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Your Capital Campaign: Are You Ready to Succeed?

Resource Center - Foundation

(March 30, 2010) A capital campaign is a marathon, not a sprint. Here are some tips to make sure you are ready to go the distance.

"I've seen campaigns fail that showed every indication of success ... and I've seen campaigns succeed that seemed to have nothing going for them," Kent Stroman said in a recent interview with AFP eWire. Stroman, a fundraising consultant, is presenting a session at the AFP International Conference in Baltimore called "7 Reasons Campaigns Fail & How to Avoid Them" along with Phil Lakin, a foundation executive. 

Kent explained that reaching the finish line--raising the necessary capital for a new project--is an endurance test: One or two big gifts may get you rolling, but it takes a lot of planning, discipline and work at the start to successfully finish.

One of the reasons campaigns fail, says Stroman, is that an organization receives a multimillion dollar gift and the development team says ‘look, we're halfway there!' In reality, the work has just begun. He calls that the "one-big-gift-syndrome." If you have the attitude that one big gift has set a campaign rolling, or that it will be just as easy to raise the rest of the money, Stroman says that's a good indicator that you are actually not ready to succeed. Planning and strategy must be involved from day one--long before you roll out the campaign to donors and the public. Realizing that "the results are rarely better than the plan" will help you stay focused on the planning process.   

Getting Real

"It's essential to ‘get real' about the actual cost of the campaign projects early on," he adds. "The real price tag for how much you need to raise is often twice what you initially think it is. I help people ‘get real' about the cost at the very beginning. It can be somewhat sobering but, believe me, it is better to count the cost up front than to be taken by surprise later on."

Readiness is also a matter of looking in the mirror as an organization. Ask yourselves: Are we fit for the journey? Do we have unity of vision? Do we have board support? "What I love about a capital campaign is that you can't ignore the issues and problems that may have been overlooked in the past." A capital campaign is no easy project, and it forces you to improve the entire organization and enhance your fundraising capability. You have to have a strong case for support, and be sharp in all areas of your operation.

Five Indicators That You Are Ready to Succeed

  1. A solid organization with a track record of success in its core programs
  2. Clear, well researched, board-adopted campaign goals
  3. A comprehensive written plan for the campaign
  4. Broad commitment to campaign success (shared conviction that ‘this must happen')
  5. Leadership in the boardroom - Leadership of the campaign team - Leadership at the executive level

Like it or not, reality sets in at the last leg of the journey when your donors have donated, you've made all your ‘asks' and you are making that final push for support. Unfortunately that is when the real test comes--and it is also the point of no return. So...are YOU ready to succeed? 

Kent Stroman, CPA, CFRE, is president of Stroman & associates based in Bartlesville Oklahoma. Phil Lakin, Jr., CFRE, is CEO of Tulsa Community Foundation, the nation's largest community foundation. They are presenting "7 Reasons Campaigns Fail & How to Avoid Them" at the 47th AFP International Conference on Fundraising in Baltimore on Tuesday, April 13 at 3 p.m.

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