Passion in the Recipe for a Successful Fundraising Campaign

by Robert I. Evans and Avrum D. Lapin

As we continue our yearlong review of our 11 essential fundraising tips for 2011, we focus on one of the most important points: aiming for success. A blending of traditional and contemporary approaches can make most fundraising campaigns successful but there is no denying that passion is one of the most important components of any successful campaign.

Since charitable giving is a passionate act, our recipe consists of two very important elements that make passion possible: emotion and clarity. One involves an abstract idea: the desire to make a donor, volunteer and stakeholder feel something that pulls at the heartstrings and doesn’t let go. The other involves concrete details, planning and strategy to make sure that the final product has the right taste and form.

Begin by telling the story. What should people know about an organization or cause; why should people care? For our purposes, consider a congregation whose leaders had concluded that a larger and more engaging sanctuary is required to accommodate a growing membership. The message to donors is not that the congregation requires money to build a special worship space. Rather it is that there is an opportunity for Jews to invest in the future of the congregation in a tangible and meaningful way that meets the needs and expectations of a growing community. The goal is to convince individuals that the campaign is both intellectually and emotionally essential. This can be done in compatible and complementary ways.

  • Paint a picture: Tell the story of the congregation. Discuss how it has been the community’s house of worship for generations. Describe both the ageless lifers who still roam the halls because they feel at home and mix it together with the young parents bringing their newborns in for the first time for naming ceremonies.
  • Give members a voice: Create metaphoric and compelling reasons for the existence of the synagogue and what positive impact the congregation makes in the lives of its members and how a new and enlarged sanctuary would be a part of that. In some cases, relate what the new sanctuary may do for donors at every stage of the life cycle. People who feel a part of the experience should be more inclined to give and to volunteer.

Although our example relates to a new synagogue sanctuary, it could easily be an endowment campaign for an organization of any kind. Use the same tools to help engage donors and volunteers. Maybe the endowment campaign is to underwrite programs to educate immigrants, empowering them and bringing their stories to life. Talk about their journeys in becoming part of an American Jewish culture. Discuss how the endowment will help them live and learn in a new society.

At the same time, there is more to a campaign than pulling at the human heartstrings. There must be clarity and substance to capture the attention of supporters at all levels. Therefore, critical components of every campaign should be a clear vision statement and an even more defined and formal strategy. This can often begin with an assessment to measure the pulse of the community. Before beginning any major campaign, develop a process through which donors speak confidentially with campaign representatives; others who may be known to be philanthropic or who may be “opinion leaders” may also be canvassed for their input. Ask simple questions to gauge their interest and support. Do they participate in the organization’s programs? Do they find the organization to be valuable? Does it meet compelling needs in the community? Will new programs supported by the endowment solve problems or create new ones?

From these confidential fact-finding interviews, one will gain significant insight into an organization, how constituents and stakeholders view it and how prepared that organization may be in beginning a significant campaign effort. It will not only bring more clarity that creates the space to and the expectation for setting realistic financial and leadership goals, but the results will impact on how long it may take to complete the effort.

Once these fundamental issues are addressed, mix the clarity with the emotion and begin by putting basic pieces in place. A good campaign begins with a written Case for Giving. Make the campaign interesting enough that someone can read the case and feel compelled to give. The writing must be focused, clear, urgent, interesting and specific. Also incorporate a call to action.

Along with a Case for Giving, involve respected, dedicated and hard-working campaign leaders. Make sure all key people have a role to play and that they are each accountable in fulfilling their roles. A typical campaign has individuals who represent and help obtain large gifts, smaller gifts, lead marketing efforts, financial oversight and special events.

But organizations today need to address various internal procedures and processes. For example, formal gift acceptance and donor recognition policies must be in place, especially prior to embarking on a major fundraising effort. These policies spell out specific measures on how gifts are received, processed and recognized. Having policies in place can define how and if certain types of gifts will be accepted.

With essential ingredients in place, positioning an organization for a fruitful and successful campaign becomes much easier. Remember that:

  1. Giving begins in the heart, but courses through the brain. Give people a compelling reason to give.
  2. Paint a picture of the value of what a prospective campaign will bring.
  3. Conduct a fair assessment by talking to the stakeholders.
  4. Organize the campaign team with participants who will meet the expectations and motivate others.
  5. Build a strong and motivating written Case for Giving.
  6. Make sure internal housekeeping policies are in place for gift acceptance and donor recognition.
  7. The number one reason that people do not support a campaign: they are not asked!

Robert I. Evans, Managing Director, and Avrum D. Lapin, Director, are principals of The EHL Consulting Group, of suburban Philadelphia, and are frequent contributors to EHL Consulting works with dozens of nonprofits on fundraising, strategic planning, and non-profit business practices. Become a fan of The EHL Consulting Group on Facebook. Twitter: @EHLConsultGrp