Leadership is the Key to Campaign Success

A capital campaign in which I was involved years ago was chaired by a 95-year-old real estate developer with a passion for steeplechase horse racing. He was an apt leader, and he had made a personal commitment of $2M to the campaign for a horse facility.

With his help, we set a meeting at the horse farm of a “friendly competitor” newspaper publisher who was also a steeplechase breeder and owner. At the right moment, after laying out the case for support and the project, we pointed out that the chairman had already made a $2M pledge and that we were hoping the newspaper publisher would match him. 

Not 7 seconds passed before the prospect jumped out of his seat and exclaimed, “Done!”

People ask what makes a fundraising campaign successful. A number of factors, of course: a ready set of prospective donors at the upper gift levels, a compelling case for support, a non-profit organization that is well known and seen as vital in the community, a project budget that is viewed as reasonable, and the right campaign plan. 

But the standout single most important factor to campaign success? Top-notch volunteer leadership.

“People give to people.” It’s one of the most important observations that I teach clients at the outset. Despite the ease of communication in our society (email, text messaging, messaging apps) and the many information platforms (TV, video, radio, social media), when it comes to raising money there’s still only one “platform” that campaigns count on for major gift success – face to face meetings with prospective donors.

For any major campaign, the goal is reached through securing pledges from a small number of donors. 80% of the goal will come from 20% of the donors.  A typical campaign of $5 – $10M will draw 500 – 750 donors, but eighty percent of the goal will come from 100-150 donors. 

Funding by tier for a successful capital campaign.

Further, your top 10 gifts by size should make up as much as half of your goal.

It stands to reason, and experience bears this out, that the top 10 gifts are the most vital for the campaign to achieve its goal. Given this reality, the question becomes “How do we ensure that we achieve these top gifts?” 

Send The Right People for Capital Campaign Success

The answer is in that maxim. “People give to people.” Set face-to-face meetings with your top prospects capable of giving at these levels. And, it’s critically important that you send the right person or team to make “the call” (the ask!). 

Who’s the right person to make the “call”?  It’s the person to whom the prospect will find it most difficult to say ‘no.

Strong contenders that I’ve seen work well in the past:

  • Someone close to the prospect; a business partner, for instance.
  • Someone who’s done a favor for the prospect, to whom the prospect may feels a sense of indebtedness. 
  • Someone that the prospect looks up to, as a mentor, or a major competitor, by whom the prospect does not want to appear to have been beaten. 

Another campaign I managed had, as our chairman, one of the top attorneys in the state working in utilities regulation. When the time came to call on our local public power company, the campaign chairman – who had handled regulatory work with the state on behalf of the power company for years – made a call on the utility company’s CEO. 

We landed a $1M gift on the spot.

People give to people. Send whoever your prospect can’t say “no” to.

The right volunteer leadership for a campaign can help a campaign reach its goal with less work by setting a personal example through their own gift at the upper end of the gifts chart. Your top donors should be calling on major prospects at the same upper levels. Nothing is more powerful than leading by example. 

But passion and commitment to the organization, project, and campaign are as important. I led a campaign that raised $6.5M in 18 months through a group of eight dedicated, passionate volunteers whose gifts ranged from $1,000 – $25,000 each. They passionately wanted the new facility to be a success, and they were undaunted in setting and making calls on the wealthier donor class of their community. Their obvious passion in meetings was enough to sway bigger donors to make significant pledges.

Above all, top campaign leaders will make a campaign successful.  Top leaders are passionate about the non-profit, speak well, are convincing in communicating the worthiness of the campaign, and have time to devote to making “calls” on the top prospective donors. 

If your campaign staff and leadership can make personal pledges at the top gift chart levels, even better.