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Capital Campaigns During COVID-19: 8 Ways to Approach Your Effort with Confidence and Clarity

Executive Vice President Emerita

Ah, the good old days. “We are always in campaign mode: pre-campaign, in-campaign, or post-campaign. There’s no such thing as no-campaign.” It seems like only yesterday that proclaiming this was a badge of honor.

Whatever happened?!

We all know the answer. The year 2020 came in full of promise, then a global pandemic struck us all a blow. Flying days and hotel stays are less frequent. Yet, campaigns do not need to be on lockdown. Nonprofits continue to seek Graham-Pelton’s campaign counsel services. Our clients remain in successful pursuit of campaign funds.

If your organization is in campaign mode, we commend you. If your organization is thinking about a campaign, we commend you as well. In either case, these 8 ways of thinking about a major fundraising effort will give you the confidence and clarity to keep your mission moving forward.

1. Know that the facts and history are on your side.

From our research, and the proven Giving USA data, previous challenging times in fundraising have taught us:

  • Losses in charitable dollars are not as dramatic as the market downturns that drive them. During the 2008 recession, there was a 38% decrease in the S&P 500 but only a 7% decrease in giving. Despite market fluctuations, giving as both a percentage of GDP and percentage of personal disposable income rarely varies more than 0.2% per year.
  • There are donors and companies that do well during recessions. And many want to help others with their generosity.
  • 79% of donors say they will maintain or increase their giving in response to COVID-19.
  • Those organizations that retreat from cultivating and soliciting donors in difficult times struggle to rebound once those times have passed.
  • Political elections do not have a negative impact on giving. Some project that this year will generate even greater cause giving.

2. Okay: Re-imagining your fundraising strategies. Not okay: Re-imagining your mission.

Campaigns can have discipline AND employ innovative fundraising approaches. This is not an “either-or” proposition. With social distancing practices and limited face-to-face engagement, soliciting funds must and can occur with creativity. This is not the time to digress from your mission. It IS the time to make that mission more relevant and compelling to your current and potential donors.

3. Effective preparation is at your fingertips.

A campaign planning study to test your campaign fundraising readiness and potential is valuable as you seek to gain leadership and Board approval. Consulting firms do all the work for you and provide the objective insight and expertise you need to evaluate your campaign future.

In this virtual meeting environment, planning studies can be even more cost-effective. For example, experts can conduct prospect discussions by phone or video conferencing. This is also the ideal time to do a wealth screening of your database. Follow up that screening with a dedicated series of internal prospect vetting sessions to tier your potential campaign prospects.

4. Let the campaign timetable work for you, not against you.

A campaign must be a disciplined initiative complete with a beginning, middle, and end. Yet its duration allows for flexibility. We recommend an internal timeline with dollars-raised targets. That said, there are no absolutes around how long a campaign quiet phase should last. And there is no need to announce at the start when your campaign will end. This fluidity provides a cushion as you embark on a campaign that may require more time and effort to build momentum. It offers you the chance to accelerate if your solicitations exceed planned targets.

5. Inspire humans, not donors.

A campaign is about vision – not yours, but your organization’s vision. Donors are not ATMs. They are people – generous people – who want to make a difference and solve problems. It’s time to:

  • fall in love all over again with your organization’s mission in this new environment,
  • reinvigorate the relevance of how your organization’s work matters, and
  • tell that story to your prospects with renewed passion in the context of a campaign effort.

That is when the magic happens!

6. Technology, meet tried-and-true.

AI, virtual reality, CRM, prospect research software, Zoom: the list goes on. It is hard to imagine our operations without these tools in the COVID-19 environment. Technology may be your new best friend, but a campaign today benefits from getting reacquainted with some old “pals”.

Phone calls, letters, and postcards are meaningful outreach channels for most prospects confined to their homes for many months. “Multi-channel communications” continues to be an important phrase.

7. It takes a village (and volunteers).

The campaign may start and stop with you and your team. Yet the support of compelling advocates can multiply your outreach and efforts. In a current environment where feelings of helplessness are real, constituents are eager to make an impact. You can leverage this motivation by keeping your constituents informed. Paint a true picture of urgency and then offer tangible actions to your volunteers:

  • bring a new prospect to the organizational table,
  • provide a testimonial quote,
  • serve on a campaign committee,
  • make stewardship calls,­­ and
  • join you in a Zoom prospect cultivation meeting.

8. Ask, listen, ask; listen some more, a­sk some more.

We know from real-time client experience that people are making gifts. These gifts are first-time, transformational, repeat. And they prove false that giving has faltered during this pandemic.

The key to that success is the same in challenging times as it was pre-COVID. It involves having the kind of relationship with a prospect that reveals motivations and desires. Then, adeptly matching that intent with your organization’s mission.

The trick is simple. Ask prospects to tell you what matters to them. Then, listen to what they say. Keep asking more about what matters most. Let them do the talking. Listen even more intently, and ask them if you got it right about what moves them to action. And when you do have it right, ask for their support.

Pat House is Executive Vice President at Graham-Pelton. Contact her by email or by calling 1-800-608-7955.