When is the Right Time to Conduct a Capital Campaign?
By David G. Phillips on April 25, 2017
When is the right time to get married? When is it the right time to begin a family and have children? When is it the right time to plan a capital campaign? These are all vexing questions, and questions that challenge our courage and resolve. It seems to me, having answered all three at one time in my life, that there is never certainty around these kinds of questions—never a right and wrong—but only a feeling. In my opinion, the answer for those people who are resolved to make great things happen, and to create an extraordinary life for themselves is always the same: Right Now!!!
Often, when we learn best practices in management, leadership and operational excellence, we seek to learn what they do in the most successful organizations, and then we try to emulate the success they have enjoyed. Looking to the most renowned nonprofits in America for the answer to the great rhetorical question above (When is it the right time to plan a capital campaign?), the answer would almost always be, just as you are wrapping up the current campaign.
Organizations that strive to become the best they can be will always have a vision that requires and commands charitable contributions. It is not uncommon among such institutions that you learn of this new exciting vision, and the challenge it presents financially and otherwise, while you are attending the victory celebration for campaign which is just winding down.
The very best institutions are always pushing ahead with the next capital campaign, because they know that operating revenues and fees will never fund an incomparable institution. The best hospitals, colleges, schools, museums and arts organizations would have never achieved their greatness without help from generous charitable contributions. Creating, maintaining and growing their reputations for incredible health care, education, artistic excellence or the highest quality service is not inexpensive. There is always a new mountain to climb; distant peaks that were not even visible until you reached the current summit, now present you with an amazing challenge.
Charitable organizations which are committed to greatness insist on identifying and recruiting dynamic, passionate and extraordinary leaders who are going to take the institution to the next level. These kinds of leaders tend to be both visionary and demanding. They make no excuses for setting their sights on enormous goals, and for making ambitious plans to achieve them. They demand excellence of themselves, and they cultivate the best from the members of their professional staff, and they bring out the brilliance of their board members by asking good questions, listening carefully and assigning each board member a role that enables them to shine.
A visionary and strategic leader knows the right time to plan a capital campaign. For her, the right time to plan a capital campaign is when the mission dictates that there is a strategic plan or goal that must be reached and for which substantial funds are required to make it happen. Often times this is a building program, sometimes it is an effort to create and/or sustain programs, and yet another priority might be to create and/or grow an endowment fund. Life is very uncertain, and the one thing that we know will happen is change—so it is best to anticipate this change and have funds available in an endowment to help you manage in times of uncertainty. An extraordinary institution usually has an endowment fund set aside for specific purposes.
In any case, as your nonprofit organization considers the means to fund a building program, a programmatic expansion, or endowment creation/growth, you should consider every possible source of funding, both public and private. Even in the enviable and unusual situation where income from operations, government grants, bonding or other financing is available to fully fund a project, the board and leadership team of a charitable organization should always consider raising some private contributions to help complete the funding formula. Stretching the organization to raise more money is healthy—just as learning to live with as little debt as is possible ensures a strong organization which can focus its mission, rather than debt service.
Learning to raise charitable contributions through major gifts fundraising is like exercise for a charitable organization. It takes effort, but it is relatively inexpensive. There is no other source of funding that is as inexpensive. By working to build your fundraising network, you are strengthened and you grow. As you expand your reach, and your capacity to raise more money, there is a natural growth in your ability to do the work required by your mission. As you do more work, and better work, you attract larger and greater gifts—and the cycle allows you to naturally move closer to realizing your potential. You begin to attract the most capable professional leadership (and board members), again propelling you to gain momentum and become better still.
You don’t have to be a world class organization to use the same cost effective techniques that they employ to raise money. You can do that at any nonprofit. Just focus on major gifts fundraising. And, the best way to begin a major gifts fundraising campaign is with a capital campaign. It gives you a focused, consensual approach to reach a very specific financial goal for a very specific reason.
And, if you are going to raise a substantial sum of money, it may compel you to retain professional consultants to help you plan and organize your capital campaign, help you create your marketing materials and to help you solicit and train the volunteer leadership that will lead your campaign to a success.
When our firm, CDS, helps plan a capital campaign, we have our onsite consultant help you select the best team of solicitors to join us for each request. After we identify the best team (those to whom the prospective donor will relate best), we work with you to develop the marketing approach to take with that specific prospective donor, we help prepare and rehearse your team for each visit (who will say what/when/why), and we actually go with you to ask for the gifts. Afterwards, we debrief with the entire team to ensure that we help you build your confidence and competence. We help make sure we learn from each call.
After a successful campaign, you will have very effective solicitation processes and procedures in place that will work well for you from that point forward. Then, when you find you have another pressing need, you simply approach people for major gifts as the means to make your dreams come true. There is no more economical way to raise money. And, these same principles can be used to improve your results for special events, and other sponsorship driven activities you use to build awareness, create friendships and raise money.
When is the best time to plan a capital campaign? Right Now! Let’s get started.
David G. Phillips is President/CEO of Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS), a fundraising consulting firm based in Charleston, SC. David has over 35 years of experience and has personally run campaigns which have raised over $750 million for nonprofits all over the world. CDS professionals have raised over $2.5 billion worldwide. He has written, taught and lectured extensively on major gifts fundraising and capital campaigns. Mr. Phillips is on the board of America’s Charities as well as Children’s First and Health First. CLICK HERE if you are seeking capital campaign assistance. You may contact him at: dgp@CDSfunds.com or 800-761-3833.