No matter how long you’ve been in the fundraising business, you can always be surprised at a new approach to a capital campaign. There’s nothing wrong with creativity and innovation.However, there are common elements of every successful campaign.At the same time, in almost every failed campaign, one or more of the following five “don’ts” can be found.1. Don’t believe the volunteers will do all the work.As Americans, we have a rich tradition of volunteerism and certainly many worthy ventures have succeeded because of volunteer efforts. But the demands of today’s volunteer are unlike those of 30 years ago. Today, multiple homes, businesses and jobs can keep volunteers from being able to set their own appointments and write their own letters.Your campaign will very likely require additional staff, particularly administrative. Also consider that even if volunteers have the time, studies are showing that the organization’s leadership and fundraising staff are having increasingly more influence in securing gifts.2. Don’t announce the campaign too soon.A big fundraising myth is that the announcement of a campaign will generate dollars and create momentum. Don’t believe it. Who thinks the chief executive officer of a major company happens on a public broadcasting appeal, thinks “we ought to give,” scrambles to find a nearby quick print shop to produce a big check, runs down to the studio and presents it?While this telethon is not a capital campaign, it is a long-term planned effort. And like a campaign, is an orchestrated event that is months, if not years, in the making. You will want to raise 50 to 60 percent of the goal — sometimes even more, depending what you have left to raise and the number of prospects you have — before you announce your campaign.3. Don’t hire as the campaign director the nice person who knows everyone.Too often, a well-known community person or volunteer is hired for this important position without regard for campaign experience or skills.Unfortunately, the fundraising profession is still in the process of developing reliable tools to assure an employer that the person hired to raise money is qualified. The turnover rate of fundraisers is 1.8 years per job. While there are multiple reasons for the turnover, frequently it is incompetence.This might be considered heresy, but it needs to be said: Campaign staff might be more important than volunteer leadership. As your organization steps out publicly with a campaign, much is on the line. Ask tough questions, validate the answers and hire a professional.4. Don’t think you are going to raise the money from small gifts.You are no doubt familiar with this misguided suggestion: “All we need is 10,000 donors to give us a $1,000 and we will meet the goal.” While this might sound like a good idea, raising small gifts is a lot of work that can cost as much as 50 percent of the funds raised. More importantly, capital campaigns are major gift efforts.While campaigns certainly provide an important opportunity to get your message out and raise money, they add to your major gift pool. Your long-term goals depend on this element.According to the Bank of America Study from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University (CoP), 67 percent of all giving comes from 3 percent of the population. Think of the small gifts — the $1,000 and less range — long after the large gifts are secured.5. Don’t take your donors for granted.Your donors give because they care. But don’t think for a minute this means they don’t need to feel appreciated. In cooperation with the University of Michigan, CoP surveyed some 8,000 families for several years and found that only 56 percent of Americans give to something annually. In America — the most philanthropic country in the world — just slightly more than half of us give to something.The primary reason philanthropy has not grown is because of the under-appreciation of giving in the nonprofit world. Donors are saying, “If it doesn’t matter, then we don’t need to give.” By communicating your appreciation and the impact of gifts, philanthropy can be changed. Think about it. If American giving can be increased by 10 percent, roughly an additional $30 billion dollars could be available.This short list is by no means comprehensive, and it is certainly not intended to discourage your efforts. Campaigns are often the solution to many problems. If you have a need and a cadre of supporters who have the resources to support those needs, a campaign could very well be in order.. Just don’t jump in thinking these “don’ts” don’t matter.
Will You Be There When John Shamberg Calls?
A big part of fundraising is showing up and being available. I learned this lesson on a very memorable New Year’s Eve, a very long time ago.
As an eager young fundraiser working for Washburn University, I didn’t know that it was unusual still to be at work in the evening of December 31st. But, there I was.
Earlier that year, a graduate of Washburn University School of Law told me he was going to give a gift of land to his synagogue, a private K-12 school and Washburn. John Shamberg, who has since passed away, made millions of dollars for institutions all over the world, and he wanted to give a significant gift to organizations he valued. His 40 acres of land on the outskirts of Kansas City were valued at $450,000, and his intention was to give $150,000 each to three organizations.
He’d left the task to the last day of the year, but now he was ready to make it happen.
He called the synagogue. No answer.
He called the K-12 school. No answer.
Then, he called Washburn and got me.
“Bob,” he said, “you just won the jackpot!”
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