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How to Ensure That Your Community Capital Campaign Succeeds

By Glenn Holliman

The business of community organization is doing good. The work they do makes a significant difference in the lives of people and communities served. Effective management and the wise use of limited resources are essential to the success of any community organization, regardless of its mission or the importance of its work.

Most community organizations undertake capital campaigns only once every five or ten years. Planning and preparation alone can take months, or even years, and involve dozens of people. Nonetheless, whether your group needs $100,000 or $100 million , a carefully organized approach to the project will help lead you to a successful conclusion.

Remember these four basic principles

1. People give to people. The most effective way to solicit a pledge is through committed individuals visiting peers and stating, "I believe in this cause. I am supporting it financially and personally. Will you join me in considering a gift?"

2. People give to urgent and compelling causes. They do not give to causes that seem unimportant to them, that are poorly planned or managed, or that are ineffectively communicated.

3. People often donate time and money to campaigns when they have been invited to provide input and advice. Volunteers and prospective donors should feel that they have ownership of a campaign.

4. People support campaigns when they have the opportunity to participate in the decision making process.

The following steps explore the fundamental activities necessary to help position your organization to launch a successful capital campaign. These may, of course, be modified depending upon your organization's particular situation.

Assess your level of readiness

None of us would build a house without drawing plans and laying a sure foundation. The same principles are true for a capital campaign. Review the box "Is Your Community Organization Ready for a Capital Campaign?" It is designed to examine your organization's current state of readiness and provide specific goals to work toward. Honestly examine your organization's readiness posture, and be prepared to address concerns. Remember that it is imperative to communicate with potential donors and to build a base of philanthropic leadership in your community. Failure to do so will delay your campaign and reduce your potential to receive gifts.

Preparing for a capital campaign may also provide an opportunity to conduct an organizational self-assessment. Your organization may benefit from an evaluation of its governance, planning, marketing, fiscal management, personnel management, and other aspects of internal and external operations. Examining your strengths and weaknesses in these areas will educate those involved in the process, and may reveal opportunities to better position your organization for future challenges.

Identify and explore the need

The most common reasons for conducting a capital campaign are to build a new building or remodel an existing one. Campaigns also enhance the quality of life by preserving historic sites, creating public recreation and educational facilities and expanding social service programs.

Your Board of Directors may wish to appoint a committee - sometimes called a Capital Needs Committee - to articulate how a campaign will enable the organization to better serve its mission. Most often, this takes the form of assessing current and future needs, considering challenges and opportunities and formalizing a case statement. Your organization's leadership should establish preliminary and final report dates and a written outline of the information required. Since the report will include recommendations for strategic action, you may wish to include volunteers with a sense of vision and mission in this group. Make sure you set aside an appropriate block of time for meetings with your Board to allow for full discussion and, if needed, revision of the plan.

If your community has a capital campaign review board, be sure to tell it about potential projects and ask about reporting and scheduling guidelines.

Create a framework to support the project

Once the Board has voted on the Capital Needs Committee's report, it is time to define the project in more detail. Several task forces should be created to act simultaneously. Tasks may include screening architects and builders, meeting with bankers about financing options, meeting with real estate agents, interviewing professional fund raising counsel and developing a preliminary budget.

Your organization's size and tradition will determine how best to delegate these responsibilities. Be sure that the individuals or committees assigned to study options and deal with issues clearly understand the tasks they are being asked to complete. Again, remember the importance of setting deadlines.

Share the news and invite input

Once you select an architect, it makes good sense to commission a draft plan with estimated costs for approval by your leadership. Share the building plans with as many of your constituents as possible. Print newsletter articles and hold cottage meetings and receptions to invite feedback. If the proposed project is sizable, consider constructing and displaying a model in appropriate places. Pay special attention to potential major donors.

Find creative ways to continuously inform and involve your organization's key volunteers, staff, and constituents. Liberally delegate tasks to as many people as possible. While this may take some extra time, the benefits of sharing your enthusiasm for the project, asking for assistance, and including many people in the process will more than justify the effort.

Don't overlook a thoughtful, well-timed public relations effort. You can begin with low-key information sharing and build to coincide with major capital campaign activities. Remember that most organizations do not communicate enough with their prospective donors.

Authorize a feasibility study

Usually your organization's financial potential cannot be determined accurately without a thorough feasibility study. Ideally, it will include personal interviews with key leadership and potential major donors, and perhaps a mail survey to your constituency, if appropriate. A compelling, professionally-drafted tentative case statement should accompany the study questionnaire.

This two-track approach informs a large number of supporters about the organization's intentions, helps to establish an achievable financial goal for the campaign, and invites feedback and involvement.

Once completed, a good feasibility study will answer the following questions:

1. Are the organization's key volunteers and major donors supportive of the plans as proposed?
2. Will the larger civic and philanthropic community support a campaign?
3. What are the priorities as seen by the general constituency?
4. Are people willing to give to the proposed capital campaign?
5. If so, what potential leadership gifts are available?
6. Is the financial goal attainable, or does it need to be modified?
7. What is the best time for a campaign?
8. What additional information should be shared?
9. Who should chair the campaign and who should serve on the various committees?
10. Can the organization raise funds through planned gifts such as bequests, gifts of appreciated stock, real estate, charitable trusts, life insurance, or in-kind gifts?
A feasibility study helps to clarify the vision that will become the focal point of the campaign. It can uncover concerns or problems and identify campaign volunteers, and in the long run will be a vital investment in the success of any future capital drive effort.

Leadership makes campaign decisions.

If the feasibility study is positive, the Board of Directors and key volunteer leaders should make the final decision on the size, scope and timing of the campaign. Sometimes, the dream is too ambitious and plans must be revised. It will take time to review and decide how to fine-tune the plans and financial objectives. This process must occur before launching your drive.

Consider the use of professional counsel

Professional support during this phase of your organization's life can help make the most of opportunities and reduce the likelihood of costly errors. Using the results of the study, professional counsel can prepare a fund raising plan that includes a time line, job descriptions and organizational chart, and assist in the design and production of campaign publications.

Do not expect counsel to solicit gifts. Rather, think of them as the manager of your effort. They can, however, organize and oversee the campaign calendar, help you identify and evaluate gift prospects, coordinate the publication of printed materials, work with and train volunteers, and help direct special events and public relations. Look for a firm with a proven track record and a flexible management style. Counsel should complement your leadership team.

The unique challenges of a campaign can spark fresh opportunities to fulfill the mission, make friends for the organization and renew the dedication and spirit of current volunteers and staff. As with any process, there are peaks and valleys. However, with proper planning, wise execution, a strong commitment to attracting and involving philanthropic leadership, and an urgent and compelling case, you will achieve success.

Source: Glenn Holliman is Vice President of Giving Services at Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF). ECF�s mission is to strengthen the leadership and financial capabilities of Episcopal congregations, dioceses and related organizations to pursue their mission and ministry. Programs and services include capital campaign, planned giving, annual stewardship, and endowment management services. For additional guidance or information, please contact ECF, 815 Second Ave., New York, NY, 10017 Tel: (800) 697-2858; Email: giving@EpiscopalFoundation.org.

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