Contemplating a New or Revived Capital Campaign? Timing is Everything…

Contributed by Melissa Irish, PRG Managing Associate

We don’t have a groundhog to tell us if it’s time to hibernate for another 6 weeks or if the promise of spring and new beginnings has arrived. Are donors ready to invest in an organization’s capital or major one-time needs? Here are some indicators to help you assess your readiness to reignite that campaign that might have been on the horizon prior to March 2020.

Market optimism. There is a general mood that suggests life is reopening and bringing back some of the hope and promise we all felt prior to the pandemic. Most understand that we are not out of the woods yet until we know just how effective our vaccines are. So, while people crave to embrace better times are here, uncertainty over the next 4 – 6 months is critical to watch.

Reality check on what is really important and therefore worthy of major investments. It’s safe to say, people are looking at life through different lenses, grounding their priorities in what “really” matters – family, our health, our financial well-being, the health and well-being of our neighbors, friends and communities. It’s a natural response to retreat to the basics when our very existence has been so threatened. We have lived through torturous political upheaval, the fatal, devastating impacts of a global pandemic, and the undeniable great divide between the basic human rights and dignity our brothers and sisters of colors deserve and what our legal, financial, judicial and social systems have allowed. In short, the pandemic brought inequities to the surface like never before. Thus, those projects addressing basic needs like the housing crisis, the need for workforce development, hunger, the lack of access to quality health care and education, and social justice inequities are really going to resonate. If you frame your case accordingly and keep it relevant, we think your campaign will be met with enthusiasm.

Your organization’s basic readiness. There are many criteria that need to be met to create a successful major campaign- how ready and qualified is your staff and volunteer leadership to take on the responsibilities of capital fundraising, what is your financial health coming out of the pandemic, how do your donors – those you are hoping will make major gifts – feel about your organization, your case and your project? Do you have a plan on how you are going to steward your donors moving forward, leveraging new virtual tools and in-person activities as appropriate? Donors are used to being engaged in very different ways coming out of the pandemic –  are you adapting your strategy to meet them where they are? Take an internal look and see how you measure up.

The financial stack. Borrowed money is cheap right now so that’s a good thing. Have you come up with a revenue picture for your project that shows your organization’s “skin in the game” (reserves, debt) in addition to philanthropy? Are you well-versed in other market tools such as new market tax credits, or bonds,  and explored how to tap some of the government money expected to hit the market soon? Savvy donors will appreciate hearing about diversified revenue streams, and likely smile on an educated and balanced approach.

An objective assessment. Now, more than ever, a feasibility study will help your organization get inside the minds and hearts of your donor prospects and create the Case and architecture for a successful campaign. A quality study will answer the two most important questions any organization requires: Under what conditions will individuals and grantmaking institutions support our campaign?; and, If we satisfy those conditions, what levels of giving are likely to ensue? No campaign should be launched without having these answers and with so many changes lately, we don’t recommend making any assumptions!

PRG’s phones are ringing more and more as our partners in the nonprofit community are coming back on-line to launch their long-awaited campaigns. We are encouraging everyone to take a tiny step back and take the temperature along these lines as we align our efforts to help them succeed. It’s a new world out there and we need to be open to understanding how things have changed as we chart our paths forward.

Photo: by Frans Van Heerden from Pexels