• David J. Fry, MPS, CDT

The Four A’s in Capital Campaigns

Is a capital campaign in your future? Then buckle your seatbelt, get ready for the ride of your life, and remember, it's never too early to start planning. As an overview, there are at least four key points for consideration, and they are just the beginning!


I often share with organizations, "A capital campaign never leaves you where it found you." Accepting that fact and recognizing the gravity of the effort, may be the biggest hurdles to overcome. While contemplating the adventure, you'll want to focus on the highlights offered by the four "A's" in a cApitAl cAmpAign.


ASSESS

In promising to raise funds for a worthy or vital project, capital campaigns have an allure that demand an objective assessment.


Yes, the prospect of $1 million or maybe $10 million is real, but in being brutally honest with organizations, I never promise an "easy ride" during the venture. Sure, rewards are there, but they require proper planning, significant infrastructure, and herculean efforts. All valid reasons boards should assess if they are in the campaign state of mind, have the motivated team, and sufficient, competent staff.


Get it right from the beginning because it’s too risky to correct the course once the ship has sailed. Feasibility studies help avoid some of these assessment issues, and in smaller campaigns they may not be necessary, but be aware some will want to sell the idea.


A steering committee is in order since campaigns can be time-consuming and labor intensive. Your board can’t be “too involved” since the organization maintains “regular” business when the campaign is in its demanding full swing. It will be time to delegate and shift or let go of certain responsibilities.


ACKNOWLEDGE

It’s important to acknowledge the professional and objective angles a consultant can bring and their ability to help you avoid the land mines waiting in the field. A consultant provides a significant return on investment. Despite the tendency to “save money” and try to do it yourself, it seldom works well.

Select a consultant with whom you are comfortable but who can challenge your campaign team to reach new heights. Compose your list of questions prior to meeting with the consultant for your initial review. In some instances, you may even want to share these with the firm in advance of your meeting.


Acknowledgment carries well beyond the campaign itself, including planning for the acknowledgement of donors. When it comes to recognition, make sure that what you promise is what you deliver. Too often, recognition gets delayed or altered, but you must always honor the donor intent and your commitment.


AWARE

Be constantly aware of the pitfalls. They include rushing into leadership decisions, determining a goal or theme, and recruiting volunteers before conducting sufficient research and discussion.


Another is ignoring your pre-campaign history, good or bad. It doesn’t go away, so you need to be certain your house is in order before appealing to others to “move in” and donate! Details like pre-campaign launch policies, procedures, finances, and potential donor concerns need to be reviewed, and deemed as transparent as appropriate. Ask yourself the operational questions that donors are most certain to ask, and they will provide clues to where you need to start your work.


If you’re in a leadership position or closely involved, it’s easy to think that everybody shares your passion for the project, building, or fund. Be keenly aware that you have a different perspective, you’re able to see the vision with clarity and your prospective donors or supporters may not. Positive energy surrounding your potential project is certainly a plus, but reality and objectivity are just as important in planning.

During the campaign be aware that you have a unique opportunity to gather feedback from donors. Create a means of capturing and addressing the comments.


ADAPT

The ability to adapt is paramount as the momentum of a campaign ebbs and flows. Early on, campaign leadership must be carefully vetted and selected. It’s imperative that they carry an undying and deeply rooted commitment.

Less than 10% of the population matches the description you need for serving as the “face of the campaign.” In smaller campaigns, this leadership is responsible for helping to build the remainder of the team, so the ability to attract and motivate volunteers is another important component in the selection. With increasing obligations, it’s becoming more difficult to find those volunteers and so you will need to adapt.

When considered objectively, the campaign chair you “need,” may not have been on your radar. As a result, you want to adapt, to the person and personality that will get the job done. Campaigns are donor driven and making the ask involves strategizing, analyzing, and understanding the motivations of donors. Again, the ability to adapt is key.


Finally, campaigns should not be feared but rather welcomed. Despite their consuming nature, campaigns offer surprises around every corner. They provide long-term gain for you as an individual and most importantly, your organization, and its clients or service recipients. Remember, a successful campaign never leaves you where it found you and that’s a positive thing!


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