Chatting About Campaigns With Matthew Cottle
We all know the value of a successful campaign, but in order to make it successful, a lot of groundwork needs to be done. We talked recently with Matthew Cottle, who is presenting a webinar on “The Campaign Prequel: Success Begins Before the Campaign Plan,” about some of the steps needed before even planning for a campaign starts and why they’re necessary.
Q) What’s the difference (or is there a difference) between what you’re talking about and a feasibility study?
A) There's work that should be done in advance if the feasibility study is to be useful. For example, the organization's leadership must know the purpose for the fundraising effort and have a goal they believe is reasonable. The board must be committed to the project and have the right membership to ensure campaign success. The internal structures must be in place to support the fundraising drive. And there really has to be some history of fundraising—a donor list whose members are the interviewees for the study. We know that more than 40 percent of campaigns fail. Countless more spend donor money on feasibility studies that say they're not ready for a campaign. If the organizations were to spend 2 or 3 years in focused preparation, I believe many more campaigns would be successful.
Q) Do you use this kind of assessment in your current job, and how?
A) For Cal Poly's latest campaign, we spent nearly a year working on our volunteer structure and recruitment, fundraising policies, strategic plan, and internal structure. We'd taken a lengthy break between campaigns, and most of our structures and processes where carry-overs from the previous campaign. We all knew that updates were needed, but without the pressure of a new campaign, it was difficult to make those a priority. The updated policies, processes, and organizational structure had to be in place before we asked our board to consider a draft campaign plan.
Q) What’s the coolest campaign you’ve seen, or been a part of?
A) Although I've staffed some lengthy university campaigns, I've become a fan of short, focused campaigns. The YMCAs seem to do this well. As a consultant, I was able to work with Ys that completed fitness center and aquatics center campaigns in 6-12 months. Nothing flashy; just dedicated volunteer leadership, a good case for support, and a sense of urgency.
Q) What’s the most spectacular campaign failure you’ve seen (without naming names) and why do you think it failed?
A) Probably the worst crash-and-burn I've seen personally was a small college in the South. The board agreed to pursue a capital and endowment campaign. Without a single donation in hand, they did a full PR blitz with bill boards, radio ads, and TV interviews. Unfortunately they'd spent all their time working on the marketing and didn't actually have a fundraising plan. It took about a month for them to call the whole thing off.
Q) Why fundraising as a career?
A) I would call it a fortunate accident. After earning my MBA, I took a job as business and investment manager for a small university foundation. I became interested in the university's annual campaign, started helping with solicitation of local businesses, and eventually transitioned to full-time corporate relations. It's been a very rewarding choice. I'm able to say that I've made measurable impact on people's lives, and I've been able to work with philanthropists who are among the kindest, most loving people I've ever met.
To find out more about pre-campaign planning and assessment join us for Matthew's webinar on August 25 at 1:00 PM Eastern, "The Campaign Prequel: Success Begins Before the Campaign Plan"
For more info or to register click here.