In this webinar, Sarah Durham will show you how to brand your capital (or other very large) campaign so it inspires donors to act, what printed or digital tools do you need in the quiet and public phases, and how to inspire major donors to become campaign ambassadors.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Sarah, is it okay if I go ahead and kick us off officially here?
Sarah: Yep.
Steven: All right, great. Well, good afternoon, everyone if you are on the East Coast, and good morning if you’re on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks so much for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Capital Campaign Communications: Creating a Powerful Case for Support.” And my name is Steven Shattuck, and I am the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion. And thanks to all of you who have taken the poll already. I’m just going to move off of that since we’ve got a lot of responses. But feel free to chat us and tell us your thoughts and your, maybe, needs on capital campaigns. Let us know, kind of, where you are at in that process. We’d love to know where you are.
We’ve got a couple of housekeeping items for you before we get going here officially. Just want to let you all know that we are recording this session and we’ll be sending out the recording as well as the slides later on this afternoon. So if you have to leave early, that’s okay, no problem. We’ll get all that stuff in your hands this afternoon. Maybe if you stay the whole time and want to review it, you’ll be able to do that as well. So just look out for an email from me in just a couple of hours after we adjourn here.
Most importantly, I know a lot of you have already done this, but please, feel free to use that chat box right there on your webinar screen. We’re going to try to save as much time as we can for Q&A at the end. So don’t be shy, don’t sit on those hands. You can even send us a tweet if you are a Twitter type person. I’ll keep an eye on the feed there for questions and comments.
And if you have any trouble with the audio through your computer speakers, we find that the audio by phone is usually a lot better. So, if you have a phone nearby, if that would be comfortable for you, try to dial in before you totally give up on us completely. There’s a phone number that you can dial in that is in the email from ReadyTalk that went out around noon Eastern today. So give that a try if you have any trouble.
And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say an extra-special welcome to all of you folks. We do these webinars just about every Thursday. We rarely only miss a couple of Thursdays out of the year. Bring on great guests, totally educational presentation, one of our favorite things to do here at Bloomerang. But in addition to that, what we are most known for is our donor management software. So, if you’re interested in learning more about us or just kind of checking out our offering, visit our website. Don’t do that now, wait an hour, because we got a great presentation here coming up. But you can learn all about us later on this afternoon. It’s a little invitation for you.
But for now, I am super excited to welcome back one of my favorites, someone that is a must-have on the Bloomerang webinar schedule every single year, joining us from beautiful but chilly Brooklyn, New York. It’s Sarah Durham. Hey, Sarah, how’s it going?
Sarah: Hey, Steven. Thanks for having me and thanks everybody for taking the time to log in today. As Steven mentioned, I’m going to talk to you today about capital campaign communications and show you a lot of stuff that I hope will inspire you to think about your capital campaign. It seems like the vast majority of you from the poll we took at the beginning are in a planning stage. So, I hope you’ll get, from this conversation, some inspiration and ideas and some best practices for capital campaign communications. But don’t hesitate to get in touch with me afterwards if you have any follow-up questions.
And as Steven mentioned, I’m the founder and CEO of Big Duck. And Big Duck is a communications firm that works exclusively with nonprofits who are going through significant growth and change. And we help them advance their missions by developing strong brand, strong campaigns, and strong teams. And we’ve been helping nonprofits with capital campaign communications work for probably about 20 years. We’ve worked on campaigns as small as a million or two dollars being raised. We’ve actually worked on campaigns as large as half a billion and a billion dollars raised, for organizations ranging far and wide. So, my background is informed by that.
I should also say that because what we do at Big Duck and what I do in particular is focused on communications, the way I’m going to talk about capital campaigns today is through that lens. I’m going to integrate some fundraising best practices, but this will be a talk that’s really geared towards how you engage donors through the campaign in various, sort of, communications-oriented ways, as a development person or a comms person.
And specifically, what we’re going to talk about is, you know, what donors want, where capital campaigns fit into that, how to structure a campaign. So, since a lot of you are planning for one, you’re probably going to be familiar with some of this. But just quickly, we’ll move through what are the kind of, elements or phases of a capital campaign, and then how do you communicate through all those phases so that you’re keeping people really engaged from start to finish.
But first, we got to start about your donors. We got to think about where they’re coming from. And as much as we wish that all of your donors woke up and, kind of, stretched their arms and said, “Yeah, today’s the day I’m going to write that seven-figure check.” The reality is that most donors don’t necessarily know what a capital campaign is, know how they’re going to give. And our job is to inspire them to get to this place.
And when we think about the way donors interact with your organization, in marketing world, there is this methodology called the ladder of engagement. And the theory behind the ladder of engagement is that, you know, donors, at some point, were unaware of your organization, and we had to engage them, we had to turn them into people who lurked or started to visit your website or paid attention, and then at some point, we got them to convert. They made that first gift. And our job began to get them to renew and to grow their giving.
And hopefully, over time, some amount of them, although it’s usually a lot less than came in at the bottom of the ladder of engagement, but some amount of them became advocates up at the top of the ladder of engagement.
And when we’re talking about a capital campaign, in particular, we’re really focusing on those people, the people who are very high up your ladder of engagement. These are probably people who have been supporting you for many years. And what we’re going to do in the capital campaign is ask them to make an extraordinary gift, a gift that goes way above and beyond whatever annual giving they may have done in order to support some major initiative that you’ve got going on.
Traditionally, you know, back in the day, capital campaigns most typically supported something like funding a building. These days, there are a lot of capital campaigns that are multi-use. They might start endowments or build capacity or launch new programs or build buildings. But again, the people that are going to care about making that extraordinary gift are likely people who you’ve already connected with.
And the good news is that we know that these people, who have been supporting you for years, generally, have a high level of loyalty to the causes that they support. This is a shot from a report that The Camber Collective produced a few years ago called the “Money for Good” report. And one of the things that I really liked in this, as you can see, I’ve boxed it out in yellow, is that you know, 67% of donors feel that they will be very likely to support the organizations they’ve been supporting already. So donors tend to be loyal once we get them up that ladder of engagement. But what we have to start to think about in a capital campaign is really who are they and what makes them tick and how are we going to ask them to go above and beyond.
One of the ways to start to do that is to think of your donors in segments. And there are a lot of ways you can dig into the mindsets or segments of your donors. In fact, that’s a whole other topic, probably, for another day. But again, in this Camber Collective report, they start to break down five, kind of, almost generic or typical donor segments. They talked about people who are very engaged with giving like John, the contented benefactor, and people who are less engaged as givers like James, the unengaged critic. And of course, as you’re going into a capital campaign, you want to inspire all of these people to think a little bit differently about why they support you.
And the first step to doing that is to answer the question, what’s the why for them. What does your donor really care about? So, you know, we often, in organizational life, are so busy thinking about what we want, we need the money for the new initiative, for instance, that we kind of can lose sight easily of how to orient ourselves around their point of view. What’s it like to be in their shoes? And how can we speak to that?
Penelope Burke’s team at Cygnus Applied Research did some nice research about what donors want. And in that research, she talks about very basic things that I think many of us who have been in fundraising for a while, kind of, know in our bones work. Like, acknowledgment of the gift, and in a personal way. I mean, if somebody takes the time to write a big check, they want a phone call, they want a personal touch, and they want to know that that money was set to work as intended. So that means follow-up on that gift. And making sure that they’re getting not only the cultivation before that big ask, but the follow through and stewardship after they’ve made a gift so that they feel reassured that their money was well spent.
So throughout your capital campaign and as you’re going into this planning, the question I want to encourage you to ask is how do they want you to communicate with them. It’s very easy for us to say, “Okay, we want to communicate in these ways with them.” But what do they want from you? So, with that as backdrop, let’s talk for a bit about capital campaigns and particularly where communications fit into that specifically.
So, most capital campaigns are going to try to raise a very large amount of money through two phases, a quiet phase and a public phase. And the point of the quiet phase is to discretely, without announcing it publicly to the world, raise a significant amount of money towards the goal. So most organizations, before they embark on a capital campaign, will do a feasibility study to make sure that they know exactly how much money they can realistically raise.
And there are a lot of consultants that do feasibility work. Some in-house development teams who have deep expertise in major gifts do this work in-house. But the intention there is to say, “Okay, $200 million is a reasonable target for our organization,” or “It’s not. We should set our sights on a $15 million capital campaign.”
And in the quiet phase, the biggest gifts are going to be solicited, usually, from insiders, longtime donors. They’re oftentimes board members who are able to make the biggest gifts possible. And for most organizations in the quiet phase, the objective is to raise at least 60% of the total number so that you’re sure before you go public and announce your campaign to the world that you have a really good chance of crossing the finish line.
So the sequence that often happens when we start to translate the goal of the campaign into communications is first there’s that campaign feasibility and plan. And that would be done by a fundraising consultant or maybe your in-house team. That’s kind of the roadmap for, you know, what the goal is going to be and how you hope the campaign is going to progress. Are you going to try to raise, you know, $6 million gifts? Are you going to try to raise, you know, many, many hundred thousand dollar gifts? You know, fundraisers often talk about donor pyramids. So that’s what’s happening in the planning phase.
In terms of communications, you want to start to articulate the why, the reason to communicate with donors into concepts. How are we going to tell that story to the donor? And then, we translate that story into a case statement. A case statement is usually a kind of sexy piece, I’ll show you some examples of them in a minute, that is printed so that the donor can take it with them. And it becomes a sort of, a credibility piece or reassurance piece that a major donor can use to reflect on the campaign. Then, you take that case for support and you adapt it into other pieces. Maybe some smaller brochures, oftentimes, there’s a digital component, maybe a PowerPoint deck or a website, etc.
And one of the questions I get asked a lot is, “Do you need a consultant?” And I think that really depends on your in-house chops and how much you’re trying to raise. If you’re going to launch a very, very big campaign and it’s a very new initiative for your organization, it’s really important to work with people who’ve done this before. Many organizations do a great job bringing in-house people to lead campaigns or working with consultants who do that. So you don’t have to have a consultant, but in a big campaign, I would say, 9 times out of 10, if an organization is raising more than $15 million, they’re bringing in fundraising experts who’ve done a lot of capital campaigns to guide them.
In terms of the materials you might use, they’re going to be a little bit varied from organization to organization. But for most organizations, during the quiet phase, you’re going to want some sort of big, sexy case statement, and you’re going to want to have a way to keep those lead donors regularly updated. So, I’m always a big advocate for producing things that have pocket folders or templates, things you can customize. Because a donor who’s going to write a six- or seven-figure check, really wants to feel like the way you’re communicating with them is personalized.
Once you get to the public phase, a lot of what you’re trying to do is layer in things to existing communications. So you might, for instance, be posting updates about your capital campaign in your e-news or other regular publications your organization produces. But then you might, in addition to that, do some special mailings or brochures or another kind of collateral that people brush up against about the campaign that makes it a little bit different.
So here’s the fun part. I want to talk a little bit with you about the stuff that you need, how you really, as you produce those pieces, get people excited to give. And I want to propose to you that there are three really important things that your campaign needs to do in its communications, no matter how much money are trying to raise or how big your organization is.
The first, and arguably, the greatest job that any communications you produce around this capital campaign has to do is they have to be inspiring. Donors have to feel that this check they’re going to write is a rare opportunity. This is an opportunity for a donor to really go above and beyond the level of giving they’ve done before. And so, if whatever you put in front of them doesn’t make something, kind of, you know, breathe in and go, “Ah, wow,” and see themselves in the work, it’s much less likely that they’re going to write that big check.
So, we want to really grab them in the kishkes. We want that case statement to be very much in their language, very compelling, and very aligned with what they know about your organizations. You can see the fourth bullet on this slide says, “Aligns with your brand.” That’s because these are donors who already love your organization, so we want them to understand that this campaign is special and different, but still not so different that they wonder if the organization that they love and feel connected to has kind of gone in a totally different direction.
So, here’s an example of a case statement that we produced for an organization called the Jewish Theological Seminary. And these are actually three different books that fit into a pocket folder. And each of these books is geared to communicate to a particular type of donor. Their feasibility study that their fundraising consultant did, surfaced that their donors, kind of, fall into three mindsets or categories. And so, each of these books is geared towards a particular perspective, and they can be customized by putting other materials in the pocket folder.
This is a capital campaign for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. This is about 8 years old, and this was a $52 million campaign. And one of the things their research uncovered is that their donors generally either are very eager to support their work because they love science and they view this organization as a breakthrough scientific leader or, in some cases, the donors actually are less interested in science but they’re very personally connected to people who’ve been affected by multiple myeloma. And those donors are going to be more moved by personal stories. So in this case statement, the way that donors are inspired depends on the type of donor they are. And each spread actually has a personal story and then scientific story. So no matter what kind of donor you are, you can see yourself in it.
This is a piece from an organization that’s also in the health space. And again, while this is a capital campaign that’s funding scientific research, it’s really all about connecting to that warm fuzzy, the reason people give. People give not because they want to fund scientists, they give because they want to support a cure or they want to support change. So, we have to inspire them to see themselves as the vehicle of that change through this campaign.
This is a spread from a capital campaign case statement for an organization called The Jewish Women’s Archive. And the idea here is to show donors that they are the link from the past, which is what this archive is about, into the future.
So, in each of these examples, you probably noticed that there is a kind of a theme or a concept. And where I would encourage you to start as you go into the communications for your capital campaign is brainstorming themes or concepts that really inspire that donor to see themselves in the solutions. See this giving as a way that they’re going to change the world with you, not that they’re just going to fund a building.
The second thing I think your communications must do is they have to be informative. We have to provide donors with some amount of detail or substance so they actually really understand what they’re supporting. And how level . . . how much detail you get into the level of detail that’s appropriate is really going to depend on the donor. So, before you’re making a major ask in your quiet phase, you’re probably doing some significant research into these donors. And you probably know these donors because they’re already supporting you in other ways.
So really ask yourself, “Is this the kind of conversation where this donor is going to want you to come with. You know, brass-tacks, a lot of detail, a lot of numbers. Or can you go a little bit higher level and speak to their interests in a more aspirational way?”
One of the ways to do this if you’re building a building or if you’re trying to engage people in a more public phase is to build a microsite. This is the microsite for that organization I showed you earlier, The Jewish Theological Seminary. They’re doing a big campus renovation. And so, having a microsite which shows the redesign and allows the donor to kind of look at illustrations and blueprints and things like that helps provide a certain amount of detail. And then the organization can actually update the microsite in real time as the construction is going on.
One of my favorite examples of the right level of detail comes from a private school in New York called Dalton. And I didn’t work on this, so I don’t have a lot of the backstory on it, but I did talk to their development team about it. They did something that I was really impressed with. They had gone through a strategic planning process, and that strategic planning process yielded five big objectives or goals for the future. And you see on screen right now with the spread which details the five big objectives that they set in our strategic plan. And they made a book for the strategic plan. So this book is probably eight pages or twelve pages, and it’s the roadmap of their strategic plan that they share publicly with their community.
Then, in parallel with the strategic plan book, they produced another book around their Centennial Campaign. And this is the case statement for the campaign, but the campaign is very much supporting those five strategic planning goals. So you can see that in the spread on the right here, each of these paragraphs actually correlates to one of the sections of their strategic plan and sets a particular goal.
So, I’m just going to go back a slide. You can see, for instance, here is the first goal and the strategic plan as the Dalton student. And then, in this book, the Dalton student gets a paragraph and they talk in detail about how they need to fundraise to support this goal. And they actually even highlight a particular campaign goal. I’ll just highlight it here. They say their goal for this part of the work is $10 million.
So, what impressed me about this piece is that they’re being very, very specific with the donor how much they’re trying to raise, where that money is going to go, and they’re providing a nice level of detail. But they can also, you know, customize it, add a little bit more detail for different people as they go. Get out of here.
Okay. So, moving along, you know, another thing that is often useful once you get into the public phase is to provide a kind of a pledge card. So you can see over here, we’ve got very specific dollar amounts for different giving levels. That’s not something that you typically would do in the quiet phase, because the quiet phase is much more about matching the gift you’re asking of the donor to what you know their capacity is and what you know their passions are. So, as you get into the public phase and you’re going to your broader community, you might be trying to get, you know, a certain number of $150 gifts or a certain number of $1,000 gifts, and a piece like this becomes very appropriate at that stage.
The third thing that I would love all of your communications to do is to be reassuring. If you’re going to ask somebody to make a big gift, you want them to feel confident at every point of contact they have with your organization that they’re making a good investment by supporting you. And there are some ways that you state it’s a good investment. Hopefully, your copy does a good job doing that. And there are ways that you show that this is a good investment.
And the biggest way you can show that they are wise to make this investment is to make every point of contact that they have with you feel buttoned-up, to feel reassuring that you have handled the relationship with them so successfully that you are likely to handle the money that they’ve given you just as successfully. So, that can go down into details like very quickly following up after you meet with them, making sure that you close the loop on discussion items, making sure that you’ve written thank-you notes, or taking the actions that you’ve promised them. That is just as important as the materials you put in their hands. But you know, as you get into the actual case statement, the way that you reassure is often through text and through detail that feels right to them. You know, where there are no glaring typos, the images are high-resolution. There’s nothing that when they look at it they say, “Mm, this is weird.”
One of the things that has been a real shift in the last 10 or 15 years is how you share or publish naming opportunities or the ability for a donor to, for example, name a room or name a wing.
What I’m showing you here is a spread from a case statement for the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. This is probably about 12 years old. At that time, it was very common to publish giving levels by dollar amounts. So you can see, for instance, if you made a gift of $5 million or more, you’d be noted as a lead benefactor, you know, your name would be on certain pieces, etc.
These days, what I hear more and more from fundraisers in the field is that these kinds of opportunities, naming opportunities, are really not as effective if you publish them this way, that they’re really great opportunities to actually have that conversation with the donor unfold in a more personalized way.
So one example of this is an organization that was going through a major campus renovation, where they had a donor who had an art and culture background, theater background. And they expected that this donor would probably want their name on the, you know, on the theater, that they’d be the . . . you know, it would be in their name. And they went into the ask expecting that that’s what they were going to discuss with the donor.
But actually, as they got into a conversation with the donor about what was most inspiring for her, it turned out it wasn’t so much the theater, that she was actually very interested in other aspects of the organization’s work, a sort of social justice program that they were launching. And it ended up that her name went on that program instead of on the theater. And so, have they gone in, kind of, guns blazing asking her to support the theater, they might have missed the mark on a very exciting opportunity to help this donor connect with an aspect of their work that they felt was really, really compelling.
I just want to surface a question that came in that I think relates to something that I was talking about a few minutes ago, and relates to this too. This comes in from Ron. He says he’s involved in bricks and mortar campaign. When is it appropriate to provide the mini design of the facility or project, in the quiet phase or the public phase or both?
You know, I think that this comes down to the appropriate level of detail. When you’re asking a donor if they want to make a major gift and potentially put their name on something, like, you know, a surgical room if it’s a hospital, many donors really do want to see the blueprints or the architectural plans. And I actually think that’s a great way to engage them in a conversation.
Very often, when you’re sitting over lunch with them and you’re showing them these very high-level pieces, what you’re doing is you’re sort of priming them. You’re getting them in the mood to see themselves in the gift. If you then pull out the blueprint or even a deck that’s on a PowerPoint with video or with the architectural renderings, you’re really inviting them to interact with it. You know, to walk them through it in a more personalized way and go deeper and see themselves in it. So, I would definitely recommend that you share that level of detail with your donors, but only at the point in the conversation when you, as a major gifts officer, sense that they’re ready to go deeper, that they, you know, they want to take their relationship to the next level.
Okay. So, just a couple more slides here, and we’re already getting in some great questions. And I want to encourage people to send in more questions.
One of the things that I haven’t talked about a lot and honestly there’s not a lot I can visually show you. So I don’t have a lot of slides about this, but I think it’s really important that you plan for in your capital campaign communications is follow-up. So you know, certainly, with major donors, donors who are making six or seven-figure or larger gifts, it’s going to be very important that you set up a calendar of personalized communications. If a lead donor writes $1 million-check and then doesn’t hear from your team again until, let’s say, the campaign is completed, that’s really a lost opportunity to keep them engaged with the organization.
So, for those major donors, I think it’s very important that they are treated the way any major gifts officer would maintain the portfolio would treat them, which is regular touchpoints, opportunities to visit, opportunities to meet the people and the places that their gift has supported, and after the gift has been received, for them to feel like they’re now, kind of, a part of an insider’s group where they’re in the know about what’s happening throughout the campaign.
With other kinds of donors who are maybe less significant, that kind of personalized attention is going to be challenging to do. You can certainly do some things like invite them to celebration events or groundbreakings or things like that, but you’ll often need to do some mailing and some emailing to report back on the giving.
What I have on screen here is a piece that is . . . it’s quite a bit . . . quite a few years old now, that the American Jewish World Service produced to communicate with donors who had supported their tsunami work about how the money was spent. And this wasn’t specifically a capital campaign. But I think it’s a great example of reporting back to donors so that they understand exactly where their gifts went. And these were donors who had, in some cases, made, you know, many of them I think we’re five-figure or four-figure level gifts.
So you can see on this that what they’ve done is they’ve detailed how many grants the organization made, how many dollars they spent, and they’re breaking down in description exactly what those grants supported. So they’re not listing every grantee or every granular detail about what they did, but they’re speaking to the benefit. So for instance, one of these says, “Working with women in temporary housing to make conditions safe.” And what I think is most inspiring about this piece and what I think is most important for you to do is to speak to the outcome, speak to the benefits. What are you providing? What has the donor created by making this gift?
We got a question in from Valerie who says, “I do grants work. I’d like to hear about the best practices and how those can be translated. For example, if an organization has a board member that has friends and foundations and is offered to make a pitch to the foundation rep.”
You know, with foundation’s support, a lot of these practices can probably be aligned. But foundations, much like major donors, have particular areas that they support. So again, the opportunity or the challenge is to really understand what that foundation supports and why, and how this campaign relates to them. And so, you know, the whole narrative, the whole conversation you’re going to have before the gift, during the solicitation, and afterwards has to really be tailored to the lens through which that donor feels a connection to your organization.
Okay. We are getting more questions in and this is just a little prompt to encourage you to send in more questions. I’ve got a couple that are coming in through the [transom 00:31:13] right now, and while you’re typing in some questions for me, I want to share a couple of resources with you for your campaign or other inspiration.
One resource, if you like podcasts, that we produce is called “The Smart Communications” podcast. I host it. And each episode is less than 15 minutes long. And it’s about a different communications topic. And they’re not all about capital campaigns, but there are definitely some that touch on best practices for fundraising and capital campaigns too. You’ll hear more of those coming up. So that’s a good way to boost your communications chops.
And also, if you’re going into planning a capital campaign, we produced a free ebook you can download about strategy, communication strategy. And in this ebook, there’s a worksheet that you can use to set up a project brief for your capital campaign communications. This worksheet will help you articulate the communication goals and objectives and strategies and tactics that you’ll use to communicate.
So, all of these resources you can find on the Big Duck website, which is bigducknyc.com. If you click over to the Insights page, you’ll find a lot of free articles and white papers and things like that that are specific to capital campaign communications.
Okay. Next question comes in from Sarah. She says, “Our organization has never segmented their mailings. And we don’t have the parameter set on who is a major donor. Can you give any insight on how an organization could best segment their donors in a setting that has different class types?”
You know, and actually, Steven, I bet you probably have some great resources in the Bloomerang library around donor segmentation. So I wonder if one of the follow-up items we could share with that would be some of those resources.
Steven: Yeah.
Sarah: There are a lot of ways to get to know your donors. Yeah, yeah. Anything you want to highlight, Steven, before I dive in there?
Steven: Well, we . . . I appreciate the shout out. We’ve got a great ebook on our website on segmentation specifically. So Sarah, I’ll send that to you. If you can’t find it, just let me know.
Sarah: Yeah, great, I think that’s going to be a helpful resource. You know, for organizations that have not done segmentation and are really struggling to begin to do that, what I would encourage you to do is to do some donor interviews and start trying to establish the mindsets of why organizations support you. Do organizations support you . . . Or do individuals support your organization because they have a particular passion for an aspect of your work? Is that one type of donor? Do they support you because you are a conduit to reach a community that they care about?
The more you can start by understanding their mindsets anecdotally through the conversations you have with donors at events or one-on-one through interviews, the more you can start to craft communications that speak to those mindsets. You know, of course, the next level of game that we want you to get to is being able to identify, in your donor database, who those people are and tag them. And usually, that the way these donors surface is through a combination of their giving history and their level of engagement.
So, where you can overlay engagement information around, you know, what events they’ve come to, what they’ve done on your website, which emails they’ve opened or clicked on or forwarded. That’s the kind of engagement information that will help you start to understand the mindset or personas of your donors. And you can overlay that with the traditional fundraising models of recency, frequency, and monetary dollars. And those two elements, engagement and RFM, typically start to give you a sense of kind of where the low-hanging fruit might be.
We got a lot of questions coming in. Steven, am I tackling these in the order you want me to tackle them?
Steven: Oh, you’re doing awesome.
Sarah: Okay.
So, before I go to the next question, I also want to flag. If any of you are thinking about your organization’s brand, I’m workshop on that in November. And we haven’t talked a ton about your organization’s brand and the capital campaign. But I do want to, sort of, make an extra point about that, which is to say that your organization’s brand is why . . . You know, it’s how you’re perceived, it’s why people care about you, it’s what they think about you.
And when you do your annual appeal, part of what they’re giving to is that idea they have in their head about who you are and the value you provide. And your capital campaign has to build on that. But I also want to make sure your capital campaign is usefully differentiated. Because we don’t want your capital campaign to pilfer support away from your annual fund. So, if a donor typically writes a $100 check to you at the year-end, and you’re going to ask them for a $10,000 dollar check for the capital campaign, you don’t want to lose that annual gift that they would normally give.
And years ago, a school I went to was in a capital campaign, where the capital campaign communications looked so much like the regular stuff that actually didn’t realize that they were in a capital campaign until at the very end I got a publication or something that said, “We just raised, you know, a gazillion dollars for our capital campaign.” And I kind of missed it. Because the way they were communicating about the capital campaign looked and felt just like the way they were communicating about everything else.
So, make sure that your campaign is brand aligned, that it reinforces the things that they know and love about you. But also differentiate it, so that they understand this is a special and unique opportunity to go a bit farther.
Okay. So, we’ve answered that question, let’s look at the next one. We want to connect with our donors in a way to get them involved, but I’m not sure the same message resonates with each one.
Yeah, absolutely. And you know, one of the great ways that fundraisers, I think, really start to get into the minds of their donors is through having cultivation events. Sometimes, in a capital campaign, you can invite your capital campaign cabinet if you have one or your lead donors if you don’t to host house parties, to invite some of their friends and maybe allow you to invite other people who are major donors and have kind of intimate forum, conversations where there’s just, you know, some cocktails and maybe somebody from your organization talking about the work where you really get to talk to the donors and the prospects about why they’re interested in the organization. House parties are going to help you build relationships with donors before you make an ask that will make it much more personal and meaningful when you do make the ask.
Downstream as your campaign gets closer to the public phase. You know, you’re really widening the net and you’re trying to reach people who are much more likely to be in touch with you in other kinds of events. So, many organizations will do something like a special donor, you know, thank-you party after another event or invite those major donors to come to the groundbreaking. Using events is a really great way to get people involved and feeling, you know, empowered.
Okay. When communicating with donors, should the public version of the strategic plan list the prioritized projects or rely on the donors to pick and support? You know, that’s a great question and I think it really depends a lot on how important it is to you to raise specific amounts of money earmarked for certain things. If ultimately, your organization is going to view the money that you raise as kind of a giant pot of money that you’re going to allocate where it’s most needed, I wouldn’t encourage you to break it down into much granular detail because you might actually really have a preference for more unrestricted gifts.
The example of the strategic plan with the giving amounts I showed you from the Dalton School was because they had set some very specific targets for each areas that they were determined to meet. And we’re very happy to have donors earmark towards those areas. So that’s a good conversation to have with your leadership about where the gifts will be most powerful.
Julie’s question is, “I’ve been thinking about storytelling and the benefits to our organization. Is it appropriate to take a recipient of our work to a donor meeting?” And then she writes that she trains Democratic women to run for office.
Yes, I think it’s very appropriate to bring people to meetings with donors as long as you’re not turning them into poster children. So, if what you’re talking about is bringing a politician who your work is supported to a meeting with the donor, I think that’s very appropriate. Oftentimes, if you do direct service work like in the human services sector, you might at an event, invite different people who’ve been the benefits of your programs to speak at the event, but I would be careful about inviting, you know, direct service recipients who may be in underprivileged environments to a donor meeting.
You know, it’s interesting. Major gifts and capital campaigns are wrapped up in some important conversations about power and privilege. And so, I think it’s very important, as a fundraiser, to be aware of the power and privilege that the donors might experience, and you know, how that plays out in terms of the events that you hold.
The next question is from somebody who writes, “I’m not a professional fundraiser, but I recently joined the planning committee of a group I used to work with several years ago. They want to build a museum but do not have any experience in capital campaigns or quiet phases. Unfortunately, they don’t see much need in hiring consultants, etc. and I’ve already talked with many business owners, people in the community about the project, just casual off-the-cuff. Therefore, they’ve come across as an unprofessional, unprepared group and project. How can I best help them restart a professional capital campaign?”
You know, my advice to you there is maybe you could do some research into fundraising consultancies that you think would be a good fit. Maybe there are some who are already in your area. If you drop me a line and let me know where you are, I can see if I can recommend some. I would invite somebody that you think might be a good fit in to talk to your leadership team and present their work and show you some case studies.
You know, I think sometimes, the reason people are averse to hiring pros is they don’t know what they don’t know. So, if you bring in pro who really demonstrates the power of fundraising expert who can lead the process, you might find that that goes a long way towards persuading them. If you’re doing a large campaign, also, many of the professional fundraising consultants will actually staff your campaign with somebody who’s embedded in the organization. So, they literally give you a staff person who’s a capital campaigns expert who goes to work at your office every day to run the campaign.
We’ve seen that probably about three-quarters of the organizations that we partner with have done that with a fundraising consultant. And one of the great things about that type of fundraising consultant is they’re actually really relieving the burden of staff. If you don’t bring in somebody like that, then your staff who’s already got to do all the day-to-day fundraising has to do this capital campaign work on top of it. And they’re just going to be stretched too thin.
Okay, next question from Emily. Do you have any advice on working with difficult campaign volunteers or leadership as it relates to putting together campaign materials? For example, a volunteer who continues to make line-by-line edits of our case for support. Oh, Emily, I love this question. And I think it’s a great opportunity to actually engage those donors in the development of the campaign itself. You know, there is a saying that fundraisers often use which is, you know, it’s something like, “When I want to ask for money, I ask them for their opinion.”
And if you . . . Actually, on both of the really the largest campaigns we’ve worked on, the fundraiser did exactly what you’re afraid of happening as a strategy to engage major donors. What they did is they took the case statement that was in draft. Like, some preliminary layout designs, preliminary copy, and they took it to some of the donors that they were going to be soliciting for eight or nine-figure gifts, major, major donors, and they put the draft in front of them and they said, “I really want your opinion on this. Do you like the way this looks? Can you read this and tell me what you think?” And they actually encouraged them to line edit if they wanted to.
Because a donor or a volunteer who’s willing to line edit your case statement, is actually rolling up their sleeves and wading in to the deep end of the pool with you. And that’s what you want. You are priming them in that action for a gift.
Now, I’d be careful about inviting that kind of input from a volunteer who did not have major giving potential. And obviously, a sophisticated donor is going to understand that even though you might be giving them the opportunity to pull out their red pen and line item, you are probably not going to accept every edit they make. So you have to, you know, you have to frame that conversation in the spirit of I’d like to get your input, I’m getting other people’s input too, and I’ll take it all back and we’ll go from there.
Do you anticipate losing non-restricted giving once you launch a capacity-building campaign? I don’t think you have to assume that every gift you are going to get in a campaign is going to be earmarked, but I do think you have to, you know, from an integrity point of view, you have to be transparent about where that money is going to go, and obviously, if a donor earmarks it, you have a responsibility to put it towards the thing they want.
You know, there is a fundraising consultant named Andrea Kihlstedt, who founded a number of businesses around capital campaigns including . . . she was a co-founder of Asking Matters and she’s written a lot of great books about capital campaigns. And one of the things that Andrea talks about that I think it’s such a smart idea is that a capital campaign is actually a great way for you to fundraise to take your organization’s capacity to the next level in some unexpected ways.
So let’s say example you have a website that’s old and dated, and you need to make a big change. And you know that actually building a website, your organization needs is going to cost, you know, six figures. It’s not going to be a small investment. You can actually bake into your capital campaigns, money for capacity building around communications infrastructure. And maybe you raise an additional half a million dollars to build that campaign and give yourself a budget to update it and actually hire a new, you know, digital team. A lot of the organizations increasingly are baking into the total dollar amount they’re trying to raise those kinds of sort of internal infrastructure lifts.
All right, I think, Steven, should we keep going? Do a couple more?
Steven: Yeah, a couple more would be great I think.
Sarah: Okay. Is there a certain percentage you recommend raising in the quiet phase before going public? Well, your fundraising consultant will definitely have an opinion about that, so check with them. But my advice is try to raise at least 60% of your total goal during the quiet phase. If you raised 60%, what you’re really doing is you’re really inspiring your leadership and your development team to know you can cross the finish line. If you’ve set a goal for yourself and you fail to meet that goal once you go public, that’s going to be embarrassing. So you don’t really want to go public until you’re confident you can cross the finish line.
And actually, in the last ten years, I’ve seen a lot of organizations who set a goal that is a little bit lower than what they actually think they can raise, and they do that very deliberately so that they can not only hit the goal that they’ve set but exceed the goal and use that as a way to really inspire people. For people to say, “Wow, you know, you guys were so awesome. We even raised, you know, 10% more than our big goal.”
Guerlain writes, “What can smaller nonprofits realistically take or learn from colleges and hospitals about raising billions in campaigns?” You know, that’s a great question, and I’d like to think about it a little bit more. But you know, what colleges or universities and hospitals tend to have is a very sophisticated major gifts team. Usually, in a larger organization, major gifts officers have a portfolio of donors who once they have, you know, consistently made gifts larger than a certain amount, it’s often $25,000, they get assigned, those donors get assigned to a major gifts officer, and that major gifts officer’s full-time job is just being in touch with and developing a relationship with, you know, 100 donors, or maybe 200 donors, maybe even 50 donors if those donors are big enough.
And so, if you’ve got major gifts team with a portfolio of donors that they already know and have relationships with, by the time you go into a capital campaign, you already have so much information at your fingertips about who you’re going to solicit and for what and what those donors are going to be interested in. So in a smaller organization, that is much harder to do because you very likely do not have the development staff in-house that you need to do it. But there are some great tools, and again, my guess is Bloomerang has a lot of them that they could share with you, about how you screen your list of donors and identify those that have wealth or identify those that have a particular interest in a topic.
And the challenge for a smaller team is really about capacity. It’s really about making sure that you have the time to do the feasibility and really look at who are those major donors going to be in a truly critical and analytical way. There used to be a rule of thumb, and I don’t know how many people would agree with this today. I haven’t heard anybody use this in a while, but for years and years, the rule of thumb was that you wanted to be confident, you had three people you could ask for everyone gift. So, if you knew you needed to close $1 million gift to make your campaign successful, you’d want to have at least three people that you knew were good prospects with the capacity to write a $1 million check. So, I would take a page from the colleges and hospitals by thinking about how you structure your major gifts program and trying to build as much capacity there as you can.
You know, another thing that the major institutions do that I think is worth noting is that they view capital campaigns as something that you are always doing. Most hospitals or universities are always beginning in the middle of or ending in capital campaign. In fact, many of them will do a new capital campaign every five to eight years. And just the way more and more organizations understand that strategic planning is something you should do every three to five years, capital campaigns are becoming sort of part of that life cycle too.
So, you go through a strategic plan in order to be clearly aligned about the vision and mission for your organization, and you know, set forth the plans, then maybe the capital campaign helps support and fund those initiatives. And then you grow into it. The capital campaign has helped you raise the money that you need to actually take that next step or build that building or build that new department. And so, you know, one of the things I would encourage you to think about is, you know, who can advise you, who can give you good advice on that cycle.
Okay. So another question which goes back to an earlier slide is, you know, which type of donors on the ladder of engagement should be the focus during the quiet phase? And I think I’ll just go back to that slide because it’s such a good question. Let’s see if I can zip back to it. So the ladder of engagement is, you know, really the entire pipeline of your donors. Let me just get all the way back to that slide. It doesn’t like to jump all the way to the beginning.
And where I want you to focus for your capital campaign is at the tippy-tippy top. I want you to be . . . Here it is . . . reaching the people who identify as advocates and supporters. So those observers and supporters in your donor pipeline, they might be lower-level donors. And you really want to make sure that you start in your quiet phase with people at the very top. If I’ve been on your board for a while, I’ve been giving you $5,000 a year for a while, I’m the first person you should be going to for a $25,000 gift in the capital campaign.
But if I’ve only made one gift ever and it was a small dollar amount, the odds of me making a big gift out of the gate are probably less likely. So that’s not to say I won’t, it just means you’re going to have to do a little bit more research about me and get to know me a bit better before you know if I’m going to be engaged enough to justify that big gift.
Okay, let’s pick a last question, and then I will hand it back to you, Steven. And this is a question from Eileen. She says, “We’re midway through a campaign, and it’s pretty successful.” Congratulations, Eileen. “Any suggestions on an event or how to formally end the campaign?” You know, I’m a big fan of events for campaigns just because I think that there is something so empowering to donors about being celebrated. And not all donors want to come to an event, so you might ask a couple of them. You know, bounce a few ideas off of them for what they would enjoy.
But I’ve seen organizations have some very successful events where they do like a breakfast for donors or they invite donors to a groundbreaking or they invite donors to come to a walkthrough or a lecture by somebody who’s going to be the new program director that they’ve just supported, and then you just do, you know, the bagels or coffee or drinks or something like that.
So, I think a concluding party or an event is a great way to celebrate donors. I also think it’s a really great opportunity for you to celebrate your team. You know. by the time you get to the conclusion of a successful campaign, odds are good you’ve been fundraising for that campaign for years. Most capital campaigns last two to five years. That’s a long time, and many people on your development team have put their, you know, blood, sweat, and tears into making this thing work. So it also really encourage you to take the time to celebrate your staff and give them a way to pat themselves on the back, pat each other on the back, celebrate with those donors, and note a job well done.
Okay, so I think we’re almost at the top of the hour, and I know Steven’s got a couple of wrap-up slides you may want to get to. I’ll just go back very quickly to my information. You can find me through Big Duck’s website at bigducknyc.com. My email isn’t on this slide, but it’s sarah@bigducknyc.com. I think, with Steven’s permission, I will be sending out a follow-up document or Steven will send you something, and if there are any burning unanswered questions or if you want to explore if Big Duck could be a fit for your capital campaign, just drop me a line, and I’ll be happy to connect you with any resources I have. Over to you, Steven.
Steven: Now, that was awesome, Sarah. Thanks so much for being here. Lots of good stuff. And please, do reach out to Sarah. Obviously, a wealth of knowledge, and I can vouch for their work. They do really awesome work over at Big Duck. So, if you have anything like rebrand type issues going on, and they also dabble in web design now I hear. So, definitely reach out to them. Really cool resources. And Sarah, talk about your Brandraising Benchmark because that’s a really cool report that you all do. I want to give you a chance to talk about that.
Sarah: Oh, thanks. Yeah, I didn’t really talk about this. But if you’re a national organization, this is a tool we created about three years ago as a way for national organizations to measure how the public perceives them. And we do it in partnership with Ipsos, which is a global market research company, and we literally poll a representative sampling of Americans and ask them questions about if they’ve heard of you, what their relationship is to you, would they be likely to support you, and we shared that data with you and also across the cohort. It’s the lowest cost way to find out how the American public perceives you. I think this year’s benchmark, I think, it costs $2,000, $2,500 to participate in it. So, compared to any kind of custom research you do, it’s a great way to find out how you’re perceived. And we give you the raw data, so you can slice and dice it if you want to know how people perceive you in a particular group or area. So, you can find more information about that also on our website under Services or at the URL you see on screen.
Steven: Cool. Well, this was awesome. Thanks so much for being here, Sarah. And thanks to all of you for taking an hour out of your day to hang out with us. Hopefully, you got a lot of good information. I know I did. And we are going to be back one week from today with another great webinar. We’ve got Chris Hammond here to talk about year-end campaign. Got some new good ideas. Actually saw Chris speak at a conference two days ago. Really good content and a lot of nonprofit experience there, so check that out. If you still are working on your year-end campaign, it’s not too late to pick up some tidbits there.
We’ve got a lot of great resources on our website as well, so check those out and do reach out to Sarah. Go follow her on Twitter, if you’re not going to do anything else. But we’ll definitely get the recording and the slides in your hand this afternoon. So look for that email from me. And hopefully, we’ll see you again next week. Have a good rest of your Thursday. Have a safe weekend, and we’ll talk to you again soon.
Sarah:Thanks.

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.