When you are in the throes of planning a capital campaign, you’re likely to focus on all the things you can control. You work on selecting a consultant and on pulling together a campaign committee. You work on writing the case for support and developing the list of top donors.
Campaigns require a huge amount of careful planning and you are probably going through one planning step after another, as you should in order to set your nonprofit up for success.
But you may be holding the potential of your campaign back without even knowing it. In this post, you will learn three common mistakes nonprofit leaders make when planning a capital campaign and determine if you’re falling prey to them.
If you avoid these unintentional pitfalls right in the beginning when you start planning your capital campaign, you are likely to raise more money and drive maximum impact for your mission. Let’s take a look.
Mistake 1: Planning with a Scarcity Mindset
When they start planning their campaign, many people let their anxiety about money get the better of them. Rather than thinking about how much they could do to move their organization forward if they had more resources, they instead focus on making a plan that would require spending as little money as possible.
Do you operate from a scarcity mindset? Have you shrunk your vision for your organization down as much as possible because you’re worried that you won’t be able to raise the money?
If so, you are holding your organization back!
While you are certainly right to manage the finances of your organization carefully and not to spend money frivolously, there are times when you should have the courage to think expansively. Planning a capital campaign is one of those times.
Ask yourself this question: How much would it cost to do [our growth project] really well? Think a high-quality, well-designed project where corners weren’t cut and plans weren’t scrimped.
Take some time to imagine the results and the difference they would make in the lives of the people you serve. Then, when you’ve convinced yourself of the value of doing it right, make a budget for what it would take.
We’ve seen time and again that when you let the power of a well-done, exciting project drive your fundraising and give you courage, you’ll raise more money. Donors are more motivated to support a truly inspiring project, and your team will be more enthusiastic about driving it to completion from start to finish.
Mistake 2: Obsessing Over the Perfect Plan
Again and again, people don’t want to approach their largest donors until their solicitation plan is fully formed and as perfect as they can possibly make it. They don’t approach their largest donors until their plans have been finalized because they want to put their best foot forward and come across as prepared.
That approach is deeply flawed. While you don’t want to be or seem unprepared, the best way to connect with your largest donors and get them excited is by asking for their advice in a real and meaningful way. If your plans are already cast in stone, there’s nothing these critical supporters can offer advice about that will make a difference.
Try this approach: Don’t make money the first thing you ask your largest donors for. Ask for their help in a variety of other ways, like by:
- Seeking their early input in your campaign feasibility study
- Having plenty of one-on-one conversations about the campaign and its potential
- Asking your most enthusiastic donors to join a campaign committee
- Asking for ideas and introductions to new prospects, sponsors, and community partners
While you don’t have to blindly accept all of your donors’ advice, you are likely to find some of it helpful and in the process, you will get them more deeply engaged with your campaign and your vision for growth.
Mistake 3: Deciding for the Donor
Many gifts are not received because they aren’t asked for.
Have you ever caught yourself coming up with reasons you believe a donor won’t want to give? That kind of thinking is common. It goes like this: “I shouldn’t ask [donor name] for a significant gift now. The stock market is down. Or, he’s never given to us at that level and he won’t want to do it now. Or, he seemed to avoid me at the party the other night.” The list goes on and on.
All these reasons (and many more) have nothing to do with what the donor actually does or does not want to do. To find that out, you’ve got to ask.
So if you spend more time thinking about why you should or shouldn’t ask donors for large gifts than you do actually asking them for those gifts, you are undermining your campaign. Making assumptions about donors is often a reflection of your own anxieties—boxing in your donor relationships rather than truly cultivating them. This final mistake is one of the biggest reasons we’ve seen capital campaigns underperform.
The success of your campaign is tied inextricably to your mindset. To be an effective fundraiser, you’ve got to have the courage of your convictions. Believe in your project enough to envision something special—and make sure your donors can see your vision, too. Ask for help along the way rather than waiting until your project is fully formed. And you’ve got to be willing to ask donors for generous gifts and let them tell you what they would like to do.
Put another way, don’t undermine the success of your campaign by letting your anxieties get in the way!
A Campaign Coach Can Help
Of course, having a few (or many) anxieties during a high-stakes project like a capital campaign is natural and to be expected. The key is to stay aware of them and the ways in which they’re influencing your thinking.
One way to overcome your fundraising anxieties is to work with a campaign expert who can set you straight when you fall into old mindset traps.
Regular calls with an experienced campaign advisor will hold you accountable, encourage you to think from abundance, and find the will to ask for help. They can also connect you to a broader community of nonprofits going through capital campaigns of their own. Don’t underestimate the power of connection and expert guidance!
Capital Campaign Readiness Assessment
Is your organization ready for a capital campaign? This simple assessment tool will help you find out. You’ll assess six key areas of your organization. Take this free assessment now and find out if you’re truly ready for a campaign.
Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, and Andrea Kihlstedt are co-founders of the Capital Campaign Toolkit, a virtual support system for nonprofit leaders running successful campaigns. The Toolkit provides all the tools, templates, and guidance you need — without breaking the bank.