Imagine: three years ago (or perhaps five…or seven…or even ten!), your organization embarked on an ambitious fundraising campaign. You set your sights high with your largest-ever campaign goal. You perfected your case for support, and created a much-loved campaign brand. You recruited a top-tier cohort of volunteers that faithfully shepherded the campaign through highs and lows. You identified, nurtured, stewarded, cultivated, and solicited some of the largest gifts your organization has ever received, and rallied the public around your cause.
Now, the end of the campaign is approaching. The finish line is in sight. This is a critical moment of the campaign—and one that is frequently underutilized. Consider: staff may feel fatigued. Other priorities are quickly emerging. For many, the temptation may be “onto the next one.” However, before concluding a campaign, there are four critical steps to take.
1. Communicate the Impact
Donors who have invested in the campaign will want to be informed of its success. This is a time to express your sincere gratitude and reinforce what their generosity made possible (for hopefully the second, or third, or tenth time—this should not be the first time you thank your donors!).
In this spirit, take the time to meet with each of your major donors. Walk them through the impact of the campaign and the impact of their gift, perhaps aided by a custom report demonstrating what their philanthropy made possible. Share numbers—and share stories. These conversations will substantiate your organization’s ability to use funds effectively. And a one-on-one engagement will allow you to go deep in the areas that most interest your major donors.
For middle and annual donors, provide a general campaign impact report and other stewardship communications. Highlight impact in newsletters, the annual report, and online. Be sure to share news of the successful campaign broadly with other key stakeholder groups: faculty, parents, patients, elected and civic leaders. Representatives from these groups may be asked to help with future initiatives; this is a valuable opportunity to build their confidence in your institution’s ability to deliver on its promises.
2. Leverage the Campaign to Build an Internal Culture of Philanthropy
In a mature culture of philanthropy, “most people in the organization, across positions, act as ambassadors and engage in relationship building. Everyone promotes philanthropy and can articulate a case for giving. Development is viewed and valued as a mission-aligned program.”
Campaigns are powerful tools to build an organization-wide understanding of—and gratitude for—the role that donors play for your organization. Find an appropriate venue to thank and celebrate the dedication of staff, report on the campaign’s impact, share stories, and announce fundraising successes (e.g., major gifts, donors who give at new levels, planned giving intentions, and even smaller successes—young people who held fundraising events on behalf of your organization, high levels of campus giving, etc.).
3. Focus on Stewardship and Retention
We sometimes compare a campaign to a terrific party: you’ve met countless new friends and bonded over similar interests. Now imagine if, after the party has ended, you never called those friends again. A lost opportunity! Rather than allowing donor stewardship to fade away following a campaign, focus on retaining donors who made an initial—or significantly larger than usual—gift during the campaign. Make proactive efforts to sustain the thoughtful donor engagement and stewardship practices that were part of your campaign, recognizing that this may also require sustaining higher levels of investment in your fundraising operations. Develop a retention plan and assign an owner. A campaign, done well, can be a gateway to elevated annual fundraising.
4. Reflect on Lessons Learned
When planning for a new campaign, we ask clients: tell us about your most recent campaign! What worked well? What were the challenges?
All too often, the response is uncertain: “I think we raised about $50 million.” For any follow-up questions—who was involved? what stories can you tell us? what were some of the ways you engaged families, or alumni, or staff?—many will tell us: “I’m not sure…we have no record.”
Take the time to produce a comprehensive campaign report. Document final giving data and compare the actual gifts to your original assumptions (e.g., your anticipated gift chart). Appoint a small group of staff, including your campaign manager and development leaders, to document successes and challenges related to different aspects: fundraising, volunteer leadership, policies, marketing, reporting, stewardship, etc. Consider bringing a few key donors or volunteers into the fold. What do they feel went well? What can be learned for future endeavors?
Rather than relying on a single keeper of institutional knowledge—especially given that one in five nonprofit employees leaves their job each year—document your lessons learned while they are still fresh.
The end of a campaign is a significant milestone. By celebrating achievements, expressing gratitude, communicating impact, ensuring accountability, and planning for the future, you can create a positive lasting legacy for your organization.