Campaigns are like Marathons — Part 4

Categories: Capital Campaigns, News

Think of a comprehensive or capital campaigns like running a marathon. You wouldn’t show up at the starting line without training, or start celebrating success when there’s still a long way to go. The fourth installment of this five-part series reveals the public phase of the campaign—and the perils of making the “big reveal” too soon.

Phase 1: Campaign Planning

Phase 2: Assessment

Phase 3: The Early Phase

Phase 4: The Public Phase

Phase 5: The Capstone Phase

The Public Phase: when the goal is in sight

“Think of your biggest goal. Imagine telling someone what you’re going to do. Doesn’t it make you feel good? Well, you should have stayed quiet, because psychology proves that good feeling now will make you less likely to do it.

A campaign generates excitement. As it progresses and the tally of gifts grows, there’s a strong temptation to call the media, unfurl banners, and let the world in on your success. But a large body of research—and accumulated experience—suggests that the best strategy is to keep a low profile until specific criteria are met. If you start sprinting too soon, you’ll risk dragging across the finish line.

Wait until 67% of the goal is reached. By the time most marathoners reach mile 17, they may be tired and bruised—but with so many miles behind them, they are at last confident they’ll reach the finish line. Similarly, it’s wise to wait until a campaign has reached two-thirds of its goal before making any public pronouncements. Anecdotal support for this strategy is bolstered by the Science of Philanthropy Initiative, especially the experiments that Dr. John List and Dr. Uri Gneezy describe in their book The Why Axis.

Take measure. Now that you’re mentally resolved for success, you have a final chance to hone messages, refresh the volunteer corps, adjust campaign objectives, and raise—or lower—the goal. (Because once you have that banner headline, you’ll be determined to stay on course!)

Run with a pack. During this phase of a marathon, it’s important to lean on your pace group or partners. In this phase of a campaign, lean on your “insiders.” The campaign’s early phase will have provided myriad opportunities to confer insider status on donors, volunteers, and advocates. Now, leverage these ties to close gifts, recruit the next tier of campaign volunteers, and celebrate early supporters. (You can find our thoughts on donor recognition here). A longer early phase provides more occasions to practice social norming and bind enthusiasts to your cause.

Envision the finish line(s). As the grind of a marathon wears on, veteran runners will envision the finish line—and even set mini-milestones: reaching the next landmark, then the one after that, and so on. Campaigns use this tactic, too. As fundraising persists, volunteer enthusiasm begins to lag, and donors need a reason to stop procrastinating. The public launch can serve as that interim milestone and unloose the campaign to make subsequent pronouncements that create additional strategic milestones.

Guts and glory. Yes, those final miles are tough. Concentration wanes, and muscles tire. But they’re also where resilience is built. For a nonprofit organization, the public phase is ripe with opportunity: to create or strengthen a middle giving strategy, broaden the base of direct-response donors, and elevate institutional profile. But public attention also wanes, so it’s best to roll out these tactics when success is within reach.

And as you cross the finish line, arms raised in triumph, there’s a temptation to crumble to the ground for a well-deserved rest. Don’t do it! Just as a finisher needs a long victory walk to cool down, a successful campaign needs to take stock, which we’ll describe in our next—and final—installment.

Up next: The Capstone Phase