Keys to Successful Fund Raising in a Down Economy

September 1, 2010

Feature Campaigning

By Dan Reynolds

The economic challenges of the past couple years did not leave the world of capital campaigns untouched. Many projects that were being considered by nonprofit boards were placed back on the shelf. Some initiatives came to a screeching halt. Other organizations that were in the planning mode continued to plan, extending the preparation period in hopes that the economic situation would resolve. Many who were in the midst of campaign implementation struggled to convert pending calls into donations. Volunteers lost confidence in soliciting commitments, and as a consequence, many calls were left unmade. It has been a tough year for most in the independent sector. Still, some organizations have been extremely successful despite the crisis. There is one campaign that comes to mind that raised nearly twice its original campaign dollar goal in the middle of the recession. A combination of factors seemed to align for Guardian Angel Settlement Association, propelling its project forward. It wasn’t easy for this organization that had not conducted a major campaign in 150 years. The staff had to dig deep. Campaign chairs and volunteers had to call more prospects and work harder to close commitments. GASA strategically motivated donors with a challenge gift from a lead benefactor, and a hard match from a foundation donor was leveraged to provide an added sense of urgency. As the economy slowly steadies, we can expect to see a fairly crowded field for campaigns in 2011. The resurgence of pre-campaign planning efforts and feasibility studies suggests that organizations and boards are feeling confident to test their visions and embark on major initiatives. The following are some distinguishing characteristics that will set successful campaigns apart from those that might not be so successful in the coming months.

• Those who’ve employed methodical cultivation and relationship building over the past several months will be better positioned to attract top leadership.
• Organizations should be bold in forming new partners and ambassadors, beyond the board.
• Nonprofits that truly know their donors, and have effectively managed their donor data, will be better able to match donors’ goals with the aspirations of their projects.
• Nothing adds momentum to a campaign ike a leadership-level financial commitment. Campaigns must keep their focus on gifts of impact.
• Organizations that plan well and develop sound approach strategies will increase their odds of campaign success.
• Nonprofits that invest in building the capacity of development operations will see return on investment.
• Conducting a pre-campaign assessments and feasibility studies are prudent exercises that validate project goals and assumptions and develop effective campaign strategies.
• Agencies and boards that have chosen to put their heads in the sand over the past several months will have a hard time catching up.
• The case for support must be refined to ensure that it is urgent.
• The case must be honed to meet the goals of the donor and compel the prospect to action.
• Strong case statements provide scope as well as specific, scalable and measurable
• Projects should explore opportunities to merge and truly collaborate with others who share goals on major initiatives.
• Organizations that are entrepreneurial and use the market to achieve social goals will stand out.
• Nonprofits will need to be more creative in campaign implementation by:
– Offering flexible pledge periods, including projected start dates.
– Including planned giving strategies in solicitations.
– Seeking and creating opportunities for challenge gifts and matching grants.
• Attitude, enthusiasm and passion mean everything.
• If you don’t think it’s possible, you’re right.
• If you believe you can do it, you probably can – or at least come close.

(Dan Reynolds is President of Reynolds Nonprofit Consulting, LLC., a St. Louis based fund development consultant specializing in capital campaigns and capacity building for nonprofit organizations.)

About the author

The MEET® Family of Publications

The MEET® Family of Publications produces regional and national publications that keep corporate, association, medical, education, independent, and religious meeting and event planners informed about relevant industry suppliers, news, tech innovations, and resources that impact and influence how and where they plan their upcoming company function(s).