All too often organizations start thinking about conducting a capital campaign and, because no one on the staff or board feels qualified to make campaign decisions, they immediately rush to hire a consultant.
Hiring your consultant so soon, though, is a huge waste of your organization’s money. Of course, the consultant will be happy to oblige! Many consultants like nothing better than a willing client, cowed by the immensity of the task at hand and eager to be told what to do – and what to spend on the consultant!
Usually, then, the consultant will tell you that they’ll handle everything – “Hire us and we’ll do your feasibility study, draft your case for support, interview your biggest and most important donors, and hold your hand step-by-step through the entire campaign.”
Whew! Doesn’t that sound like a huge weight off your shoulders? You can rely on an experienced team of professionals, not only to guide you and your organization, but also to do the heavy lifting. Your board will be happy, and your little rear will be covered if things go awry.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Because you can save time and money AND make sure your campaign is focused on the things your organization really needs by taking just five steps BEFORE you pick up the phone to start interviewing potential capital campaign consultants.
Without further ado, here are the five things you need to do before hiring a campaign consultant.
Five Things You Need to Do Before Hiring a Capital Campaign Consultant
1. Decide what you’re raising the money for.
This sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s not. Just because your organization needs a new building, for example, doesn’t mean that that’s the only thing you’re going to raise money for – or that you’re ready to raise money yet for the building itself.
What kinds of things might you need funds for in order to have a new building? Well, do you know where the building is going to be and how much the land for the building will cost? Do you have at least a simple schematic design and an idea of what the actual construction (or renovation, if you’re buying an existing structure) will cost? What about the cost of building permits, new furniture, and etc.?
And beyond the costs involved in the new building itself, what are the other things you might want to include in your campaign objectives? Perhaps some endowment? Or how about a special building maintenance fund or money for equipment? Have you thought of the start-up costs for the new programs you’ll have in your new building?
2. Get a rough idea of your campaign dollar goal.
Once you have a sense of what you might want to raise money for, you can put some numbers next to each campaign objective and come up with nice, simple round number that’ll be a starting place for your campaign planning.
During this phase, be sure to take into consideration how much money you’ve raised annually in the past. (It’s probably not wise for your campaign goal to be more than ten times your annual fundraising totals.)
Once you start talking numbers, you’ll find a sweet spot; a number that impresses people but doesn’t make them gasp at your foolishness. (Not that a little foolishness is all that bad when it comes time to set your campaign goal. It’s much easier to come down later than it is to go up, so reach on the high side to start.)
3. Break down the goal by gift amounts.
You might call this a Donor Pyramid. I call it a Gift Range Chart. But whatever you call it, this little chart is a remarkable planning tool. Stay tuned for a complete blog post on the subject, but for now this is what you need to know:
Once you have decided on on preliminary capital campaign goal, take a pencil and paper and start creating a chart that will show how many gifts you’ll need of what sizes to reach that goal. For example, how many gifts of $1 million will you need? How many of $500,000? and $250,000? How many in smaller amounts will you need to cover what your major donors don’t?
You might prefer to create a little spreadsheet that recalculates automatically to make playing with the numbers and patterns easy. You will find that as you play with them and trying different patterns, you’ll start to get a sense of what the right chart for your capital campaign will look like.
Know that a gift range chart for the same goal will vary from organization to organization depending on the size of your prospect list and the potential of your largest donors.
4. Get your board on board.
Before you start interviewing potential consultants, make sure your board is well-informed about the prospects for your campaign. That means that you will have to work with board members independently and together on your planning. You should also find a way to educate board members about what a capital campaign entails, both for the organization and for them individually and as a group.
Remember, even after you’ve taken these five steps, hiring a consultant will still require a significant financial investment. And if your board is paying attention — and they should be! — they’ll want to be well informed about your campaign prospects before committing to that investment.
5. Involve your most important donors in your capital campaign planning.
During these beginning steps in your planning, make a list of your ten-twenty most important donors – the ones who are most likely to make the top ten gifts to your campaign.
Then develop a plan to involve each of these donors in the planning process. This can range from taking a donor to lunch to let her know what you’re working on to asking one or more donors to serve on a pre-campaign planning committee. If one of your top donors is involved in real estate, you might ask his advice on choosing a new location for your new building.
You get the idea. Don’t keep your most important donors at arm’s length through the planning process – instead, use your planning phase to draw them in.
And there you have them – the five things you need to do before hiring a capital campaign consultant. Take these steps first and you’ll not only save time and money, but you’ll also have your campaign on the early road to success!
P.S. Gail and I are developing an on-line capital campaign course and a coaching program to help you with pre-campaign planning. Email either of us to get on the list for early information about these programs! Andrea Kihlstedt or Gail Perry