Important Lessons from the Front Lines of a Capital Campaign

by Elliot Levin, PRG President & Founder

PRG recently served as capital campaign counsel to the largest, successful campaign in recent Sonoma County history – the $48 million Caritas Center, developed by Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa – that brings hope and a new start to homeless families and individuals through a comprehensive mix of services that all lead to stable, permanent housing.

What is to be learned from this successful initiative that found itself in full campaign mode during a pandemic? There are many lessons, some new, others tried and true.

Here are 4 lessons for your campaign:

  1. Focus on great community leadership. While professional expertise is invaluable, nothing replaces the power of respected community leaders who fearlessly give and ask. Identifying, cultivating, recruiting, training, and deploying leaders remains the single key ingredient to campaign success. Yes, the mission must be important and relevant, but someone has to carry that message into action. The professional’s main job is to help get the right leaders to come on board, give them the tools to succeed, and support their efforts every step of the way. The Caritas Center followed these principles and became blessed with a cadre of respected leaders, many of whom had never been part of campaign leadership before.
  2. Be frank about the challenges, especially in turbulent times. Leaders and donor prospects expect transparency and honesty about what’s working or not. Candor reinforces your integrity. Costs rising beyond original estimates? Speak truth and explain where you may have to make cuts. Suffer disappointing responses from donors you hoped for? Report that to leadership and then move on. Are your clients experiencing tough times because of a service gap your project will remedy? That’s hugely relevant to donors too! The Caritas Center always took the high road whether it was neighborhood opposition, gift requests that fell short, or severe cost escalation of building materials.
  3. All systems go. Accurate, up-to-date data is the backbone of any successful campaign. Each individual or institutional donor is truly its own “mini-campaign.” Multiply that by scores of prospects and there is a mountain of information to manage and track. A successful campaign must have a reliable information management system. There are plenty of good CRM systems available, but the key is to invest in staffing and support that knows what to put in and how to get it out. Catholic Charities made that investment and it paid off.
  4. Build and Publicize Your “A-Team.” Any capital project, large or small, requires diverse expertise to be successful. Investors want to know not only who the public-faces like your CEO and campaign chair are but who else is behind the scenes. Your architect, project manager, contractor, campaign consultant, financial advisor, and attorney represent a team of experts that tell donors you’re serious and capable. Catholic Charities made these folks available to interact with donors when the time was right and so should you.

Reach out to PRG if you would like to speak with us about a capital campaign, feasibility assessments and getting started.