Raybin — A Marts & Lundy Company

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Capital Campaigns 2009

After a decade of billion-dollar campaigns and multi-million dollar gifts, we are now seeing billion-dollar bailouts, trillion-dollar debt, and global recession. Non-profit organizations are experiencing a decline in funding, staff lay-offs, vanishing endowments and an increased need for services. It’s our version of the perfect storm. Is a capital campaign still the answer?


But it certainly won’t look like the last capital campaign you conducted.

Campaign goals today are not necessarily larger than your last one or that of your competitor. They may bear a striking resemblance to a major gifts effort, as the word capital today seems to render many prospects mute (as in not returning phone calls, not making eye contact with the assigned volunteer solicitor, and not responding to Development staff’s overtures). Language is changing.

Articulate, even eloquent, leadership is still required. But, the volunteer leader may not be the one who makes the largest gift. Expectations are often lower – sensitive to the economy. And that sensitivity begins with the initial conversation, sounding out the prospect’s situation and “reading” it thoughtfully. Your empathy, your eye contact, your attention to body language will enable you to respond appropriately.

Listening has always been important; it is even more so now. Your responses must be carefully calibrated. Once you are assured of your prospect’s commitment to your organization, stress working with your prospect. “How would it work best for you? ...Would a longer payment period be helpful? …Your participation is important and your support, of whatever amount, will send a signal to the larger community. … Should we come back at a later date?” It’s about making your prospect comfortable in his/her new economic reality.

Today’s case must still be compelling, but it’s not presented in full-color glossy brochures. Glitz is out. Simple, straightforward well-documented is in. Refine the PowerPoint you gave to the Board and ask for their input as you solicit them. Don’t focus on what the fundraising mechanism is called, i.e., a capital campaign, focus on the case and make it personal, so your prospects know who will benefit and how.

Stewardship becomes even more personal and prompt. The handwritten note of thanks, inclusion in your community events with not even a whiff of fundraising - all of the ways in which you can say you value the relationship will build genuine friendships, and yield results for your organization in the future.

And, finally, maybe you do need to slow down. Not stall, not throw in the towel, but just take more time. Give everyone breathing space to adjust. Be patient and upbeat. We will weather this storm; and in the interim, we will have used this time well: focused on our common values and strengthened our relationships.