Fundraising 101 – Lesson 1: 5 Principles Necessary for a Successful Campaign

For the past 19 years we at the Covenant Group have helped hundreds of churches, schools and other nonprofit organizations plan and implement successful fundraising campaigns. In fact, most of the organizations we have helped have been quite successful (about 97% averaging 145% of goal). Often people ask us what it takes to have a successful campaign. While the times have changed since we first started our business, the basic principles of fundraising have not.

VISION-Proverbs 29 tells us that, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” This is true for organizations as well. To have a successful campaign there needs to be a strong and compelling vision of what you want to become over the next few years. Major donors want to know that you have thought about that and planned for it, which is also why we believe that the most effective kind of fundraising comes from a planning process.

In fact, our company is often involved in helping organizations develop strategic plans, where they have surveyed the stakeholders, identified critical planning issues, created a vision for the future and then developed goals, strategies and action plans to achieve that vision. Of course, once the plan has been completed, it must be funded, but if the vision and plans are logical and compelling they strengthen your case for support.

LEADERSHIP-I recently did an analysis of the development departments at some major universities. Just one school had over 250 development officers, and that number didn’t include support staff. Most churches or nonprofits can’t afford to have anywhere near that many people on staff. In fact, actual number of professional staff at many nonprofits is more like 1% of that total.

So how does a church a school or any other nonprofit compete for philanthropic dollars? First, they must have a compelling and visionary case. Second, they must use the resources of volunteer boards and committees. Whether it is a board of trustees, an advisory council, elders, deacons or parish council, successful organizations are able to engage a group of volunteers to help them achieve the goals which include fundraising. How do they do that? They encourage the leadership to first give generously themselves and then help by inviting their peers and associates to join them in giving.

Of course, board members have a fiduciary responsibility for the organization. However, the issue goes deeper than that. Essentially, if the board those closest to the organization, aren’t willing to give and help solicit, it’s difficult to expect others to do the same. And often during a campaign, the board must help recruit additional volunteers who can help in a similar way. The board members plus these additional volunteers make up the steering committee, and the more committed to the cause the steering committee members are the more successful the campaign will be. Depending upon the type of organization, we typically recommend having a steering committee of anywhere from 20-40 members, but we have had as many as 68 on one campaign committee. However, regardless of how large or small the committee is, every member needs to be resolved and committed to the overall success.

PROSPECTS-An organization can have a strong and compelling vision and a good leadership team, but they also need prospects to visit during that campaign. Typically, most people in the database of the church or nonprofit organization are included as prospects. However, we also ask the steering committee members to add new names of people they know and would be willing to invite them to join with us by giving. Actually we’d like to see a prospect list of at least 400-600 names for schools or other nonprofit organizations. With a church we try to involve the entire congregation in some way. Though our approach in church campaigns is different than our approach in other nonprofit organizations, regardless of the type of organization, it is important to have a list of people who have the potential to give at various levels.

Once you have the prospect names, you will also need some intelligence on each of them. Of course, some of that comes in the form of anecdotal information provided by steering committee members. However, there are a variety of other tools available for our use. One such tool is a wealth screening analysis that provides confidential information on the giving capacity of each person in the database. Of course, all of the information gathered is available in public records, but the service we use is able to pull all of that together in one report.  Of course, we also try to keep this information extremely confidential.

PLAN-Now that you have a compelling vision, a strong and well-connected leadership team and a solid list of prospects, it’s important to develop a comprehensive plan to guide the campaign. After we help our clients write a case statement, it’s important to test that case to determine the potential of financial and other support for it. To that end we usually conduct a feasibility study that gives us valuable insights and helps inform the development of our plan. In church campaigns we try to interview at least 25-35 families in face-to-face meetings, but in addition to that we also conduct a full church survey. With other nonprofits we interview anywhere from 40-60 individuals. The plan must be comprehensive and take into consideration all of the needs of the church or nonprofit organization and not just the capital campaign. What we want to avoid is people stopping their regular giving for ongoing operations and just transferring it to the campaign.

ACTION-You can have all of what we have already talked about (vision, leadership, prospects and plan), but if you don’t have timely action on the plan, you will not have success. Most campaigns stall or slow down not because of a lack of prospects willing to give, but because of a lack of volunteers willing to act on the plan and ask them. Typically in most churches or nonprofit organizations,  a few people do a lot of things. We try to reverse that model by having a lot of people do a few things. We have found when they do that they tend also to assume more ownership and therefore become more vested in the campaign’s success. Of course, that is easier to do in a church environment than it is in nonprofit organizations, but to the extent we can we try to engage more people in both types of campaigns.

Also, not every volunteer is involved in making solicitation calls, but some can help with things like creating strategy and copy for PR and communications, hosting receptions, opening doors, planning events and more. The point here is simple: the more people you have involved in the process in some way,  the more ownership they will assume and the more vested they will become in the success.

– Leonard Moisan, Ph.D., CFRE