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Ready, Set, GO! How To Move Beyond the Campaign Planning Phase

Successful campaigns are rooted in careful planning. It’s essential to lay the foundational building blocks early in the process. This includes generating the big ideas that will inspire donors’ most meaningful gifts, conducting a feasibility study, and evaluating your nonprofit CRM to make sure it’s serving your needs.

After a period of careful planning, there comes a point in every campaign when it’s time to stop preparing and start moving forward. Fundraising leaders and volunteers forge ahead with anticipation, excitement, and a sense of purpose. Yet, rarely does a campaign go exactly according to plan. Fundraising endeavors require you to continually revisit goals, reassess plans, and chart the appropriate course forward. 

Oftentimes, unexpected circumstances bring unique opportunities for growth. An extraordinary gift from a new donor can put wind in your sails, or fortuitous media mention might shine a spotlight on your cause. That said, there are two scenarios that can be detrimental to the success of a campaign: charging ahead without a robust plan of action, or hesitating to move forward out of an abundance of caution. Both situations can prevent a campaign from living up to its fullest potential. Moving too quickly – passing go without the right people and plans in place – can lead to preventable mistakes. On the contrary, if you wait for every element to be just right before moving beyond the planning phase, you may miss out on valuable opportunities to build much-needed momentum. After all, perfection is the enemy of progress. 

To that end, here are three strategies to overcome common roadblocks that may hinder a campaign’s forward motion.

1. Elements of the Campaign Vision Are Still Taking Shape

When an organization embarks on a campaign, it is undoubtedly doing so in order to make its most compelling dreams a reality. Perhaps this means constructing a building to serve the community more broadly, or enacting programs that will transform the lives of constituents. 

One of the benefits of investing in a feasibility study is that it provides an opportunity to test this vision with a small group of close supporters. But what if, even after conducting a feasibility study, your dreams are still a bit hazy? Can you move forward if you’re waiting for information that will impact the way the organization executes its vision?

The short answer is yes. 

Your campaign vision might not be fully crystallized for a number of reasons. It takes time to work with an architect to generate renderings and credible cost estimates. New programs require extensive collaboration, planning, and infrastructure. Still, you shouldn’t wait until every single piece of the plan is in place before taking action with donors. In fact, Benefactor Group recommends using these evolving pieces to your advantage by asking donors to participate in the process of refining the vision. 

Invite Donors to Help Refine the Vision 

It’s normal for initiatives to evolve throughout the campaign planning process. Inviting conversations with donors to discuss the proposed course of action is a smart way to foster ongoing interest and solicit feedback that can improve campaign ideas.

One method of engaging with donors is to discuss the campaign vision in one-on-one conversations. Another option is to ask board members or other key volunteers to host small-group leadership briefings. These social gatherings provide an opportunity for the organization’s leaders to share the proposed vision, request feedback from a group audience, cultivate insider status, and share information about the project. 

Seasoned development officers know there is tremendous power in asking donors for input before asking for a gift. Giving key stakeholders an opportunity to weigh in on the campaign’s direction can be an effective part of your overarching cultivation and solicitation strategy.

2. You Don’t Have Key Volunteer Leaders in Place

Volunteer leadership is critical to any campaign’s ultimate success. Effective volunteers offer valuable outside perspectives and play an instrumental role in rallying donors, other volunteers, and the community around the campaign vision.

Recruiting the right volunteers to lead a campaign is no easy feat. Key influencers are often busy and lead full lives outside of the organization. Putting an ideal leadership team in place can take time, and you may need to get creative to build the volunteer corps you want.

It’s perfectly acceptable to:

  • Start with a group of two or three committed, respected, and passionate volunteers and add additional members over the life of the campaign.
  • Appoint groups of ambassadors to serve as campaign champions. Some of the organization’s biggest cheerleaders may not want to serve on the campaign steering committee, but they may be willing to get involved in other ways.
  • Ask volunteers to help at the beginning or end of the campaign rather than serve an entire term. People may need to roll on or off volunteer committees. Offer flexibility and don’t let these limitations slow you down.
  • Periodically reevaluate your cadre of volunteers and refresh the committee by adding new members with fresh energy and ideas.
  • Recruit volunteer leaders with varying professional and personal backgrounds, experiences with the organization, strengths, and perspectives. A diverse volunteer corps will make your campaign stronger. 

Once the right volunteer leaders are in place, it is also important to equip them for success. Benefactor Group can offer in-depth training to ensure everyone understands — and can carry out — their roles and responsibilities. 

3. You Worry About the Economy’s Impact on Your Campaign

Economic uncertainty can cause concern, even in experienced fundraisers. 

When the stock market loses value and inflation rises, it’s natural to wonder whether donors will be able (and willing) to give at the levels originally anticipated. If the campaign centers on a building, rising construction costs may require you to increase the fundraising goal. These compounding factors may tempt you to delay the campaign’s launch or scale back on funding priorities.

We’re here to remind you: stay calm (and carry on). Research shows that, even in the face of significant economic headwinds, charitable giving is resilient. Short-term disruptions may cause you to adjust your course. For example, you may extend the campaign’s quiet phase, factor economic uncertainty into the campaign plan, or even alter the financial goal to compensate for increased costs. And it might take longer to reach the campaign finish line than desired. 

Just remember: Your capital campaign is a worthy cause. It has the potential to move your mission forward in exciting ways. And even in the worst economic times, people continue to be generous. Operating from an abundant mindset in the face of economic pressures is key. To that end, resist the urge to make assumptions about how donors will respond to a request for support. And remember, your donors are your friends. You are working toward the same goal. Take time to sit down and ask your benefactors what is worrying them, and what can be done to ease that concern. 

The path forward may not be the one envisioned at the outset of the planning process, but there is almost always a path forward. With the help of an experienced campaign consultant, you can navigate any choppy waters that may lie ahead.

Lean On Your Capital Campaign Consultant And Put Your Plan Into Motion

There are many elements riding on a campaign’s outcome, and the stakes are high. For many fundraising leaders, the strong desire to succeed brings about much anticipation, and sometimes, trepidation. That’s understandable. As a nonprofit professional, you are emotionally invested in the work and you care about the outcome of the campaign. Fear of failure can lead even the most competent professionals to spend too long in “ready, set, set…” mode rather than transitioning to “go.”

Working with a capital campaign consultant like Benefactor Group will give you the confidence to create an agile plan that you trust and set it in motion. We’ve helped clients reach their campaign goals in a variety of challenging circumstances. We know how to build a plan that’s both robust and flexible. And we’ll be there every step of the way as you bring the campaign vision to life. Ready to learn more about the ways Benefactor Group can support your nonprofit? Just reach out. We’d love to hear from you.

Summers is a valued advisor to clients engaged in campaign planning and implementation. With a background in grant writing, nonprofit development operations, and project management, Summers has a deep understanding of the essential elements that must come together for a successful campaign.

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