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Capital Campaigns: Getting the Word Out

Resource Center - Foundation

(July 28, 2009) Many organizations ignore the public relations plan during a capital campaign, but a capital campaign is the perfect time to tell your organization’s story and tell it well, says fundraising veteran Robert Crandall, CFRE.

“A capital campaign is one of the few times you have an open door to tell your story, and you want to find a way to clearly state who you are and the valuable role you play in the community,” says Crandall, president of Crandall, Croft and Associates, a fundraising consulting firm in Wabash, Ind.

To create and execute a successful public relations plan, you need to know who your constituents are, what they know about you and what they think about you, Crandall says. You may be surprised by the misconceptions that exist about your organization, but this will help you make the best case for support.

Know Your Community

Understanding that you have a wide variety of constituents is key to an effective PR plan. Don’t forget that your audience extends well beyond your donors. “You’d be amazed how many people never look at who their constituents are,” says Crandall. “Donors are only part of the audience.” In reality, the media, area businesses, your organization’s board members (past and present) and the general public are all constituents in a capital campaign. And there can be many more.

Your goal is to send out a large enough message that it will encourage donors to be more involved, Crandall says. A capital campaign is the time to bring everyone on board in terms of supporters—clarify just what constitutes a major gift and set the bar high for support.

A great way to find out about the particular character of your community is to examine the results of the feasibility study, Crandall explains. There you will find out who your key supporters are and how they view you. “A good feasibility study will inform you about the individual’s perspective of how they see you—and also how they think others see you—as an organization.”

The PR plan, then, closes the gap between perception and reality. Perhaps you serve more people than community members realize. Or, people may not understand what is required in order to continue to meet the community’s needs. You should effectively communicate the needs of your organization as well as its aspirations.

Generating Buzz

Crandall uses a bull’s-eye method to help organizations target their various constituents, placing key supporters in the center of the bull’s-eye and working outward listing people who are more distant to the organization. Start with and focus on the people in the center. But don’t neglect the surrounding audiences. The overall goal is to bring everyone a step or two closer to the center. With a healthy word-of-mouth “buzz” you’ll increase notoriety and raise awareness of the project.

Create a week by week plan about how you will get your message out, says Crandall. Treat your case for support for the capital campaign like your Bible and take “passages” from it to convey a particular part of the message, then another and another. Once you know your constituents and how they view you, you can then tailor messages that will be the most persuasive. Your goal is to compel people to action.

However, getting the message out goes beyond billboards and television ads. You also want to get the press buzzing. Getting press coverage often means having a pre-existing relationship with members of the press, be it print, online or television, says Crandall. “If you are not already networking with the media, when you want or need them it will be impossible,” he says.

In the end, no matter how great your organization is or how valuable your capital project, you need to tell your story—and it’s not going to get out there on its own. Know who to reach and give them a compelling message. This is one storytelling opportunity you just can’t miss.

Robert J. (Bob) Crandall, CRFE, president of Crandall, Croft and Associates LLC, has over 25 years of full-time experience in fundraising, having served as the chief fundraising officer in the fields of education, healthcare, and social service, as well as faith-based nonprofits. He has served as a board member of social service organizations and as a board member in beginning a new 501 (c) for a Hispanics ministry. As a volunteer, he has helped shape several church finance and building campaigns.

This story is based on a session titled Capital Campaign Public Relations Plans: A Blueprint for Campaign Success, co-presented by Crandall and Katie Perry of Knute Nelson in Alexandria, Minn., at the 46th AFP International Conference on Fundraising in New Orleans.

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