by Andy Canada, senior consultant and director of data analytics, Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates
Many organizations are considering launching a campaign in 2022. Is your organization one of them?
An important undertaking like a campaign shouldn’t be entered into lightly. How do you know if your organization is truly ready to take this important step to fund the future aspirations of your nonprofit?
Here are some key steps to be thinking about as you are moving into campaign planning. It’s important to assess both your internal readiness as an organization to successfully execute a campaign and externally the receptiveness of the potential donor base to your campaign. Both aspects are critical to the success of the campaign. The goal in your planning phase is to ensure the internal readiness and external capacity are in alignment or you have a clear line of site on what needs to be addressed as campaign planning and the early phases of the campaign move forward.
What are key elements of organizational readiness for a campaign?
Organizational alignment around a shared vision: Does your board and leadership agree on a clearly defined mission? Can you articulate how philanthropic support will enable the organization to move closer to achieving that mission? Have you identified and achieved consensus on the specific campaign priorities and levels of support needed for each? Can you inspire donors with a transformational vision of how things will be improved with their support?
It is critical during the early stages of campaign planning that your board and leadership are engaged in the process and agree on the focus of the campaign. Many organizations utilize a strategic planning process to help identify the focus areas and then outline the role that philanthropy can play in helping to achieve each of the areas that have been identified. Creating a shared understanding and buy-in of the focus of the campaign is critical to the long-term success.
Internal fundraising operation: What is the overall health of your development program? Do you have the right structure, established policies and procedures, and a highly functioning CRM program to track donors and data?
Take time before you enter a campaign, to objectively look at your fundraising systems and operations and ensure you are positioned for success before the rigors of a campaign. You want to address any challenge areas in your operation prior to moving into campaign. This will allow the organization to focus its efforts on the campaign. Review your gift acceptance and gift counting process and ensure that your policies account for the various gift types that you will be soliciting. Will the campaign count deferred gifts or is it focused on liquid assets that you spend now for a building or launching a new program? Spend the time to think through the various opportunities so that you can clearly articulate the policies to donors when questions arise. This will minimize any challenging conversations or surprises along the way. Don’t forget to address the role of various gift options such as crypto currencies, real estate, etc.
Human capital — board and staff: Is your board engaged and willing to help open doors and assist with cultivation and solicitation of campaign donors? Will they make philanthropic gifts and be advocates for the campaign? Does your staff have the capacity to manage a campaign on top of current roles and responsibilities? Do you have the staff required to actively identify, cultivate, solicit, and steward campaign donors?
Successful campaigns require time and dedication from your entire organization. You need to ensure your CEO/President understands the commitment required to steward and solicit lead donors and can accommodate this important work. Evaluate your internal readiness to identify where you are strong and where you may need to improve. An internal capacity analysis can help ensure your current advancement staffing levels align with your potential donor pool. Prepare your board for a campaign by providing training on the impact they can have on the campaign and the ways they can be personally involved. You want your board and leadership team to go in with their eyes wide open to the important roles that everyone will need to play to make the campaign a success.
What are key elements of campaign readiness outside the organization?
Positive trends in current fundraising: Overall, you want to see your fundraising results on an upward trend. Ensure that you are raising the funds you need on an annual basis to fund your existing programs and operations before you look to move your organization forward. If that is not the case — evaluate why and determine what can be done to improve results. You should not only have a strong major gifts program, but also be hitting or exceeding your annual fund goals.
An engaged and informed donor base: Are your donors engaged in the life of the institution and do they know the organization’s direction? Make sure donors at the top and middle of the pyramid are informed and connected. It is critical that you have strong and established relationships with this group of supporters. Spend time before a campaign cultivating your donors, particularly the top 10% who could be lead donors to your campaign, showing them examples of what you are doing to fulfill your mission today and sharing your aspirations for the future.
Messaging and campaign components that resonate: Use your strategic vision and campaign priorities to develop a case for support. Test it with a sampling of your current and potential top prospects and incorporate their feedback. The campaign materials will allow you to share with potential campaign donors your exciting plans for the future and how their investment can help you get there. Donors need to understand the needs and your plan to meet those needs head-on with their help. If done well, you will go beyond, “We need a science building,” to describing its use and features as well as who will use it and what difference it will make in the future of the organization, those you serve, the community, and beyond.
Thoughtful planning for a campaign is an important benchmark for future success. Identify the elements you need to ensure are in place before launching this crucial fundraising effort. The time you spend up front to make sure you are prepared, pays off in greater success during your future campaign.
Andy Canada is senior consultant and director of data analytics at Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates, a strategic consulting firm located in Indiana that focuses on higher education. In his role, Canada focuses on campaign development and implementation, major and planned gift development, data analytics, and annual giving.