Posted on

Resuming a capital campaign

Some organizations were in the middle of a campaign when recession hit and wonder, now what? How does one know if it’s time to re-engage and, if so, how does we one go about it?

Restarting a campaign in a good way assumes that an organization has done its homework—i.e. maintained open communication and strengthened relationships with current and prospective donors and volunteers—in the interim.

Even then, resuming the process isn’t simply a matter of picking up where one left off. Consider “patience” and “diligence” virtues. At the same time, assuming your case was strong at the outset, your needs cannot be put on hold indefinitely without, in some regard, compromising the service you’re able to offer.

Here are several steps we recommend:

1. Re-engage with those who have already contributed. Let them know the campaign is back on track. Invite and answer their questions. Use these visits to check the pulse of the constituency. Are your stakeholders still committed to the project?

2. Study the original campaign plan in the light of several important questions: Is the case still strong and accurate? Is the original campaign goal still realistic? Do we need an updated feasibility study? How many of our major gift prospects are dependent on the economy? Has there been turnover in key staff or board positions? If so, allow sufficient time to bring new members up to speed and gain their support.

3. Reassemble the campaign cabinet. Begin with the volunteers that were already in place, but respect that, in the meantime, other commitments will most likely have taken priority for some original members. Additional recruitment and training may be necessary; these steps will take time.

4. Adjust the process as necessary. Be creative in the types of gifts you allow donors to consider and respect their timeframe. Longer pledge periods may be helpful for some. Others may need to wait longer than desired before making an initial gift to allow assets that have depleted in value to recover.

Posted on

Congregational fundraising

When working with a congregation, AAI first provides an overview of the capital campaign and introduces key campaign principles in the context of fundraising as ministry. Next, we assess the congregation’s readiness for such a highly organized fundraising effort. Based on this assessment, AAI can enter the process at one of several points, described below.

Visioning. Often, AAI’s first official role is to engage leaders of the congregation in visioning. This kind of exercise typically takes place during a weekend retreat and asks participants to reflect on the following questions:

  1. In light of our mission, what are the opportunities and challenges presented by our surrounding environment?
  2. In light of our mission, opportunities and challenges
    • What program priorities should we establish and pursue at this time?
    • What priorities should we establish for our facilities?
    • What financial resources are required to meet our priorities for program and facilities?

Campaign feasibility study. A feasibility study helps determine the level of support for the goals identified during the visioning process and, therefore, the probability of success for a proposed capital campaign and building program. The feasibility study includes a series of both personal and mail interviews conducted by AAI staff; interviewees are shown a case summary of the project at hand and a gift table. AAI compiles results into a report and makes a recommendation regarding the campaign goal to congregational leaders and/or the congregation as a whole. A feasibility study takes approximately two months to complete.

Campaign. Congregations can also enlist AAI’s help with the campaign itself. Campaigns are typically completed within four months, during which campaign leaders receive regular consultation and unlimited access to the consultant(s). Depending on the needs and desires of the congregation, AAI’s involvement can also include:

  • creating an action plan that lists specific responsibilities for the various persons involved in campaign leadership; outlines how these persons report to and interact with one another; and sets a timeline for implementation of various campaign steps
  • developing any necessary communications materials
  • training of key personnel
  • attendance and leadership at campaign meetings

While many professional firms offer campaign services similar to the four just mentioned, AAI encourages five additional practices that distinguish our approach from others’:

  1. Our philosophy of “fundraising as ministry” seeks to incorporate the capital campaign into the life and worship of congregation.
  2. We provide actual templates of the communication materials the congregation will use during the campaign.
  3. We emphasize personal solicitation and direct requests for campaign commitments.
  4. We utilize mail and telephone solicitation for distant members and friends.
  5. Three-year pledge commitments give donors the flexibility they may need to make the most faithful gift possible.
Posted on

Development officers…they’re nowhere, they’re everywhere

A recent special report in The Chronicle of Philanthropy (March 18, 2004) confirms what many CEOs and board members of nonprofit, church-related organizations already know: Development officers are in hot demand these days, and attracting an experienced fundraiser to your organization is no easy task.

We can identify many of the factors causing this dilemma. As income from government and other external sources lags, many nonprofits must turn to increased charitable support. Relatively few people aspire to be fundraisers. Even fewer have formally trained for the task. Turnover and burnout plague the development profession; the average fundraiser lasts only 2-3 years in the same position. Two particular obstacles often faced by many church-related organizations are their rural locations and the modest salaries they offer. And even if these organizations are fortunate enough to find productive and experienced fundraisers, such professionals are often quickly lured away by appealing offers made by larger organizations who enjoy higher profiles and greater resources. What to do?

While we don’t argue that previous experience is unimportant in the development profession, Advancement Associates believes there is another way small, church-related organizations can find—and keep—fundraisers who are effective in their tasks and committed to the missions of the organizations they serve. This alternate approach requires three key understandings:

1. A focus more on essential qualities than on previous experience in seeking candidates for your development position.
2. Active identification of those who have development potential and effective means of encouraging their interest.
3. Realistic expectations and adequate support, training and resources for your new development officer.

Let’s explore these understandings in more depth.

Essential qualities

What are the qualities most important for the successful development officer? To supplement my own reading and learning from many years in the profession, I conducted an informal survey of the fundraisers with whom I currently work. Fourteen attributes emerged in the following order of frequency. Note that some of these qualities are inherent, while others can be learned.

1. A person who knows the organization and believes in its mission.
2. A relationship builder, who enjoys, respects and understands people, can motivate others, and has a good sense of humor.
3. A communicator, who has verbal, written and listening skills.
4. An organizer, who keeps accurate records, makes timely calls, and does thorough follow up.
5. A motivated self-starter, who works with persistence, optimism and creativity.
6. One who can maintain good working relationships with CEO, board and staff.
7. A generous donor to the organization.
8. A person who understands the “principles” of fundraising and adheres to high ethical standards.
9. One who is comfortable asking for money.
10. Someone who is open to learning and applying marketing concepts and strategies.
11. One who can use technology tools in support of the development program.
12. A flexible worker who is willing to travel and maintain irregular hours.
13. One who is committed to continuing education and willing to ask others for guidance and ideas.
14. A well-balanced person who has a life outside work and a means to maintain health and energy.

I invite you to consider the above qualities as “cake” and previous development experience as “frosting” when seeking an effective fundraiser for your organization. You’ll have many more candidates to consider—and enjoy the likelihood that they will stay a long time because they are committed to your mission.

Searching, finding, attracting

As you focus more on essential qualities than on previous experience, you’ll discover that potential candidates for your position aren’t actively looking for a fundraising job and may even have a dim view of the development profession. Beyond preparing a job description and placing a position announcement in the right publications, how can you effectively search, find and attract such persons?

I suggest that you first actively involve your organization’s leaders and key stakeholders—board members, staff, major donors, and others—in the search process. Introduce them to the list of essential qualities and have them identify potential candidates that come to mind, including comments about the specific strengths these persons would offer. Be intentional about this process and work with a timetable and deadline.

As the referrals arrive, look for the names mentioned most often. How might these potential candidates be best approached and invited to consider your development opportunity?

The goal of your search is three strong candidates—each of whom could do the job.

Supporting a new development officer

If you have followed the steps outlined above, you will have hired a new development officer who has all of the ingredients necessary to become an outstanding fundraiser—but no experience. You owe this person the support and resources needed to “get good.” How is this done? Some ideas:

1. Create a “learning plan” for your new development officer that includes a detailed orientation to the organization; adequate budget and staff help; opportunities to “network” with other professionals; provision for attending helpful workshops and seminars; and access to an outside consultant.
2. Have the development officer report to the CEO.
3. Expect and encourage board and staff interest in fundraising, and acquaint them with the roles they play in creating a strong development program.
4. Be sure the CEO is directly involved with development, especially building personal relationships with major donors.
5. Ask for a comprehensive, formal development plan each year that includes measurable goals, objectives and activities.
6. Set realistic contribution goals that reflect both budget needs and fundraising potential.
7. Conduct an annual evaluation of your development officer that includes reasonable measures of accountability.

So, depending on what you look for, how you look, and how you provide support, development officers are nowhere . . . or they’re everywhere! Best wishes for a good search and a great outcome!

Posted on

Budgeting for professional counsel

How can I justify hiring a consultant when money is tight?

We prefer to think of hiring a consultant as an investment versus an expense; that is, the cost must be weighed against what your organization stands to gain. A worthwhile consultant offers valuable skills and expertise that might be under-developed or untested within your own personnel. Additionally consultants provide objective analysis, accountability for tasks and deadlines, staff and volunteer training and access to other professionals. These are crucial ingredients for a well-run and successful advancement project.

Organizations who are unfamiliar with the consulting process and operating on an already tight budget will likely think twice about hiring professional counsel, especially during times of economic uncertainty. But “worth their weight in gold” describes those consultants who not only offer practical advice and skills, but who also share your values, embrace your mission and become trusted friends throughout the process.