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December 4, 2021
Five Things NOT to Do in a Capital Campaign
By Robert Hartsook

Capital Campaign
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% 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 the nice person who knows everyone as the campaign director

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 $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% 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% of all giving comes from 3% 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% 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%, roughly an additional $30 billion 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.

Robert Hartsook is chairman and CEO, Hartsook Companies, Inc., with offices in Wichita, Kan., and Wrightsville Beach, N.C., is a 21-year-old full service fundraising consulting firm with an emphasis on major gifts.

Republished with permission from
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