We kicked off October with a webinar from Erin Moran, Partner at the Solas Group (recently announced iWave partner) titled Lessons from a Comprehensive Campaign. In this webinar, Erin shared the experiences of those who have served on a campaign’s “front lines” and hear what they wish they had known from the beginning.
Check out some of the questions from the webinar below, or watch the recording here.
Q: How long is a typical campaign?
EM: These days, a typical comprehensive campaign might last somewhere in the range of 7-9 years. Recent history shows that campaigns are getting longer and longer, but one of the campaign directors I interviewed suggested that shorter campaigns might emerge as a trend. One obvious benefit to shorter campaigns is that they’re less fatiguing for both staff and donors. Beyond that, the longer a campaign lasts, the more likely it is that an organization will see lots of leadership turnover. This turnover can result in having leaders who don’t have true ownership over the campaign’s priorities.
Q: I’m interested in becoming a campaign manager. How can I become more qualified?
EM: Managing a campaign involves planning, project management, and volunteer management skills. A great way to qualify yourself to step into a campaign management role is to volunteer to support initiatives that entail any of those three skills. Ask your departmental leadership if you can help put together an operating plan for the office or manage a project that is similarly complex. Or ask if you can help your leadership with managing their board relationships. (They will probably be thrilled you are offering!)
Q: Is it typical to have goals for annual giving in a campaign?
EM: Yes. A typical campaign pyramid ends with a large dollar goal at the bottom for which annual giving is responsible. Beyond that, it’s not uncommon for institutions to set goals for giving participation during the campaign. One example I’m familiar with is a college that had a low alumni giving rate (< 10% per year) setting a goal to have 30% of alumni participate sometime during its campaign.
Q: Can you speak to prospect development “driving” or leading the way in a campaign?
EM: I am passionate about this topic because I have a prospect development background that served me very well as a campaign director. Some of the same skills that you need to effectively sustain fundraising momentum in a campaign are needed in prospect development. For example, prospect development professionals tend to be good at thinking strategically about organizing prospect lists for particular initiatives. When I was a campaign director, I used that skill to think through how to fund some of the “harder” fundraising priorities (i.e. those for which there wasn’t a natural prospect pool). Prospect development is a vital part of planning and operationalizing any fundraising campaign.
Q: Do you think it’s important to have campaign collateral well developed by the time you launch the quiet phase – in order to make the most compelling case to lead supporters?
EM: On the contrary, I actually think it’s helpful not to have the materials well developed. Here’s why: the quiet phase is about generating large contributions from your most loyal and generous donors, especially your volunteers. To do that effectively, you need to make sure that those donors are invested in the campaign’s objectives. If your most engaged donors see the campaign collateral for the first time in a “final draft” form, it sends them the message that you’re not genuinely open to hearing their feedback about where the campaign (and thus the institution) is heading. Conversely, showing them materials that are still truly in draft form helps them feel comfortable giving you feedback on the campaign’s direction, giving them a sense of ownership. Creating that buy-in will not only help you secure the ultimate campaign gift from such donors; it will also help you refine the case.
Instead of pressuring yourself to have campaign materials in great shape by the start of the quiet phase, make it your goal to finish and publish them before the campaign kicks off. The kickoff is when you share your goals with the world, and at that point having finalized, glossy materials confirm your institution’s commitment to the project.