Campaigns are like Marathons – Part 1

Category: Capital Campaigns

Running a marathon and implementing a capital or comprehensive campaign have a lot in common. You wouldn’t show up at the starting line for either without putting in the necessary preparation. And you wouldn’t start celebrating success at mile 17, when there’s still a long way to go.

In this five-part series, we explore the phases of a campaign and their contribution to a successful outcome through the lens of getting ready for and completing a marathon.

  • Phase 1: Campaign Planning
  • Phase 2: Assessment
  • Phase 3: The Early Phase
  • Phase 4: The Public Phase
  • Phase 5: The Capstone Phase

Phase 1: Campaign Planning: Training for a Marathon

“The marathon is an arduous event and requires dedicated training … the more time you give yourself to train, the better your chances of success. [Not]} training for a marathon… is a surefire way to get injured or find yourself disenchanted.”

-Jeff Gaudette, Competitor Running

Get in shape
Few people can jump off the couch and run 26.2 miles; and few organizations can launch into a campaign without spending months—sometimes years—strengthening relationships and building a strong corps of engaged donors. Even if you are capable of the annual campaign “sprint,” you still need to take steps to be sure you can go the distance. And if your annual fundraising has slowed down, an exciting campaign can be one way to push through a plateau.

Now is the time to elevate fundraising: give donors more reasons to support your organization. Only a naïve organization believes in “saving donors” for a capital campaign by diminishing their requests for support in the preceding year. Step up everything: your case, your cause, your solicitations, and—especially—stewardship.

Build team endurance
A strong team helps to make a distant goal more reachable. For a nonprofit considering a campaign, that team includes an enthusiastic CEO; engaged board; and a skilled, willing team with enough bandwidth to take on additional work.

The months leading up to a campaign can be a good time to expand the staff, but be realistic about expectations. A new major gift officer can be play a crucial role, but will need 18 months or more to hit their stride.

You’ll need a full support team, too, generated through a strong, institution-wide culture of philanthropy.

Gear up
A campaign will make demands of your donor data. Do you know what prospective donors have the capacity and affinity to make transformational gifts? Can you get the information you need and conduct analysis to make good decisions? Do you have enough bandwidth on the research staff to support the uptick in demand for this data? Are your reports and KPIs (key performance indicators) ready for the scrutiny of the board and volunteer leaders? If not, now is the time to assess, clean up, add new tools (or perhaps some replace altogether, because you don’t want to be switching core systems in the middle of a campaign).

You’ll also want to assess your digital fundraising tools. While the top tier gifts are critical, you need to have effective broad-based systems (e.g., online, peer-to-peer) in place to get you across the finish line.

Know the goal
It’s more than choosing a dollar goal that is higher than your last campaign (learn more about this classic conquest technique here). It’s about vision: what is your organization’s “north star” that is driving your campaign? How will that proposed building elevate your mission? How will expanded programs magnify impact?

Proposed campaign goals are often the natural result of a thoughtful strategic planning process. And when that planning process engages the very stakeholders who you’ll call on during the campaign, you’ve set the stage for success.

Check list complete, ready to go? Not quite. Before stepping up to the starting line, step back, assess, and be sure you’re prepared for success.

Up next: Phase 2: Assessment.