Whether you are in a campaign now or considering the next one, it’s essential to reflect on what has changed during the past year and what the best path forward is in the current climate. Here are some tips to help you plan for a campaign in today's environment taken from a recent webinar I conducted with my colleague John Keith.
The nonprofit world, just like the world in general, has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing crises over the economy and race relations in the US. All of us involved in philanthropy are working to determine our course in the choppy and unchartered waters.
Recently JGA sponsored a webinar aimed at casting a guiding light on moving forward with a fundraising campaign in the midst of these challenges. The webinar, Campaigns and COVID-19: What the Pandemic Means for Your Campaign, brought the perspective of four guests representing organizations at different stages of campaigns: planning; leadership gifts/quiet phase; major gifts/public phase; and campaign closure.
It might feel like you are always in campaign mode, either planning for your first campaign, your next campaign, or currently in the middle of one. You aren’t alone here! As you think about your campaign, here are some recent trends we have noticed and best practices we have seen in our 25 years working with clients across multiple nonprofit sectors.
Trends in Campaigns
For starters, many more campaigns are taking place today. We are seeing larger campaign goals and more megacampaigns fueled by megagifts from the top tier of donors.
With this has come a greater focus on the top of the gift pyramid and heavy reliance on lead donors with less participation from mid-level donors. The challenge for non-profit organizations is to also build in opportunities to engage mid-level and annual fund level donors. Organizations are recognizing that if this opportunity is missed it can be detrimental to their efforts to develop major and lead gift donor pipelines for future campaigns. Relying on the same lead gift donors repeatedly can quickly lead to donor fatigue in the environment of continuous campaigns we find ourselves in today.
Like many others, I began my career in fundraising by attending the Principles and Techniques of Fundraising class at The Fund Raising School at Indiana University’s Lilly School of Philanthropy. As a new member of the development team at the Indiana University Foundation more than 20 years ago, I learned that, typically, an organization could anticipate that 80% of the dollars raised in a fundraising campaign would come from 20% of the campaign donors. The so-called 80/20 rule.
Much has changed in the last twenty years. Mirroring, or perhaps in response to, the changing landscape of wealth distribution in our society, fundraising campaigns have more significant dollar goals that rely on fewer and fewer donors in order to achieve success. Campaigns are now typically based upon the projection that 90% of the dollars will come from 10% of the campaign donors. In some corners of the nonprofit sector, notably higher education, successful campaigns may have 95% or more of the dollars contributed from as few as 5% of the campaign donors.
by Angela White
Some time ago, I recorded a short video interview on why we advocate feasibility studies at JGA, and I find that those reasons continue to hold true.
Conducting a feasibility study prior to a campaign is a common and proven way to gauge what level of support may be achieved in a campaign and what strategies should be employed – not only to achieve a financial goal but, perhaps as importantly, to build both unity and momentum for organizational success.
A feasibility study provides the opportunity for your current and prospective lead donors to dream big, to think through what the future will look like for your organization, and to share how they see themselves participating in that future.
Here are some questions a good feasibility study should help you answer.
Capital campaigns are an important tool in raising funds for nonprofits. In fact, 20% of higher education institutions reported that being in a fundraising campaign helped them raise between 176% - 200% more funds. It’s no wonder then that in the first half of 2015 approximately 46% of nonprofits were in a campaign, up from 11% in 2011.
While a campaign can be a crucial initiative for moving an organization forward, the reality is that the vast majority of campaigns experience a period – or sometimes multiple periods – of time when they seem to lose steam.
Conducting a capital campaign can be one of the most exciting and transformational activities that an organization can undertake. The funds raised through the campaign can allow you to bring to life the vision and aspirations identified in your strategic plan and position your organization to fulfil its mission for years to come.
However, the excitement around the actual campaign can sometimes overshadow the realities. All campaigns come with some risk and require organizations to stretch to reach new levels. Proper campaign planning can minimize those risks and demonstrate to current and prospective donors the organization is a good investment and will be a good steward of their dollars.
A common practice among nonprofit organizations -- the offering of naming opportunities to donors – is seemingly receiving increased scrutiny. In the past fifteen months, for example, The New York Times featured an op-ed article on revising the way tax law treats naming rights and The Wall Street Journal ran a story on how naming rights can go wrong, focusing on a legal battle over a gift made by country singer Garth Brooks.
One of the more interesting aspects of our work as consultants is to observe trends and patterns in the experiences of our client institutions. While each of them have many specific and unique characteristics, it is also true that we observe and help them grapple with some of the same broad issues. One trend we have been seeing more frequently lately, as referenced in a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy article, is the increasing interest in raising endowment support, leading many more institutions to consider an endowment fundraising campaign.
Over the past 21 years, JGA has served as campaign counsel, assisting scores of not-for-profit organizations in planning and conducting all types of fundraising campaigns from comprehensive campaigns, to endowment and capital campaigns. The organizations we have counseled represent all segments of the nonprofit sector – secondary and higher education, cultural arts and museums, health care, human services, churches and religious institutions, and wildlife and environmental causes. We have served as campaign counsel for campaigns with goals of less than $1 million and more than $100 million.
Looking back over these many years of experience with a wide range of campaigns, what are some of the common denominators of successful campaigns? What “best practices” are key to success in a campaign?