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On this episode of Bloomerang TV, Jeff Muddell – Senior Consultant at Winkler Group – joins us to talk about assessing fundraising campaign readiness.

Worksheet adapted and used with permission from Kihlstedt, Andrea, and Catherine P. Schwartz. Capital Campaigns: Strategies That Work. 2nd ed. Gaithersburg, Md.: Aspen, 1997. 19. Print

Full Transcript:

Steven: Hey there. Welcome to this week’s episode of Bloomerang TV. Thanks for tuning in, as always, for about 15 minutes or so for a great conversation with an expert in the fundraising world. I definitely have one of those for you today. He is Jeff Muddell and he is the Senior Consultant over at the Winkler Group, Hey, Jeff, how’s it going?

Jeff: I’m doing well. Thanks for having us.

Steven: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for taking time out of your day to chat with us for a while. Maybe you can tell us what the Winkler Group does and what you guys are up to these days.

Jeff: Sure, we are a full service consulting firm, serving clients nationwide. We are based in Charleston, South Carolina but we have offices right here in Orlando, Florida, in Chicago and in Nashville as well. We cover the gamut of services and of sizes of organizations and of types of organizations. We’ll work on strategic planning, we’ll working on capital campaigns, feasibility studies, major gift initiatives, you name it, for organizations from all walks of life. Very honored, very blessed to do what we do on a day to day basis.

Steven: Yeah, absolutely, and I know you guys do great work and it seems like just from looking at your website and from conversations we had that the strategic planning and the capital campaigns, these are sort of a big campaign that people do. I know a lot of nonprofits that we work with and talk to, they kind of struggle with the big stuff and maybe one of the reasons is just not being ready for that campaign. Could you talk about your philosophy of getting people actually ready to take on things like a capital campaign or some sort of major initiative? How do you know when someone is actually ready to start that endeavor?

Jeff: It’s a lot of introspection, a lot of looking around, a lot of self-examination really, very much so. When we start talking about capital campaigns you think of the sizes of capital campaigns that are out there.

Steven: Yeah.

Jeff: Smaller organizations, the ministries churches, schools that are happy to raise six figures in a capital effort. Then you talk about your colleges and universities and other organizations that are raising billions with a “B”.

Steven: Yep.

Jeff: Capital campaigns very much mean different things to different organizations. One of our strengths and one of the areas we have shined a light on is first let’s take a deeper look at what a capital campaign will mean to your organization, what it can mean, what it should mean, and then is it feasible. Planning and study is very important in the life of a development director or a head of school or an executive director interested in a capital campaign.

I think the first thing, and if technology will allow me, we are going to take a look at first what are the types of campaigns. When we talk about capital campaigns, what are we looking at? There are basically five different types, as you see here: bricks and mortar, special projects, endowment, a combined effort or comprehensive effort.

Bricks and mortar is clear, it is a building project, it is very clear. “We are this organization. We need a new building. It is going to cost X. Help us get it.” Very clear to articulate, usually cash and stocks, appreciated securities, gifts in kind. Special projects are a little different because then you have taken on, well, we actually have these small fix ups or we have equipment, technology needs, the funds needed to start something up out of thin air. It is also easier to articulate also in that same realm of the type of gifts that you can expect.

Endowment is when things get a little different because you are talking big picture, you’re talking long term, you’re talking long commitment, you are talking about results that may not be seen in the short term. This is when you really start talking about planned opportunities and securities and deferred gifts, opportunities that will continue that fire burning in the organization for a good long time. Then the final two they can kind of be paired together. All right, what if your organization has all of those needs?

Steven: Yeah.

Jeff: What if the laundry list is long and you have a building but you also need an endowment, or you need a building and you also want to build an endowment but you need some technology or you have a program? Then you talk about the combined or comprehensive programs.

This is where the messaging gets more complex, most certainly. It gets a lot harder to articulate when you are talking about a lot of buckets to fill so to speak. It gets confusing and the gifts are going to come from all directions and all different types. So obviously the messaging, as we say here, the PR opportunities, the economies of scale are interesting but can also be challenging.

The first thing that we would advise certainly is to know as you look at the long term or even the short term of what the organization’s strategy is, what are the needs, clearly defining the needs, clearly defining what the mission of the organization is, then really start taking a look inside as to what the possibilities are.

I am actually going to go to one more slide because as we think about are you ready for a campaign, we like to have this in the back pocket. We recommend if you are watching this and your organization is thinking about a campaign, we very much say take a look at these questions, and this is a scoreboard more or less. It can be filled out by a director of development, by an advancement team or a head or an executive director of some sort. Really challenge your organization, and try to assess the readiness based on these point ranges, these categories and give yourself a score.

They are very sound. Some are a little broad certainly, but a sound plan for the future. Does your organization have that in its DNA, have it in its strategic plan? Does your organization as a whole and the leadership know where the organization is going? How is the prospect development plan and research system? How are you doing with the annual fund? How are you doing with a regular flow of prospects and investigating prospects, identifying prospects coming in the door? Record keeping system, crucial. If there is ever a time that your donor records system will be challenged, it will be during a capital campaign.

Steven: Yeah, right.

Jeff: As you all well know. Competent staff, does the staff know the details on how to run a capital campaign? Yes, we understand fundraising is not always a science. It is very much an art as well, but mixing the two, do you have a competent staff? The case for support, can you articulate what is needed and what the goals are? There’s the history of gift support, informed constituency, an involved contributing board of trustees. We talk about boards an awful lot, and I’m sure before this conversation is over we will talk more about boards, but where are the boards? As you can see, these last three, if you are doing this as a score card, those last three take the highest weighting.

Steven: Right.

Jeff: The contributing board of trustees. Qualified potential lead gift contributors, are there people who are sitting in wait and are able to make the necessary gifts, and capable volunteer leadership. This is a great starting point for anybody who is sitting back and saying, “I am thinking about a capital campaign,” give yourself your own rating. Pass it around to your whole team and have them give it a rating, see what the score is. We always say a score of 75 is usually a pretty good threshold. If you can get a 75 on this score card, you are in pretty good shape for a capital campaign.

That is not dyed in the wool, that is not always the case. We’ve had organizations that have done this and came up in the fifties and have done it. The whole point of that exercise is before you open the doors to a capital campaign and all the wonders the it may bring both financially, from awareness, from driving donors, you really need to take a good self-assessment. Take a good look introspectively. Figure out are you truly ready and a lot can be done in the organization itself.

Steven: Do you find that most people are ready or do you find that most organizations just kinda jump in and start trying to raise money without going through a lot of these sort of processes and actually becoming ready?

Jeff: We see a mix. I think certainly post-2008 economic climate we see more understanding that you can’t just jump into a capital campaign. You can’t just say, “Hey! We are going to go raise $10 million today. Let’s go.” There is certainly more accountability involved because, think of a capital campaign, and I think we all know of at least one, whether we are in the industry or not, that has failed.

Steven: Mm-hmm.

Jeff: The goal was too large, the donors didn’t show up in a way that everybody had thought, the project got bloated and it really messed the messaging. There is a lot of things that can go wrong in a capital campaign.

Steven: Right.

Jeff: That is not a short problem. That is also a long term problem that is going to affect the way that your organization is going to be able to fund raise and do capital campaigns in the future. It is critical to really have a good self-assessment before you go in. When the board leadership is set, we want to pursue, we want to go to the next step. What is the next step? That is where we stress a planning study. They are very important. I know you know a lot about planning studies but let me give you one more slide too about planning studies.

Steven: Okay.

Jeff: What is a planning study? What are its goals? You are going to use a planning study which is going to be an outside council to come in to talk to your key constituents, to talk to your leadership, and assess the internal and the external readiness. It’s going to determine if you are organization A and you say, “Well, we have priority one, priority two, priority three and we need all three of those things.” When you start asking, when a council comes in and starts asking those questions and getting some answers, as that third party, Steven, I’m amazed of the information that we glean in our planning studies.

Steven: Yeah, I’ll bet.

Jeff: Constituents will talk to us and tell us their feelings but they may not, and most of the time usually don’t, tell leadership of the organization. “So, hey, we think priority one is critically important and we think priority two is too, but priority three, I don’t care about that.”

We are able to mesh all that data and figure out which priorities really are priorities in the minds of the folks that are going to support them. We make recommendations for realistic and appropriate campaign goals. I obviously work on a time table that sets the stage for what a campaign period would look like, identify potential campaign donors and leaders, provides other insights on how the school or organization is viewed. I should say in the same vein, we are listening as outside council, as to what the key priorities are. We are also picking up stories of champions . . .

Steven: Right.

Jeff: . . . the organization never knew they had.

Steven: Yeah you pick up all these ancillary benefits you probably didn’t even think of, I’m sure, through all these exercises.

Jeff: Yeah, and it is also in that last bullet point, a well run planning study is not only going to give you the numbers. I mean everybody is focused on the numbers, how much can we raise. Let’s do a plan so we can find out how much we can raise. To your point, the ancillary benefits of identifying new volunteers, new leadership, new gifts, that may have just been sitting on the sidelines. We are able to bring those people to the table, listen to them, hear their stories. Champions, there are folks that I can think of who, the meetings and interviews that I have sat in I have talked to somebody and they were just under the radar of the organization, yet told me passionately how much they love and support the organization.

Steven: Yeah.

Jeff: You find champions, you find all sorts of neat information that is crucial to what the next steps are and what the next steps can be in the campaign.

Steven: So what is left, you have got your readiness assessment, you have got your planning study, is there a last piece of the puzzle before people can actually get started or are you ready at this point?

Jeff: Again, it is going back to the internal assessment. As we, again, are outside council determines the planning study and where the opportunities are and we will also identify challenges, most definitely. The best organizations are the ones that take a look at that score sheet and say, “You know what, we don’t have the perfect board situation. We are not at 100%. I am going to give myself a 5 on the scale from 0 to 15 there, and before I feel comfortable moving forward with the campaign I want to address that, I want to make that a priority.” An efficient record keeping system, obviously we need that. In a good internal assessment it is going to be able to identify that while the organization is considering or moving forward with the planning study, the organization is also working on its weaknesses.

Steven: Yep.

Jeff: Shoring up some area that it needs to. Once you pull the trigger, once you assemble the steering committee, once the gifts start coming in, the momentum will build. The momentum will certainly grow. In a well run campaign the momentum will grow. There is no holds barred from there. It is amazing to see what can happen in an organization in the life of a capital campaign.

Steven: Yeah. It is really interesting how a capital campaign can kind of be a catalyst for fixing all these other day to day issues that maybe wouldn’t have gotten attention if it weren’t for the capital campaign.

Jeff: Very true.You know, what we hear all the time and I kid you not I just heard it again yesterday from another organization who, so many organizations are dependent upon their annual fund. It is critical. It is critical for operating. They look upon a capital campaign as a necessity, but also it scares the living daylights out of them to think they are going to cannibalize their annual fund. If Joe is giving me $5,000 a year I can’t go ask him for $5,000 dollars for capital because . . .

Steven: Right.

Jeff: Take it away from the annual fund, it will take it out of the operating budget. We acknowledge and we see two things that happen. One, again in a planning study that is done well, the goal is properly assessed based on what is seen in the community among constituents. When a goal is set, it is set at a level to address the dollars that are available above and beyond what would normally come in through an annual campaign. That is important messaging. This is a gift, a one time gift you are given here but for once we want to keep giving here.

Steven: Yeah.

Jeff: Then get you the one gift up here. So that is critical. The other piece that we see, now this is a long term piece as we get through a capital campaign involving an annual fund, we see the campaign lifting all ships as they say. A capital campaign can be so transformational. Not just in the dollars raised but in the awareness.

Steven: Yep.

Jeff: Awareness of the need telling the constituents that, “Boy, we did this, we built this, we created this.” So there is an excitement that comes around a capital campaign. Again, if done right it will not cannibalize your annual fund, but in fact it will help raise the annual fund because you are bringing more people to the table to make major gifts. People see the need and they are willing to support that annual need on an annual basis on a higher level. We see the statistics very much showing that a capital campaign is not going to cannibalize, again, if you are running it well. That is a whole another topic for another day.

If you are running it well, you are not going to cannibalize. In fact, you are going to benefit, you are going to grow the annual fund. I have got one more slide to show you while I got you, just some more of those internal things that may be blocking up the way. A lot of organizations, especially boards that may not be in the everyday organization, everyday running of the organization, we will say, “Well, what if we fail? What happens if we fail?” Once you pull that trigger, as we said, Steven, once that ball starts rolling, you don’t want to ever stop. You want to move ahead, so failure is not an option.

You want to do what you need to do for the proper study plan with proper work on the organizational level to prepare. “I have too much on my plate already.” We hear that from directors of development every single day. That is a big complaint. As a former DOD and a MVP of development, I know that. When you think about what capital campaign can do for your organization it should be the most important item on the plate.

Steven: Yeah.

Jeff: We acknowledged the big up front investment in a consultant, bringing a consultant to do a planning study, bringing a consultant to assist with a capital campaign. But it is a worthwhile investment, it has had a wonderful return on ROI. “My board isn’t engaged,” well, this is the time to get them engaged. To lead it to a capital campaign, get them engaged, allow the machine to work, allow the board to work for you, bring them in, get them excited. Very critical.

There is that readiness assessment. Look back on that and always focus on those weak areas. If you know you are lower on something, you may not be able to fix that overnight, you may not be able to fix that in five years. But acknowledging it is a problem and continuing to work forward, work through it even during a planning study and into a capital campaign is going to be critical.

Again, use the planning study. Do the planning study. It is the fire starter. It is the piece that gives you all the background you need and really makes it worthwhile. It homes in on a goal, gives you feedback that you as the DOD or the executive director are not going to get yourselves. It’s very critical so we always preach the importance of the planning study.

Steven: I love it I’m excited I kind of want to do something.

Jeff: Let’s go raise some money! Let’s go and just go do your planning study right now. Raise some money.

Steven: I’m going to do that score card for some of the nonprofits I am on too just for the fun of it because I am a dork so I think it is fun.

Jeff: Yeah, it is a wonderful tool and it really encapsulates. You’ll have an organization say, “Yeah we are ready, sure! Let me fill this out” Then they come back like, “Ooh, eeee.”

Steven: Yeah, maybe not.

Jeff: Of course a good council, a good consultant can also walk you through and assist you with those opportunities you see with more development or with strategic planning or with working the internal pieces and parts that go into the running a day to day operation. Again, we at the Winkler Group are grateful for all the organizations that have trusted us. Our team is so experienced. We have such a wide, vast range of experience and when we present this capital campaign presentation “Are you ready for a capital campaign?” the response is always very positive and people are always asking that question, and we don’t know.

Steven: Right.

Jeff: Help us. So this information it is certainly a great starting point to get your organization thinking about it.

Steven: This is super helpful. Jeff, where can people find out more about you? Where can they find your website and get in touch with you guys?

Jeff: You can visit us at

Steven: Cool. We will have to check you guys out. You obviously know your stuff. I may have to have you back for a webinar because I feel like we could probably talk for a couple more hours on all this stuff.

Jeff: There is lots to talk about ,most definitely.

Steven: Well, Jeff, this is awesome. Thanks for being here and thanks to all you guys watching. We will be back next week with another great guest and another great conversation so we’ll see you then!

Jeff: Thanks, Steven. Thank you, Bloomerang.

Steven: Okay. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.