This post is the first in a series about fundraising. Fundraising is an important responsibility of every board. But it is also a tricky one because most people don’t like to fund raise. I talked to a handful of board members and nonprofit staff to ask them about the role of the board in fundraising. The answers are varied and depend on the size and the age of the organization and the capabilities of staff and board members.

Notably – and not surprisingly – when I did outreach for stories about boards in general, I got dozens of stories. But no one came up with a fundraising story on their own. Instead, I had to reach out to individuals who I know have done fundraising and actively solicit their stories.

Over the next couple months, look for stories and ideas about fundraising. If you have a story, please contact me to share it. And add your thoughts.

In this first post, a board member shares a successful story of raising money for a capital campaign and talks about how much they learned during the effort.

You Can’t Do Cookie-Cutter Fundraising for a Capital Campaign

By a board member somewhere in the US

I am a long-time volunteer and board member for a nonprofit that is local affiliate of a national organization.

This story is about a capital campaign and how the approach to a capital campaign is different than raising funds for an annual budget. The focus of the campaign was on mission-driven areas including a new building.

I had to learn that you approach a capital campaign differently than annual giving. I had to do it for myself first before asking people to put the same kind of thought into it. We were fortunate to have a consultant who helped lay out approaches that I had not thought about. When someone comes to you and says, “Hey, we are doing a capital campaign, can you make a donation?”, the automatic knee jerk reaction is to think about my checking account and how much I could write a check for, without really thinking much more about it.

Lots of Options for Stretch Gifts

For a capital campaign, you want the donor to make a stretch gift. I walked through this logic: If I want to give a certain amount, how do I do it? I could do a stock gift which means I don’t have to pay capital gains on the stock. And when I turn 70 ½, I can designate an IRA distribution by naming the organization as a beneficiary. After figuring out this road map, I pledged. It worked out great. I did about 75% of my donation from stock. The rest will come out of an IRA account when I turn 70 ½. This process required a bit more effort because a stock gift takes a few more steps. Timing is important too. You want to give when the market is going up, so the organization gets every penny. The organization has to be ready to take stock as well. Check on that. I had an experience donating stock to another organization. They did not have a process in place, so by the time they sold the stock, there was a slight loss. In the case of the capital campaign, the organization was set up in advance to accept stock, cash, credit card – any type of payment.

Start with Inner Circle – Your Board

All those lessons were helpful during the next step: going to other board members and asking them pledge. Because I had gone through the process myself, I was able to help others understand what options were available. It opened people’s eyes when they realized that they could structure their gifts in different ways and not just make cash gifts.

I found that people at different stages of their lives want to do different things. For example, one younger board member said she would like to take a little bit out of her paycheck every quarter and pay by credit card. So, we arranged that sort of payment.

After every board member pledged, we went to people outside the organization. We had gifts that were small and large. Some were about an individual withholding from a paycheck. Others were about donating millions of dollars.

Individualized Preparation Is Key

I was focused on big gifts. When approaching people for significant gifts, each meeting was individualized. There was not a cookie-cutter approach. I worked with the major gifts officer to prepare materials and have an agenda for each meeting. We were very clear in terms of what we were going to do for each prospect. We did a lot of preparation. There were several meetings with the same person, you cannot go in and ask at the first meeting.

I think the most important thing was to understand what motivated the donor to support the organization. We started by talking about the organization’s direction and the campaign goals. We had printed materials so people could see what they were supporting. The materials that explain the purpose of the campaign were important. We had messaging and options to identify specific areas that donors might be interested in.

At some point, the person will say, “I am very interested in this area.” or “This is what I want to support.” You then head in that direction and explain the specifics about what a donor can support and how — whether it be buildings or program or something else. The next step — getting another meeting is hardest. This is the point where you say, “What do you think you could do? Let’s talk about how to structure your gift.” We gave people time to think about their gift before asking for this meeting.

Lessons Learned

What made us successful?

Good materials and training: For the people we prepared for, I would not have done anything differently. We had good materials, good training, a good process. And we were successful.  

Strong group of supporters: We did not have to do any cold prospecting. That made it easier. We had a clear and strong group of supporters. I had been a volunteer with the organization for over 20 years; pretty much everyone was a familiar name on the donor list.

What were the challenges?

Plan for the unexpected: We had a staff member who left the organization halfway through the campaign. This set us back.

People power: We did not have enough bandwidth. This takes a lot of time. For big donors, you need to have a customized, hands-on process. We did not have as many staff and volunteers to reach all the people we had on our lists. As a volunteer with a day job, I only had so much time.

Went to some close supporters too late: One particular group of donors I would have focused on earlier is past board members because their support is meaningful. We did approach them with good results, but it happened late in the campaign and we were not able to reach everyone. This relates to the previous point that we did not have enough people.

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