Donors don’t just give capital campaign-level gifts out of the blue! If you think about it, you’ll find it hard to imagine someone writing a check for six, seven or eight figures to an organization they have little contact with. It seldom happens.
Donors give those big gifts to organizations that they know, trust and believe in.
They give those gifts because they know the cause, they know and trust the organization’s leaders, and they are excited about what their money is going to do.
So if you’re thinking about a capital campaign and if you want it to succeed, you’ve got to identify the members of your community who are most able to give and get them engaged and excited about what you are planning early on.
Interview Your Community Leaders When Planning a Capital Campaign
One way to start building a relationship with your potential donors through “Leadership Interviews.”
Start by making a list of twenty leaders in your community. Be sure that some of them are the philanthropic leaders — the generous people who give significant gifts to many of the projects in your town. But you should also include your communities “influencers” — perhaps the mayor, the head of your United Way, or some of the top employers.
Determine your community’s philanthropic leaders.
You probably know, or at least know about, your community’s philanthropic leaders. They may even be among your donors. If not, do a bit of homework. Start by searching online for major donations to your town’s other organizations. But we also encourage the shoe-leather approach.
Get get out of the office and do a survey of area donor walls to see whose name appears again and again. A photo from your iPhone is an easy way to gather the information. Ask your board members to collect programs from the local symphony concert or other events and galas. Then compare the donors lists. You’ll find that a goodly group of people give generously to many organizations in town.
Write to each person on your list.
Once you have your list, write a simple letter or email to each person saying that your organization is thinking about taking a big step forward, and before getting started you want to speak with the most important people in your community to get their advice.
Be specific about the amount of time you’ll need–no more than 45 minutes. And include a very simple, one-page description of what you’re planning so they have some notion of what the conversation will be about.
People With Money Want to be Partners, not Pockets
A leadership interview is not — repeat, NOT! — a meeting to ask for a gift. This is a meeting to get ideas and feedback. You’ll learn lots about the people you interview, and they’ll learn lots about you. And that’s what you’re after!
People who give away large gifts seldom want to be thought of just as pockets and checkbooks. They want to be treated like partners. And you’ll find that people with power will be able to help you in many ways that are at least as important as their money.
So interviews like these are not just a ploy. They are real opportunities to get help of all sorts from people who can make a huge difference in many ways.
Prepare Questions, Not Answers
To prepare for the meeting, make a list of questions for each prospect. Make sure your questions will be relevant to that person. For example, you may ask your mayor about any zoning-related issues that might impact your building plans. If the prospect is a philanthropic leader, you might want to ask about the best time to kick off your capital campaign. And be sure to ask every person you talk to who else they think you should speak with and whether they would connect you.
Near the meeting’s conclusion ask the prospect for permission to include them in your future plans. Afterwards, be sure to keep in touch, inviting them to help when it’s appropriate and letting them know about your progress.
Building Relationships is Worth the Effort
Relationships aren’t built overnight. But your ability to build real relationships with the people who can make a big difference in your community will be well worth the energy and effort it will take.
Including your community’s political, philanthropic, and business leaders from the beginning of your capital campaign will increase the likelihood that those who can will make a significant gift. But engaged, excited community leaders will help your capital campaign in many more ways than “just” by writing a check.
Once you’ve built relationships with the donors and influencers in your community, you’ll find that you pass the sure-fire capital campaign readiness test we’ve developed with flying colors.