Many Annual Giving professionals dread the words Capital Campaign more than any other two that get uttered around the office. They’re considered more obscene than stretch goal, performance review or even database conversion!
Why do so many feel this way? Because all too often, when a capital campaign is engaged, the Annual Giving staff is ignored at best and sacrificed at worst. As the board and CEO pursues this bigger, better money, the nitty-gritty plans to obtain it are rarely shared with the everyday staff. When all is said and done, however, much of the heavy lifting, clean up – and accountability – is left to whom? You guessed it: the Annual Giving staff.
It’s not that any development staff member in their right mind wouldn’t want a few hundred thousand – or million – extra dollars in the coffers, not to mention the added engagement of dozens of willing constituents, but at what cost? Often, capital campaigns aren’t very well planned from the beginning . . . or thought out to completion.
Ike* recalls one campaign his small nonprofit began, where his Executive Director decided to hire a consultant from a big shot firm to lead their campaign. The consultant was a well known person with a fine reputation, but also from a small shop, and he expected their organization to “type this up,” and make all of his follow up phone calls, etc. He also informed them that, “I don’t really do email. Leave me a message, and I’ll get back to you.”
Ike’s small staff was not in a position to take on the added burden of being this consultant’s personal assistant as well. They had expected him to assist them, not the other way around. Big reputation or not, Ike’s nonprofit had to let the well-known consultant go and hire a larger firm that could give them a staff member temporarily in the office during most of the capital campaign, to provide backup assistance, rather than expect them to work double and triple time. This mistake in hiring delayed the capital campaign launch by almost a year for their organization.
Jean* was in charge of the Annual Giving campaign at her organization when it started working on a capital campaign. She wasn’t pleased to be left out of the meetings, but believed that her Director of Development would keep her apprised of all aspects relevant to her campaign.
She was shocked when she learned that the board and Executive Director had decided that when the capital campaign was to launch the following year, they would be folding all aspects of the annual campaign funds into the capital campaign, which would last for three years.
Jean tried to explain, in vain, that not only did very few of the major gift donors (and therefore capital campaign donors) overlap with their annual campaign donors – as defined at their organization – but that if they essentially looted the annual campaign for three years, there would be nothing left of it at the end of the capital campaign. Everything she had built would be gone, and she’d basically have to start over.
“The response I got from my argument,” Jean said, “Was, ‘Well, this is the way it’s going to be.’ So, the next day, I updated my resume, and I was gone before the capital campaign began!”
Kyle* recounts that his organization took care to continue feeding and nurturing the annual fund in a thoughtful and active way. The capital campaign deliberately designated a small percentage of each individual’s capital pledge for the annual campaign, most of which were over a three year period.
“I’ll be honest,” Kyle said, “These were difficult to keep track of every year. The donors didn’t always remember that they’d ‘already given,’ but we had to, so as not to ask them for an annual gift ‘again.’ We also had to make certain to acknowledge the gifts, and keep in touch with them in other ways. Otherwise, when we resolicited them in the fourth year, it would appear as being from out of nowhere.”
Lamont’s* nonprofit had tried to save on expenses a few years before, and switched to a cheaper database system. He was already feeling various pains from the conversion, and upon hearing the organization’s plans for the upcoming capital campaign, he saw a disaster approaching.
Lamont was in charge of sending out acknowledgments and pledge reminders. Just in the past year, his nonprofit had offered recurring monthly donations with their online giving forms, and the new database system was constantly having problems getting this correct. Lamont was spending nearly a week every month, manually fixing the few dozen recurring donors in the system.
Upon hearing plans for the capital campaign – which would allow monthly, quarterly and annual recurring pledges – and projections for hundreds more pledges coming into the system, Lamont inquired as to whether the organization planned on investing in better software prior to launching the campaign.
The executive director’s response was no, but told him that depending upon the success of the campaign, they might be able to afford better software afterward.
Lamont, like Jean, decided to start looking for another job with this news. He felt that executing all of the pledge statements with such limited software would be impossible, and if he didn’t leave now, it would only be a matter of time before he was blamed for the problems that were sure to come.
For many in annual giving, hearing the words, “We’re going to be starting a Capital Campaign” is enough to send a chill up the spine . . . or a resume out the door. Has it been a good or bad experience for you? Does it affect how and where you interview?
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