Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Predicting Campaign Success

A number of very useful analytical tools are available to organizations to help them determine if they are ready to launch and sustain a campaign and, if so, to set an ambitious but attainable goal.

One of the most useful is a capacity analysis in which a prospect pool is carefully evaluated to determine the number of viable prospects, the capacity and propensity of each to give and at what level, and the number of additional prospects that will be required at each giving level to reach campaign goals of varying degrees of difficulty. By assigning probability ratios to prospects on the basis of philanthropic propensity, a consultant can project campaign totals that an organization has a low, medium and high chance of reaching. Client organizations, with the benefit of sound analytical foundations, can then decide on the degree of risk they are willing to assume.

Another tool, often used in conjunction with a capacity analysis, is a feasibility study in which an organization’s top prospects are interviewed by a consultant. In the course of the confidential interviews, prospects are generally asked to opine candidly on the quality of the organization in question, the strength of its leadership, how convincing its case for support is, and the approximate size of the gift they envision making. A consultant would expect to find a large number of the organization’s trustees on the feasibility study list and, in the course of interviewing them, to hear that those who govern and guide that institution believe in it the most, and steady ready to provide the strongest levels of support. In most successful campaigns, board members provide 20 percent or more of the total proceeds. But we would be unwise to assume that is automatically the case, even if a majority of board members say during the feasibility study that they will be making large gifts.

I have seen too many instances where a campaign falters because board giving has fallen short of expectation, much to the consternation of the fund raising staff who then struggle to secure more support from prospects who have not been as deeply informed or actively engaged as their trustees. To avoid such a situation, I recommend conducting another simple analysis to determine an organization’s true fund raising capacity: look at how much time the full board has spent on advancement or campaign issues at each of its meetings in the past two years. If the board has given only an hour or less here and there, it’s a very bad sign.

That’s right, the allocation of board time in the past is the most concrete evidence of how much time a board will dedicate to the task in the future and highly predictive of how much board members will give over the course of a campaign. It makes sense, doesn’t it? What people have done is more is more predicative of what they will do than what they say they will do irrespective of what they have done. A true campaign is a huge undertaking, and not just for the advancement office. It is a means by which an organization reimagines its future, rededicates itself to new levels of service, and seeks to align its deepest and highest purposes with those of like-minded philanthropic intent. The years leading up to a campaign should be ones of deep reflection and intensive planning, and the board should be very much at the heart of those efforts. If the board has only involved itself in the review of the advancement operation and used its meetings to only get brief updates on fund raising results, the organization’s ensuing campaign is highly likely to fall well short of its real potential and board giving will be disappointing.

Conversely, a board that goes into annual retreat in each of the years of preceding the campaign, and that dedicates 40 percent or more of its agenda to intensive institutional planning, exploring various sources and uses of funds, including the special role of philanthropy, is highly likely to be dedicate a large portion of its time to the success of the campaign and to see it members provide strong leadership gifts. The more time one invests in an enterprise, the more determined one is to see it through.

As is the case with all prospects, the more time we spend with our board on substantive issues, and they with us, the better our chances of securing their strong support.


I’d appreciate the opportunity to go into more depth on these at other issues with you at upcoming conferences. On June and 28, I’ll be in Charlotte, NC, leading a seminar on “Building a Fundraising Partnership Between Development and Academic Leadership.” For more information, please click on the link below:

On July 18 and 19, I will be co-presenting with Jason McNeal in Boston on “Growing A Strong Board/Advancement Operation.” For more information on that conference, please click on the link below.

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