By Avrum Lapin
So you are ready to start a campaign! You have researched and determined the needs and expectations and have decided what is at the top on the priority list – capital, endowment, program expansion, etc. – perhaps a campaign integrating one or more, and maybe a special anniversary as a platform. You have recruited serious men and women who are dedicated and capable of leading, and of getting the job done. You have met with staff and lay leaders and have buy-in across the board. So, let’s start asking for money, right?
And then someone asks, “How much can we really raise; how well do we know our community;” and mentions the need for a bit of fact finding, building early support, and maybe some groundwork before the campaign starts.
Some might complain that traditional feasibility studies are expensive and time consuming, and in some instances they certainly are. However, in the right circumstances, and if done correctly and often in a more compact timeframe, studies can save time and money down the road by making your campaign more focused, efficient, and yes, shorter. In those instances, an assessment prior to an official campaign launch is the first and most important step an organization can take before leaping headlong into an effort. These types of assessments are specifically designed to determine an organization’s capability and readiness to embark on a campaign and capture perceptions from key stakeholders, and understand the giving community across generations, length and scope of affiliation, financial capacity, etc. A contemporary study thus provides the foundation for a healthy, well planned, and well balanced campaign with a maximal probability of success.
At The Lapin Group, we conduct Pre-Campaign Assessments (PCAs). They are similar in many respects to the traditional feasibility study, but we expanded (not extended – in fact shortened) the breadth of the activity since we assume that a project is likely feasible at some level. What we are trying to do is gather and analyze more information and detail about the specifics of the campaign and its scope before it officially begins.
A PCA takes place in the first few weeks of a campaign period. It is comprised of confidential interviews with key individuals and families, all prospective donors, across the breadth of the organization’s stakeholders and supporters – from potential lead and major donors and beyond.
For best results, it will include a cross section of the organization spanning different ages and generations, life stages, and duration of association with the organization and various levels of past support. These short interviews are fact-finding missions, NOT solicitations. During the interview, specific and detailed questions help to gather essential information and will help to shape the campaign once the Assessment is completed.
The interviews are supplemented by in-depth consultation with professional and Board leadership, and appropriate donor research. This integrated approach can cut weeks off of the traditional assessment.
If the start date of the campaign is fixed, and a PCA is necessary, an organization will build the PCA into the timeline. If there is a milestone or anniversary set for the launch of the campaign, an organization will often set aside 2-3 months prior for the PCA to take place. An unbiased, outside person or team should conduct the study as to not influence the results or detract from an interviewee’s candor or zone of confidentiality.
What Will We Learn?
- Goal for the campaign: Gathering quantifiable and anecdotal information, integrated with experience and professional acumen, one can extrapolate the goal for the campaign. It might be that $5 million is needed for a new building, but the organization only has capacity to raise $3 million. Or, perhaps the goal needs to be shifted upwards as key donors and stakeholders will be more generous than first assumed. It is critical to have a goal in place before the campaign starts. That goal should be aspirational, but achievable. Setting the bar too high will cause disappointment and frustration. Setting it too low it may leave “money on the table” and possibly hold the campaign back from reaching its full potential.
- Priorities: The PCA will shine light on the organization’s community’s perception and connectivity to the need, and thus will meet key expectations. It will demonstrate which projects and programs are most important to the community and to key stakeholders. These projects may be different than the ones originally assumed by lay and professional leadership.
- Scope: The Assessment will help to clarify the size and scope of the potential donor base and its ability to give. Is the publicly stated goal of the campaign attainable?
- Timing: By talking to stakeholders, it will be possible to get validation for the timing to launch the campaign and its duration.
- Leadership: A PCA will identify the best prospects for strong and effective campaign leadership and effective volunteers.
- Internal Resources: Through the assessment, a consultant working with the committee and staff will review internal resources available for the campaign and the preparedness of the organization to embark on the project.
- External factors: Sometimes there are external factors that could influence the campaign’s success that were neither reviewed nor even known prior to the assessment. Other capital campaigns in the area, timing factors, and the state of the economy are all factors, among others, that could influence the approach and strategic direction of a campaign.
The PCA, as mentioned, will provide both hard data and anecdotal information. It will capture the degree to which people are willing to support an initiative. It will illustrate which programs and capital projects are most important to donors that will improve the lives of individuals and families, and of the community. It will also raise flags about internal issues such as personality conflicts or leadership issues. This information can be critical as one moves forward in the campaign, as who asks is just as important as what is being asked.
This assessment also has the benefit of advancing early support for the campaign. Those who agree to participate in the assessment are more apt to themselves support the campaign once it is launched. Participants see themselves as having an important role in the project, so they will be more likely to support it, and be more generous than they might have if brought in after the goals and objectives are set. The process itself creates a sense of excitement and ownership about the project, and will likely lead to deeper engagement. For these reasons, the selection of the list of potential interviewees is a careful and strategic task.
How Can A Pre-Campaign Assessment Help Even Beyond Fundraising?
- Engage donors: It shows that your organization cares about what its constituents, stakeholders, donors, staff, and Board think, and that it values input. This investment of time and resources is a clear demonstration that the campaign is not simply a product of a few, but rather is intended to be, in fact must be, embraced by all. The process of engaging on a personal level will create a deeper connection to the organization and its mission well past the lifetime of the campaign.
- Build Community: Through the process of talking to key stakeholders, the PCA will test priorities to determine if donors are in sync with the Board and professional leadership. It will build consensus as to the direction of the campaign, helping to deepen investment in a shared vision and thus a shared sense of responsibility. The experience of working together creates connections that have implications outside of the campaign or the act of fundraising.
- Forthright Opinions: This is of the more unquantifiable, but nonetheless important elements of the PCA. Due to the confidential nature of the interviews, conducted by outside and objective professionals, supporters are more comfortable expressing their opinions and ideas more freely. Often issues unrelated to the campaign arise and can be addressed. For example, a circle of stakeholders may express frustration with, even dislike for a key staff member or Board leader. This might cause some to withhold support, something not clear or understood before. In addition, aggregating responses shows trends and issues, both positive and negative, about the organization and its mission not yet discovered. This creates opportunities to address issues and challenges for the good of the organization as well as for the efficacy of the campaign.
- Leadership Development: A PCA will provide an organization with information about who might be capable, and willing to be trained, to become a leader in the campaign. Sometimes, younger members or supporters aren’t asked to join leadership positions as it is assumed to not have the time or resources. Through the interview process, prospective leaders are uncovered – people who can bring their talents, connections, and experience, together with their financial capacity, to the organization. Someone who is asked to be a campaign leader can easily transition to other leadership roles once the campaign concludes.
- Create a Culture of Giving: The Assessment lays the groundwork for a broad swath of a community to become engaged. Organizations that may not have a clear development strategy in place find that the PCA process provides insights and gives them the tools they need to deepen connections and advance the organization’s interest and capabilities. Even for organizations with more mature fundraising programs, the PCA enables more active cultivation of donor relationships and greater opportunities for donor engagement. It will also reveal the need for important adjustments and improvements that can be made to the current fundraising strategy. Often once donors consider their level of financial support, they are more ready and likely to continue to support the organization.
Investing in a contemporary, 21st Century, Pre-Campaign Assessment will yield greater results, and will create a stronger framework for a campaign. By taking the time to look at, learn about, and listen to stakeholders, your campaign will be based on data and the articulation of actual needs, expectations, and priorities, rather than if everyone is on the same page. A well-crafted plan creates achievable goals and, and perhaps more importantly, a shared sense of responsibly to achieve those goals together as a community. Through the PCA, the organization can create partnerships with donors, supporting a culture that works towards a common mission.
Avrum Lapin is President at The Lapin Group, LLC, based in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, a full-service fundraising and management consulting firm for leading nonprofits. The Lapin Group inspires and leads US-based and international nonprofits seeking fund, organizational, leadership, and business development solutions, offering contemporary and leading-edge approaches and strategies. A Board member of the Giving Institute and a member of the Editorial Review Board of Giving USA, Avrum is a frequent contributor to eJewishPhilanthropy.com and speaker in the US and in Israel on opportunities and challenges in today’s nonprofit marketplace.
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