relationships and fund development is likely on the road to ruin!

MYTH #6 – “We don’t need to spend much time preparing for the campaign . . . let’s go out there and get the money.”
FACTS: Preparation for raising a large Capital sum is more important and often takes as long as the second stage when the money is actively raised. Lack of preparation is the most common reason why campaigns die, fail in their infancy or don’t reach their target goal.
Preparation consists of three key steps:
- a quality Feasibility Study (Engagement / Internal Readiness);
- a Planning Group of influential and affluence volunteers and Board members; and
- a financial commitment from all Board members.

MYTH #7 – “Our target is $10 million, so all we need to do is find 1000 donors that will each pledge $10,000.”
FACTS: The mistake of average gifts is probably the oldest misconception of all. Not all donors are created equal. What you are looking for in a campaign is equal sacrifice. In a capital campaign, one of the first questions should be, “who can give this organization the total amount we need?”
"Only through proper planning, preparation, research and the dedicated commitment of your Board and a group of financially influential volunteers will a campaign reach goal.