Our Ask An Expert series features real questions answered by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, our very own Fundraising Coach, also known as Charity Clairity.

Today’s question comes from a fundraiser whose capital campaign has hit a brick wall.

Dear Charity Clairity,

We have started and stopped a capital campaign a couple of times. Over this time, we’ve had some generous donors already give. Now, we are prepared to start it up again with no intention to stop. Is it appropriate to go back to them again and ask again for a project they’ve already given to, but it has been a few years?

Don’t want to appear greedy

Dear Greedy,

You’re right to be concerned about donor perception with a campaign that’s been started and stopped. It’s more about appearing flaky — not following through on your promises — than about appearing greedy, however.

Your first order of business is to restore donor trust. Honesty and empathy will be your best friends here. Donors are human, as are you. Donors understand people make mistakes. If you are authentically human with them, and apologize with sincerity for the missteps, they are likely to be forgiving.

Begin with apology, not with your monetary needs. These folks, and their philanthropic investment, have not been properly stewarded. So you must take a few steps backwards on the major donor pipeline. They’re most likely not ready to be asked for a second major gift without some further cultivation. Most important, you’ll need to persuade them what happened before will not happen again.

You must also renew enthusiasm about the building project. They were inspired before, but inspiration fades unless the flames are fanned. Consider what strategies were used in the past to inspire these donors’ giving, and what you might do to repeat or emulate them.

As you restart, you’ll also want to build in the following inspirational campaign components:

  1. Create a gift range chart depicting what’s left to raise of your total campaign goal.
  2. Fill in donor names for gifts already given. Some of these folks may be willing to step up to higher levels on your chart once they’re re-inspired and reassured you’re really off to the races this time around!
  3. Create a “Campaign Completion Committee” and invite past generous donors to join. See if they have suggestions of additional prospective donors to add to this leadership group.
  4. Identify a challenge gift. Try to inspire one of your current donors to upgrade their gift and/or turn it into a challenge or matching gift to motivate others to give.
  5. Plan a kick-off event (or a second such event if you held one previously). This serves to renew enthusiasm that will help boost giving from a broader base of donors.

Finally, be honest with yourself about why your campaign stalled so you can be transparent with your donors. Consider your donors’ perspectives about why your campaign stalled.

Stalled campaigns can be reignited, but only once you assure donors that whatever obstacles were in the way have been removed. Can you do that?

Charity Clairity

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Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.