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Planning and Preparation Phase

People want to help and they want to give big gifts. Keep that in mind as you are soliciting.

This phase can take any amount of time, but usually it takes a year or two. Don't shortchange this phase or you will pay later. For more on this phase, see Capital Campaigns for Small Groups.

Pre-campaign and Prospect Identification

During this phase you identify prospects, set firm goals, set the time line, and decide when and how to launch the campaign. This phase usually doesn't take more than a few months. To see how if you have the number of donors you need to succeed at your campaign, construct a gift range chart.

A gift range chart is based on the observation that when you analyze any fundraising campaign you will discover that a few people give you your largest gifts, more people give you medium sized gifts and a lot of people give small gifts. Most of the money will be from a handful of donors and most of the gifts will equal the least amount of money. We have observed this since people wrote their pledges on papyrus scrolls (before my time) and now we can plan around it.

Once you have a chart, you are ready to begin identifying prospects. In fact, you have only one job during this pre-campaign phase to start with--identify LEAD prospects. If you cannot identify at least the majority of people who can give you the biggest gifts, you will have a hard time meeting your goal.

Deciding who will be asked to be the lead donors is an important process and not to be undertaken lightly. Deciding who is a capital campaign prospect is like deciding who is a major donor prospect, with a couple of additional variables. First, someone in the group or close to the group must know and be respected by the prospect. Among other things, the person who knows the prospect will know whether the prospect believes in the cause and will have some idea about the prospect's ability. To make this process memorable, we call these identifiers ABC:

  • Ability
  • Belief
  • Contact

As part of researching the prospect, you want to have as much useful information about them in relation to your campaign as you can. Toward that end, review any public records about the person.

  • Newsletters or annual reports from groups similar to yours may list the prospect's name as a donor.
  • Newspaper articles may mention the prospect's donation to another group and your own records of gifts by this prospect to your group.
  • Other people who know this prospect may be able to tell you whether they are likely to support your cause.

You are looking for information a person would tell you in the course of a non-confidential conversation. While it may not be public information--the person does not want to read about it in the newspaper--it is not secret. If someone tells you, "Fred Smith has a large inheritance but doesn't want anyone to know and would be really mad if he found out I told you," that information is almost worthless. On the other hand, if this person says, "Fred Smith prefers to remain anonymous, but has an advisor named Juan Gonzalez, and I will introduce you to Juan," then write down that Juan Gonzalez works for an anonymous donor. If you don't know the identity of a donor, don't spend time trying to find it out. We have no need to know who it is.

In addition to this information, which you would need in order to approach someone for a large gift for any type of campaign, in doing capital campaigns, we usually want to know the following:

  • Has this prospect ever made a capital gift before?
  • If yes, to what kind of campaign, in what amount, and does anyone know how the prospect felt about that campaign?
  • Does this person have assets that he or she can use for your campaign?
  • Will this person be attracted to naming opportunities? Is there someone in their life they might want to honor or memorialize?
  • Does the prospect believe in your building campaign or do you have evidence that she or he probably would believe in it if they knew about it?

Make sure you verify information by checking with more than one person. If it sounds too good to be true (i.e. "she inherited a billion dollars in cash and can't wait to give it away"), it probably is. At the same time, this is not a Neilson survey, the beginning of a biography or a police investigation. We are not testing whether the person should run for governor but whether he or she would be asked for a certain amount of money at a certain time.

The Quiet Phase

This is, in a sense, when the campaign itself begins. In this phase you will form any committees you need, solicit the top 8-10 lead gifts, and make any final adjustments to your case. Most groups are able to move through this phase in six to nine months, but it can take a year or more. The point of this phase is to raise 50-60% of the goal before announcing the campaign to the public. Once the campaign is announced, it already has a lot of momentum and there is a great deal of certainty that it will succeed. In a way, the quiet phase is your last chance to get out of the campaign without any egg on your face.

Launch and the Public Phase

Once you launch your campaign publicly, you enter this middle phase. This is when intensive solicitation begins. Most groups have a big party to "launch" their campaign and then take their case to the public at large, This phase may last up to two years, but don't spend more than that in it, or your annual fundraising will suffer.

The middle phase is the MOST difficult part of the campaign. First of all, your biggest donors generally don't want to give right now. They either want to be first, or help put you over the top at the end of the campaign. You can imagine saying, "We'd like you to set the pace" and you can imagine saying, "Your gift would mean a successful end to the campaign," or "Your gift will put us over the top," but it is the rare person who is excited by, "Your gift will bring up the middle." So, now the excitement is created by having a lot of people asking a lot of people. In one campaign I worked on, ten volunteers asked 90 people in a weekend! We told people that we were in an "asking marathon" and that the campaign was moving forward in a great way.

As the coordinator of the campaign, your job is to keep your volunteers supplied with names and stay on top of them to keep asking. Have weekly check-ins. Give everyone on the team a chance to say how many people they have ASKED since the last check-in. Don't focus on how much money was raised, or you will give the same applause to the person who asked one prospect who said yes, as the person who asked five prospects, three of whom are thinking about it and one who said no, and one who said yes. At this point, volume is crucial.

As the coordinator, you must set a good example too. You will have prospects to ask or people to accompany on asks. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Every day you should have a certain number of people you are going to call. One colleague of mine calls everyone first thing in the morning so she can get it over with.

Anything you can do to give the sense of forward motion will help during this time. That's why people use those thermometers. Post information on your website, have graphic displays in your office, send your board members e-mail with up to the minute information.

Wrap Up Phase

This is the time to make sure all systems are in place to collect pledges, final reports are written, and the campaign is ended. The wrap-up should be able to be completed in two or three months, although pledge collection may take years.

Thinking Big

People want to help and they want to give big gifts. Keep that in mind as you are soliciting.

Kim Klein is a fundraising consultant and founder of the Grassroots Fundraising Journal. Her deep insight into fundraising, combined with a warm, no-nonsense style have made her an international favorite. Nine of her core fundraising training seminars are available for purchase on CD from the FundRaiser Basic website.