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Launching Campaigns: Are You Really Ready?

by Barbara O'Reilly

Sometimes we invite experts and professionals from other organizations to guest post on our blog. Joining us today is Barbara O’Reilly of Windmill Hill Consulting, where she helps nonprofit organizations create impactful donor-focused relationships. She does this through strategic donor development, planning and coordination of annual funds, capital campaigns, individual and institutional major gifts, and donor engagement.

Many nonprofits look at capital campaigns as a solution to financial issues they may be facing. However, campaigns are only as effective as the vision, capacity, and donor potential of the nonprofit. When done correctly, campaigns not only raise more money for an organization, they also deepen donor relationships and create new ones, leading to greater levels of investment and sustained support for the future.

Before you decide to launch a campaign of your own, assess your readiness in the following key areas:

1. Vision

What’s the big, bold plan for your future you want your campaign to fund? Your campaign case statement outlines how this fundraising effort will make a transformational difference in the impact you want to have. Be clear in what you want, why the initiatives you have outlined are urgent and needed, and how much it will cost.

Then test the case statement through a feasibility study with a core group of donors, stakeholders, and prospects who can confirm whether or not the priorities you outlined are inspirational. Incidentally, feasibility studies are an excellent cultivation activity because you are inviting important stakeholders to share their input. Remember the old adage, “If you want money, ask for advice.”

2. Capacity

Capital campaigns are hard work and require the full involvement of everyone in an organization. Are your CEO and board engaged in fundraising for your organization now? Will they carve out the time needed and own the leadership of this effort over the long haul of the campaign? To successfully conduct a campaign, there also must be an increase in fundraising staff. Particularly for small nonprofits, you will likely need additional staff to adequately scale the donor engagement activities you need to do to promote the capital campaign and avoid burnout of existing team members.

A good rule of thumb is campaign expenses generally amount to about 20% of a campaign goal (sometimes a little higher if this is a first-time campaign), with 50% of those expenses usually spent on staff and campaign counsel. Build the campaign expenses into your overall campaign goal so you can ensure you have the capacity to be successful. It will not help the long-term success of your campaign if you don’t have the full internal leadership and staffing capacity to manage it from start to finish.

3. Donor Potential

Finally, determine if you have the donor base to raise the gifts needed for success. A gift table spells out the ratio of prospects to gifts needed to reach your goal. What kind of major gifts do you forecast you will need? Do you have three to five prospective donors for each gift needed at the different levels? Analyze giving trends of your donors, conduct wealth screening of a select subset of your contributors, and engage your board and major donors in a peer review to broaden your net.

Just because you decide to launch a campaign doesn’t mean people who have never before supported you will suddenly appear with checks in hand. As you begin fundraising, always start with your inner circle: your board and current major donors. Their leadership commitments will inspire other donors to join them.

Campaigns are a marathon, not a sprint. Therefore, be sure you prepare your internal and external resources before launching campaigns so your efforts ensure success.

Free Recorded Webinar: Creating a Nonprofit Fundraising Plan

While planning and creating a fundraising plan can seem overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be a difficult process. A fundraising plan is a roadmap to help you identify your organization’s goals, plans, and timelines. Once you know your goals and you have a plan, you are much more likely to reach those goals. In this one-hour webinar, we explore some simple and practical steps to create an excellent fundraising plan that will take your annual fundraising to new heights.

During this webinar, you will:

  • Get simple steps for creating a fundraising plan
  • See examples of solid fundraising plans
  • Learn how to develop the right fundraising plan for your nonprofit’s size and budget

Sign up below to access the webinar.

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