Capital campaigns are a major exercise so it pays to know if you truly are ready to run with one. Graeme Bradshaw gives his list of the items that need be ticked off before you can proceed.

For most nonprofits, a capital campaign is a very significant and challenging event that occurs infrequently. It often provides the stimulus and financial resources for a significant leap forward that will see your organisation entering a new and higher level of service delivery, or providing a broader scope of programs to meet growing demands.

Success can give staff and volunteers a new sense of confidence and achievement but failure may lead to a questioning of relevance and purpose.

Some key questions to be answered when considering the possibility of a campaign are:

How successful have your previous fundraising efforts been? Do you have a positive image in the community? It costs money to raise money … are you willing and able to make the necessary expenditures? Is there a sense of urgency about your needs? Can you identify at least five to ten prospective major donors, and is there a good pool of potential donors at other giving levels? Is there a CHAMPION who can lead the campaign through their own significant pledge and who can influence others to follow suit?

The unequivocal backing of your board is also critical and this means they must enthusiastically support the campaign objectives, must be willing to give, and willing to work to ensure the campaign’s success.

Even more important is the commitment of the CEO. It is not unreasonable to expect that up to 30% of a CEO’s time will be required during the buildup and solicitation phase of the campaign.

Away from the organisational issues, perhaps the three most important factors in any successful campaign are a big vision, an extremely focused mission and an urgent and compelling case for support. The absence of any of these means you shouldn’t even start the planning process much less launch the campaign.

Once it has been established that an important need exists that demands substantial funding, the next step is often to commission a feasibility study, usually best carried out by an experienced and objective outside consultant.

The study will help answer many of the questions and issues raised above, should tell you whether you are well placed to succeed or if a campaign should be delayed until the key factors for success are in place.

A recent feasibility study for a youth development organisation in Sydney found that while there was a great need to refurbish the site, the pool of potential donors to fund the project simply wasn’t big enough. The campaign was postponed indefinitely.

If the study gives the green light to proceed, there are still a number of matters to be addressed before a campaign can begin such as:

The appointment of a planning committee Recruitment of a chair/champion for the campaign Refinement of the case statement Thorough prospect listing, research and evaluation Preparation and approval of a campaign budget Recruitment of additional staff/consultants Case Study – TAD NSW Raises a Quick $600,000

Flexibility and focus featured strongly in the succcess of Technical Aid to the Disabled (TAD) NSW’s “Reaching New Heights Stage 2” capital campaign in 2007. Confronted with a higher cost for new headquarters and workshops than originally anticipated, the $2 million already raised in 2002 needed to be supplemented with a further $600,000 cash and $100,000 in-kind support – a big ask for a small and relatively low profile organisation with few donors.

Undeterred, TAD NSW went back with a strong case to the original donors, mostly “friends” of TAD and trusts and foundations, and reached the target in the brief timeline between purchase and occupancy. Genuine urgency, good prospect research, and a small but committed volunteer team ASKING personally were the secrets of their success.

Case Study – Continual Campaigning, Riverview-style

Independent school fundraising has a challenge all of its own and Riverview College in Sydney has a remarkable record of success with campaigns every five years since the late 80’s – all reaching target.

The latest, just moving out of the quiet phase, has already raised around $5 million of a $6 million target. This has come from the top 200 prospects, mostly current parents. Thorough preparation, regular and on-going contact with parents and prospects between campaigns, coupled with a strong ASK most often involving the headmaster and either a volunteer parent champion or the development officer, have been a feature of all their campaigns.

School campaigns that fail to reach target often do so when the principal is not fully committed. The worst case scenario is when a principal leaves or signifies the intention to do so during a campaign. Until a new appointment is made few parents or alumni will usually make significant commitments.

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