The Art of Strategic Organisation

The Challenges of Early Phase Capital Campaign Management

Although I could write a dozen articles on the joys and challenges of capital campaign management, as well as a book on the pitfalls of the different stages of a campaign, this article focuses on the elements I feel are key to establishing the tools and practises at the start of a successful campaign.

Going into an organisation as Campaign Manager at the start of a capital campaign is always an interesting time. Whilst capital campaigns mark periods of growth and development for organisations, which is very exciting and a privilege to be a part of, it can also be a time of great organisational change, and therefore high anxiety, especially for the fundraisers. Often fundraisers feel that they are solely responsible for realising the dreams of the entire company, but that the company is not standing beside them to achieve their aims.

As Campaign Manager, I would hope and expect that things like Board development and the recruitment of an effective Development Council are already well underway before I join the organisation, so I won’t touch on those things here. When I join a campaign, I usually find that my focus is split between two distinct and very different areas. One is helping to manage the change in organisational culture and the change in fundraising culture that is necessitated by a capital campaign. The other is creating the tools and systems the organisation will need to create a successful campaign. Both of these keys elements, by necessity, feed into and inform each other, but I find that the key to a successful campaign management and (hopefully!) happy fundraisers is to spend some time listening to and getting to know the organisation.

Taking on a capital campaign, in which fundraisers are often expected to realise sums that are over ten times their usual annual targets, can place huge strain on a development department. In times of stress, we all tend to cling to the familiar, and it can be very difficult to move the departmental thinking away from schemes and packages and towards major gift fundraising (for more on major gifts fundraising see Caroline McCormick’s excellent articles, ‘No Fizz Till Friday’ and ‘The Philosophy of Major Gifts’). One of the major challenges in the early stages of a campaign is the process of gently guiding fundraisers (and, hopefully, the Board and Development Council) towards a model of fundraising that may be new for them as individuals and as an organisation. As Campaign Manager, I find that one of the ways my role can ease the transition is to help to break down the cultivation process into steps, with the aim of showing that a longer term investment of time and personalised cultivation can lead to deeper engagement from prospects and, hopefully, garner larger gifts as your campaign progresses. Some organisations will already be very successful with major gifts fundraising from a limited number of donors, but will need my help to design appropriate solicitation plans for donors that are currently lower down their giving tree and for new prospects. Other organisations will find the prospect of major giving very daunting as it will necessitate a change in their usual, and generally successful, ways of working. In my experience, there are some practical steps a Campaign Manager can take to support fundraisers through this process.

One of the key ways a Campaign Manager can support the fundraising team is by helping to create the materials they will need to inspire prospects on the journey towards a major gift. Although I often find that I am reactive in producing these materials, in an ideal world, you would identify the spread of prospects you are attempting to reach with your materials, and target them to those individuals. Creating a strong Case for Support document is a useful example of how to get things right (or wrong!). I’ve seen some organisations create a number of different version of a Case for Support document, none of which quite meet the needs of their prospects; I’ve also seen organisations who wait too long to create one, missing key opportunities to give a take-away message to prospects. It is always advisable to look at what other organisations have used in terms of their materials and, of course, to get the right people to write and design the materials. There is a fine balance to be struck between staying in keeping with your organisation’s usual branding and messaging but creating an aspirational document that inspires greater levels of investment from new and existing donors and prospects.  

The creation of materials such as the Case for Support can also be a useful tool for galvanising your Board and/or Development Council. Assigning key tasks to small groups or individuals can help to develop members’ engagement in, and ownership of, the project. Another campaign tool that I have found is also useful in encouraging engagement from your Board is mapping the timeline of asks. This will be your road map, the blue print if you will, to the campaign; it will, of course, change over the course of time, but it should provide a guideline and a benchmark to how your campaign is progressing against your targets. A good timeline-mapping document will make the campaign feel achievable to fundraisers and the higher-level management of your organisation.

To sit alongside your timeline map, it is likely that you will also need to develop your database, as this will be a key tool in monitoring prospect development, managing events and ensuring timely and appropriate reciprocation when you start to achieve those major gifts. However tempting it may seem to hand this task over to a database manager or an external developer, I recommend this work remains within the development department as far as is possible. The needs of a capital campaign are distinctly different from the needs of say, a box office, or an education department; they are often even different from the needs of revenue fundraising and must be treated accordingly. For example, at one organisation they had an individual within the fundraising team who had excellent and in-depth knowledge of their database system and was able to create a logical and transparent pipeline for campaign prospects; at another organisation, a key member of the campaign team used it as an opportunity to gain further training on their database and was able to design a campaign pipeline as part of that learning. However you choose to do this, it is important to get this right at the start of a campaign to ensure it can adapt to your needs as the campaign develops, ultimately taking you from an elite group of major donors in your private phase, to large numbers of small donors in your public phase.  

To run a successful capital campaign, you have to play a long game and, although this article touches on a few areas, I feel that these are the areas that are key to success. They were certainly key areas in my work as Campaign Manager for Garsington Opera, the National Theatre and the Old Vic Theatre. Along the course of a campaign an organisation will need to develop an array of tools, schemes, packages and inspirational events, but I hope that this has helped you to steer a path through the crucial early phase.

Cerian Eiles  |  May 2015