Big Things in Small Packages: The Benefits of Mini-Campaigns

By Avrum Lapin and Benjamin Ginsberg

Many fundraising campaigns resemble a marathon more than a sprint. As with the 26.2 mile challenge, dedicated training, careful pacing, effective motivation, and worthy goals are essential to meeting the targets of successful fundraising campaigns. Often times, however, marathoners will increase their pace towards the mid way point sustaining the speed for upwards of six miles. Clearly, this is done to break from chasers, however, its most critical feature may be the flushing of fatigue-inducing lactic acid from the muscles, thereby further energizing and motivating the runner.

Throughout the long course of a fundraising campaign, be it a capital, endowment, or capacity-building campaign, an aggressive campaign goal and lengthy timeframe, can leave some nonprofit organizations and donors fatigued. Like “hitting the wall” in the middle of a marathon, nonprofits and donors may lack energy, have an inability to focus, and become unsure how to survive to the finish.

There is no question that campaigns can be challenging, especially for nonprofits at the campaign starting line for the first time. Even those most seasoned campaign veterans will attest that campaigns can be a slog. Keeping campaign volunteers motivated for months and possibly years requires dedicated and sustainable leadership – which in itself presents its own unique challenges.

Utilizing mid race-like pace increases, a mini-campaign (essentially a “campaign within a campaign”) can infuse needed energy, clarity, focus, motivation, and flexibility. By no means do we suggest a mini campaign replace the traditional campaign structure and necessary timeframe. However, we do recommend that nonprofit organizations recognize the following unique benefits of a quick hitting and nimble fundraising effort:

Energize leadership, donors and volunteers

Small, targeted campaigns can provide a much need boost of energy in the midst of a longer fundraising effort. Many campaigns begin with the lead gifts and major donor. Acquiring these gifts can occupy a majority of the time and effort of campaign professional and volunteer leadership. Typically, smaller community-level donors may not even be engaged until many months into a campaign. A mini-campaign can strengthen relationships across all levels of giving by providing the framework in which to reach to a spectrum of donors earlier in the campaign. Bringing them into the fold early can infuse the effort with a jolt of energy, innovation, and additional leadership.

Focus on a short time frame

Establishing a shorter time frame campaign can be used to reduce the overall load of the larger campaign. A mini-campaign is a smaller and more manageable unit making the larger fundraising effort a little more modular and thus easier to process. Essentially, the mini campaign is a bite-sized chunk – a chunk that facilitates donor and volunteer focus on an achievable short term goal to raise a specific amount for a clearly defined project – as a step to the completion of the larger effort.

Specific objective

Creating mileposts along the campaign road enables donors and leaders to galvanize their efforts and focus on a targeted and feasible goal. A successful mini campaign can serve as a marker of accomplishment and provide the traction necessary to propel a broader campaign to achieve its desired fundraising goal. For example, by creating a quick and targeted $100,000 mini campaign in the midst of a multi-million dollar effort, donors and volunteers are likely to jump into the fold together, with renewed vigor and focus that, if guided and directed effectively, will likely carry through for the entire effort.

Bridges gaps

Sometimes capacity building can seem like a Catch 22. An organization embarks on a year-long effort to increase support but encounters the need for funds to keep it going in this effort. Not sure if it will have enough in reserve to achieve a successful outcome, a mini campaign can keep the organization going long enough to increase its capacity and, at the same time, expanding the community of leaders, donors, and friends. Targeting a diverse network of donors and establishing a compelling objective are critical.

Enhances Flexibility

Things suddenly come up – an organization is in the middle of building a programmatic endowment, when its roof blows off or an organization is unexpectedly presented with a challenge opportunity from a major donor. The mini campaign may be able to come to the rescue. Rather than navigating through mission change, organization restructuring, or endless committee meetings that may be more evocative of a large scale refocusing of efforts, a mini campaign shrinks the larger campaign – in effort, activity, timing, and staffing. Nonprofits can move to quickly shift their strategies to meet changing donor priorities or unanticipated organizational needs while bolstering and channeling volunteer enthusiasm and focus.

A mini campaign need not cause upheaval or the revamping of an organization’s internal structure or processes. The mission and vision are developed and presumably a campaign of some sort is underway. The mini campaign does not take the place of the larger fundraising effort nor does it steer funds away from other initiatives. But, having a clearly defined framework in which the mini campaign will operate is paramount. The mini campaign must have a specific beginning and end, a targeted and achievable fundraising goal, and, most importantly, something that will immediately capture the donors’ imagination.

During the 2014 Boston marathon, American runner and the eventual winner, Meb Keflezighi ran miles 15-20 at a pace more than 1 minute faster than the rest of his race, essentially pulling away from the nearest competitor and pacing himself to victory. Mini campaigns can provide similar benefits, providing critical motivation and mileposts. Careful planning and timing can energize leadership, volunteers, and donors, positioning the organization for a successful and well-paced completion to a campaign.

We welcome your comments and insights. Let us know what you think.

Avrum Lapin is President and Benjamin Ginsberg is a Consultant at The Lapin Group, LLC, a full service fundraising and management consulting firm for nonprofits in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. 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. Avrum is a frequent contributor to and speaker in the US and in Israel on opportunities and challenges in today’s nonprofit marketplace.

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