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So, You Want to Do a Campaign?

So, you want to do a campaign?

Your nonprofit has aspirations for growth – whether it’s capital, endowment, or building more organizational capacity - and a campaign is on the horizon to address these needs and more so, to realize your vision. Now what? An essential first step is confirming that your internal stakeholders are collectively committed to pursuing the opportunities for growth. To do that, trustees, staff leadership, and your development team must share ideas and concerns, and utilize all of the input to draft an initial plan of what the organization needs. The plan may be a very simple narrative along with a rough estimation of costs, and perhaps inclusion of architectural concepts or blueprints if the focus is a capital campaign. How the organization will secure the funding for the expansion and how you will engage donors in a way that they will embrace the plans are essential to seeing this plan come to fruition.

Engaging your donors and expanding your base of support is the integral next step in securing contributions. It is best practice to begin with a Planning Study. The Planning Study is a process to determine if your aspirations for growth have the potential to raise the amount of money needed for the project. The Study also positions the organization for success as it provides you with insights from Study participants on their commitment to the organization, their philanthropic interests, and how the community thinks the organization could move forward. The participants’ input is invaluable particularly since they’ve demonstrated interest in the organization based on their past support or involvement in the organization’s broader community. Further, the Planning Study outcomes include indications from the participants of where they each see themselves in investing in your organization’s plans for growth. The Study can reveal levels of support that could not have been accurately forecast without the opportunities for donors to engage in conversation(s) about the aspirations of the organization.

Prior to getting underway with the confidential Planning Study interviews, organization leadership, often with Fundraising Counsel, prepares a first draft of its Case for Support that tells the story of the nonprofit – its mission and history, its impact on the community it serves, its ambitions, and how it proposes to achieve expansion. Study participants are invited to offer feedback – strengths, weaknesses, omissions – specific to the Case since how the Case will resonate with donors will drive the Campaign. The feedback from participants can be integrated to create the Campaign Case for Support, becoming the basis for Campaign communications. Seeking and then integrating feedback from supporters will enable Study participants to see themselves as valued contributors at the outset of the Campaign as well, further investing them in the successful outcome. The Case will evolve some during the Campaign; but the essential elements to how the organization will thrive as a result of investments in its future will remain.

A Planning Study also engages the participants in reflection on their personal philanthropy, their level of commitment to your organization, and how they are each a part of a larger picture for the sake of your mission. Collectively, this confidential input informs how best to proceed with the Campaign. Interviewees may have strong opinions and substantive suggestions on plan specifics, as well as timing, and how best to fund the proposed expansion. The Planning Study interviews create a space for each participant to be a part of the greater good of the organization. Therefore, they are more likely to be a part of the Campaign and invite others to join them in supporting your organization’s efforts.

Data from the interviews is compiled to report both the quantitative and qualitative input. The compilation provides a clearer picture of who will support the organization’s efforts and how. Those findings inform the recommendations for feasibility, a fundraising goal, how to pursue philanthropic dollars for growth, campaign timing, engaging donors, and how to handle extraordinary circumstances. The Planning Study Report will be an invaluable resource to your organization as you return to your initial plan. You can utilize the Report to refine the aspirations with an ambitious, yet achievable goal and create measurable fundraising milestones that will ultimately define a successful campaign.

While debates have been underway for decades around the value of a Planning Study, organizations who invest the time and effort in building a plan for success, often experience that success. From goals of $500,000 to $5 million, Planning Studies are the first step toward a solid and strong campaign. Incorporating a Study into your organization’s broader growth strategies shows the importance of a prospective campaign to the public, and it shows the maturity of the organization as it embarks on what may be the most historic initiative to benefit the mission.

Sobel Bixel: Consulting for Nonprofits has worked closely with a multitude of organizations in conducting Planning Studies and successful Campaigns. Contact us directly to discuss how we may help your organization as it looks toward realizing its vision for the future.


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