Campaigns are like Marathons – Part 3

Categories: Capital Campaigns, News

Think of a capital or comprehensive campaign like running a marathon. You wouldn’t show up at the starting line without training, or start celebrating success at mile 17 when there’s still a long way to go. The third installment of this five-part series takes us to the starting line and into the first miles.

The Early Phase: set the pace

“Race Day is a roller coaster ride. If there’s one thing you can count on the morning of your race, it’s that you should expect the unexpected. But fear not because that is what you’ve trained for!

Whether the phase is called “silent” or “pacesetting” or a similar term, a campaign begins quietly, with little public fanfare and a lot of work behind the scenes.  

Get off to a good start.
In a marathon, the starter’s pistol sends off the runners. But when does a campaign start? Most often, a campaign’s official launch is the date the governing board adopts a formal resolution to support the campaign and devote the necessary resources. The wording of the resolution—and the strategic selection of board members to move and second the motion—matters. And, just like a runner might jog up to the starting line, a campaign can also benefit from a handful of “qualifying reach-back gifts.”

Set an inspired pace.
In the early stage, the campaign case is honed, campaign marketing starts to take shape, and donor recognition opportunities are established. Often the earliest gifts are secured while these tools are still in draft form. That’s o.k. These early donors are likely to know the story well and are eager to set a pace that will accelerate progress.

Track progress.
It’s more than simply counting dollars raised and distance to the goal. It’s important that campaign gifts be tracked against the gift chart: that the largest gifts are committed early, and that insider constituencies such as the board and leadership team demonstrate their willingness to support the campaign.

Push through the tough parts.
Every campaign hits at least one “wall”: a dry spell when the gifts are slow; a sudden, unplanned change in leadership; or some other unforeseen challenge. During these delays, it is critical to keep leaders focused on the vision (the
reason for the campaign, not the dollar goal). Use the time to finalize campaign tools and to nurture donor relationships. Return to the basics, and you’ll be back on pace soon enough.

But it’s not time to “go public” and celebrate success just yet. We’ll explain why a “quiet phase” strategy is so important, and when and how to launch into the public phase in the next installment.

Up next: The Public Phase