What Do Successful Capital Campaigns and A Bountiful Harvest Have in Common?

Ten Essentials for a Successful Capital Campaign Plan

I live in the Northwest.  It’s harvest time.  The corn has been cut, the hay has been baled, the seed crops are just about ready to be gathered, the beans are drying, fruit trees and berry vines are ripe for the picking and the potatoes are soon to be unearthed.  Nature’s bounty is on display as farmers reap what they have sown.

My wife and I often drive through the countryside to watch the land and the crops it bears.  These drives are restorative and instructive.  The times leading up to harvest provide countless lessons to be learned and applied to the world of fundraising.

In fundraising, like in farming, the harvest is what we wait for, work for, hope for.  A successful capital campaign is in essence a bountiful harvest.  But we must remember, nature’s bounty and donor generosity are the consequence of planning, discipline and hard work; they represent the fruit of labors that stretch well beyond a single season of growth.

Those who drive by a field, or glance at a campaign progress report, often fail to understand the scope of all that must be attended to in order to ensure a good harvest and a successful campaign.  The rules of farming cannot be broken, the soil must be prepared, the right crop must be chosen, planting can’t be done too early or too late, a certain amount of water must be applied, weeds must be prevented or removed and more often than not, mother nature will send something unexpected that must be dealt with.  All this takes time, patience, persistence and vigilance.

Successful farmers plan ahead over time.  They know the rhythm of the land and the seasons.

We can learn much from the farmer, as we lay our plans and consider our campaign goals and initiatives.  We must remember a successful harvest is the result of proper planning, preparation, resources and execution.

Think you’re ready to launch a campaign that will yield a good result?  Why not take the time to consider these essentials to ensure campaign readiness and campaign success?

Ten Essentials for a Successful Capital Campaign

There are multiple dimensions and tiers of readiness that must be in place to ensure a successful campaign launch.  A successful capital campaign is not the product of a single public launch; rather it is the result of many mini-launches, most of which are unseen.  Those unfamiliar with the intricate web of campaign personnel, programs, technology, volunteers, communications and donor pools, may think a feasibility study that tests proposed capital campaign priorities with potential lead donors is the primary step to campaign readiness.  While such a study is essential to campaign success, there is more, much more, to effectively launch your capital campaign internally and externally. 

The following ten dimensions represent the primary areas that must be addressed, planned for, resourced, implemented and executed to ensure both a successful campaign launch and an “over the top” conclusion.

1.  Institutional Health, Vision & Strategic Planning

Successful campaigns happen when healthy institutions align strategic vision with campaign priorities.  The commitment to launch a campaign must be adopted and supported by the governing board, the CEO, organizational leadership and the development team.

2.  Nature of Campaign

Successful campaigns are the result of appropriate scope and scale.  Leaders must determine if the campaign will have a single purpose or be a broader, longer comprehensive campaign.  A compelling case for the campaign must link the organization’s vision of the future with the donor’s desire to invest in that vision.

3.  Maturity & Effectiveness of Development Enterprise

Successful campaigns occur when the development team has reached the level of maturity and effectiveness needed to embark upon a significant campaign.  A thriving philanthropic culture, promoted by an effective, professional development enterprise, must be in place internally and well known externally for the campaign to succeed.

4.  Campaign Donor/Prospect Pool

Successful campaigns are made possible when existing pools of donors, and a viable cadre of prospects, are present and the scope of the campaign is proportionate to their level of wealth, project affinity and gift readiness.  These considerations must be verified through relational conversations, a feasibility study, wealth screening and readiness ratings within an existing moves management system.

5.  Campaign Strategy

Successful campaigns are guided by an appropriate, realistic strategy.  The timing and pace of the campaign must complement the number of donors, experience of staff, level of volunteer engagement, urgency of project, pledge payment window and projected timing of silent and public phases.

6.  Campaign Preparedness

Successful campaigns are the result of proper preparation.  In addition to campaign strategy, size of staff, necessary campaign resources, appropriate technology, use of external consultancy must all be addressed and in place prior to launch.  Additionally, serving donors well with appropriate naming opportunities, gift acceptance policies, planned giving services, and more are essential to effective campaign operation.

7.  Campaign Volunteers

Successful campaigns utilize the right number of volunteers at the right time, to connect with the right people for the right purpose.  Recruiting, training, resourcing, encouraging and thanking volunteers is no small thing, but volunteers are essential in leveraging major gifts in the silent phase and ‘larger than ever’ gifts in the public phase.

8.  Campaign Communication

Successful campaigns should be the worst kept secret within and without the institution.  Strategically and selectively news of campaign vision, plans and priorities must be shared in a striking, professional manner.  First to insiders, then to a growing pool of major donor prospects within the silent phase, and finally, when at least 60% of the campaign goals, or project goal has been met, to all in the public phase. 

9.  Campaign Events

Successful campaigns utilize appropriate events to create awareness, cast vision and invite involvement.  Appropriately scaled visioning events are designed to create buy-in and ownership within the leadership and major donor prospect circle; these are followed in time by broader public events to increase scope of awareness, anticipation of results and grassroots participation.

10.  Campaign Execution, Reporting & Assessment

Successful campaigns are the result of compelling vision, generous donors and hard work.  The development team, organizational leadership, select board members, and well-trained volunteers must stay on task, make the calls, tell the story, make the ask.  They must report their work so it can be assessed, objections met and next steps taken.  They must celebrate victories, delight in serendipities and cope with unexpected rejection.  This is the critical work of the capital campaign team; this is how a bountiful harvest happens!

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