Umming and ahhing about embarking on a capital campaign in the current climate? Troy Yerkovich gives his perspective.
Now is as good a time as any

Given the current economic climate – with national growth slowing and pressures faced by Australians beyond their experience – many nonprofit leaders seem to assume that now is not a good time to embark on capital fundraising programs. Some have become decidedly nervous, when before the downturn they were very committed and their projects were paramount.

The fact is, there is no ideal time to begin a campaign, and a capital campaign can succeed just as well in difficult times as in times of plenty. That’s because capital campaign fundraising is conducted through networks of high net-worth individuals who, in general, are better placed financially and are not severely affected by slumps in the national economy; large or small.

Many organisations that embarked on a capital campaign prior to the downturn are pressing on, and getting good results: major donors are continuing to give in line with normal patterns.

After the last stock market upheaval in Australia in 1987, and throughout the ensuing recession years of the early 90’s, we saw some of the largest capital campaign gifts on record.

Now presents a unique opportunity

At the moment, the community is facing uncertainty, and people are looking for a bright spot on the horizon that may help them feel better. Fundraising professionals are uniquely positioned to provide that inspiration. We have the power to tell the uplifting stories of what our organisations are achieving; stories that can engage and enthuse our donors.

In one of his recent essays ‘Some thoughts on fundraising in tough times’, fundraising guru Jerold Panas told us:

“It’s a puzzling phenomenon. It may seem counter-intuitive, but in tough financial times people actually give more. But they give to organisations they care greatly about. Those organisations that have done an outstanding job of thanking them properly and often, and where they feel their gift has been celebrated and used effectively. Donors become more selective in tough times. They choose organisations that demonstrate how much the donor means to those the organisation serves.”

There is something about tough times that awakens in people the desire to help others less fortunate. The tendency of Australians in these times is to want to give something back to their community. As such, right now presents an excellent opportunity for nonprofits to engage existing stakeholder communities to become involved in grassroots fundraising activities.

Succeeding in the current climate

The success of a capital campaign is based largely on thorough research, a compelling case for support, followed by a systematic and personal approach to prospective donors. Of course, sending the right person to approach each prospect in a manner that encourages them to make a significant gift is paramount.

If comprehensive prospect research is not done, or the strategy is not properly developed or rolled out, the capital campaign will not succeed – no matter what the economic climate. On the other hand, if the groundwork has been laid and the right strategy is executed with care, economic conditions will have little or no effect on the campaign’s success.

Now is not the time to back away from opportunities that are vital to your organisation’s future. History assures us the Australian economy will get better and we, as fundraising professionals and volunteer leaders must be prepared.

Fundraisers must not buy into the ‘doom and gloom’ thought processes that easily seduce us in difficult times. The passions of individuals are not diminished by the economic climate. In fact, they are often ignited in times of uncertainty.

While the current economic situation is largely unprecedented, we do know that the economy will stabilise and that, when it does, philanthropy will increase – whether the economy stabilises on a high or a low.

So, if we take into account that any good capital campaign takes a great deal of preparation, now is the best time to start that planning process. That way, when the economic fear calms down in twelve months or so, you are ready to go while your competitors have only just started planning.

Even in tough times, most everybody has the capacity to give something – and will if approached in the right way, at the right time, by the right person and with the right project.

Troy Yerovich is chief executive of Fundraising Management Consultants (FMC).

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