Posted , by Wendy McGrady, Executive Vice President. Topic: Campaigns & Campaign Planning.

What’s the secret to campaign success? True, it’s critical to start with a campaign planning study to create a blueprint and make sure you’ve set the right fundraising goal. But how likely are you to reach it?

At a recent meeting, our team discussed fundraising campaigns over the last few years for which we had provided counsel. As we compared notes on the most successful campaigns, we realized the same characteristics kept emerging.


Four traits of successful fundraising campaigns

For all the successful campaigns on which we’ve worked, the nonprofit had some combination of the following:

  1. Extremely motivated staff leaders — in the best cases, this included the executive director/CEO and the head of development
  2. Between one and four key volunteer leaders — usually (and preferably) the majority of whom were also board members
  3. Passion and energy for the campaign
  4. Desire to collaborate closely with campaign counsel

You might wonder why a strong case for support doesn’t appear on this list. In our experience, no matter how valid or exciting the reason for a campaign, if there is not strong staff and volunteer leadership to sell it, it will not be successful.

In most of the highly successful campaigns on which we’ve worked, the staff and volunteers were truly excited about the case—and willing to put in the time and energy to make calls. They were dedicated to seeing the effort through to success.


Keeping volunteers engaged

Given that campaigns are sometimes two- to four-year efforts, that level of volunteer commitment can be difficult to find and maintain—but absolutely critical to success.

In the waning months of a campaign, motivating volunteers sometimes becomes a challenge. You must continue to involve them in calls so they can see the impact of their time investment paying off. It also helps to assign them key roles in celebration events, such as ribbon cuttings or groundbreakings. However, staff should also be prepared to take on more cultivation calls and lower-level gift calls so that key volunteers’ time commitments can be reduced as the campaign comes to an end.


Why relationship with counsel matters

You might think that nonprofits who engage counsel to plan or help manage campaigns would all be willing to collaborate with counsel, but that isn’t always the case. In our clients’ most successful campaigns, we found organizations willing to embrace a strategic thought partner who provides practical guidance on executing campaign best practices. Even for those organizations that had conducted campaigns before, this relationship became key in directing their path to success.

Our ability to know and understand an organization’s fundraising strengths and challenges, but still be able to provide an “outsider’s perspective,” is important to:

  • Managing volunteers
  • Coaching those making the calls
  • Preserving the big picture and path to a successful end goal
  • Making sure an organization’s fundraising program is better off following a campaign than when it started


Campaigns and annual funds aren’t mutually exclusive

We’ve also noticed that our successful clients found ways to leverage their campaign and increase their annual fund. It might seem overwhelming to think about your annual fund in the last phase of your campaign, when everyone’s exhausted, but it’s the perfect time to put some energy and strategy into it. Annual fund donors may want to participate in the campaign and should be given the opportunity in your broad-based phase—it’s important to make personal calls on those with the most capacity to increase their gift level, and at the very least, email or mail (or both) other annual fund donors. However, even if they don’t choose to be campaign donors, often the results of a campaign—new facilities or programs—might present opportunities to re-engage annual fund donors. Hard hat tours of a new building going up, virtual tours of a new facility on your website, or a cultivation event to preview a new program are just a few ideas.


As you can see, most traits of a successful campaign keep coming back to strong leadership, dedicated volunteers and partnership with the right counsel.
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