The Goldie Company

Parley: March 2014 - Capital Campaigns

How Have Capital Campaigns Changed Over 25 Years of Fundraising?

Things have changed since 1989. These days, there are fewer and fewer “accidental” fundraisers entering the sector. Recognizing the growing need for professionals, many post-secondary institutions today offer courses and certificates—even master’s degrees—in non-profit development. Technology has turned many of us from door-to-door campaigners to “crowdfunding” experts. And we’re certainly asking for larger sums of money. As expert fundraiser Chuck Birdie says, it’s tough to get attention for anything less than $40 million.

Though the profession and demands have changed, much has remained the same—especially when it comes to capital campaigns. “They still play a major role in the fundraising spectrum,” Birdie says. “More and more organizations are doing them, and for necessary reasons.”

True. But while the principles of the capital campaign—cultivate donor and volunteer relationships, let your case for support drive your campaign—don’t waver, experienced fundraisers have adapted to new circumstances. What’s changed in the last 25 years of capital campaigns? We asked three experts to share their thoughts.

•    Campaigns last longer. Capital campaigns used to be 18 months—that included a few months of set up and volunteer recruitment, 12 months of campaigning, and a few months of a community appeal phase, says William Leacy, executive director of development and partnership at Queen’s University’s Faculty of Health Sciences. “Often you’d get to your goal or surpass it with that time frame. Now we focus more on people who have capacity to give. Because these same people are often being asked to support many organizations, it takes a longer time for them to make decisions. Campaigns can now go on for 48 months—you have to have a bench strength of volunteers ready to replace the ones who burn out or move on.”

•    The focus on major gifts has grown. Twenty-five years ago, those 18-month campaigns might end with a community “kitchen” campaign with volunteers going door-to-door. Now, fundraisers are concentrating on the return on investment—how much money, time, and effort does it take to raise $500 million? “You have to measure where you put your resources,” Leacy says. “Engagement opportunities are high priorities.”

•    Volunteers are more familiar with capital campaigns... “More and more volunteers have prior experience with capital campaigns,” Birdie says. “As the consultant, sometimes I’m not telling them anything new—they’ve been through it before, and they remember how to do it.”

•    …but there are fewer volunteers with less free time. On the flip side, there are fewer volunteers to help execute those plans. “People are working more and have less time for extracurricular activities,” says David Chambers, president of the Durham College Foundation. “Competition for their time is far more intense and there are many worthwhile organizations from which to choose.”

•    Technology has changed the process. Leacy says campaigns today are a lot more knowledge-driven. “As a consultant, you’d put together a capital campaign and meet people one-on-one, relying heavily on personal relationships. Now organizations have access to research on philanthropic histories; that’s one of the great things technology has allowed us to do.” Chambers adds: “Technology has also brought greater awareness of the local and broader needs of non-profit organizations. That’s a good thing.”

The last word

Chambers also adds that technology might have changed the way we gather information, but warns that it doesn’t replace face-to-face interaction. Leacy stresses that your volunteers—however few—are vital to success. “There are always three or four passionate and deeply involved volunteers who are invaluable to your organization. Strengthen your relationships with them—they often know your organization better than you do,” he says. Finally, Birdie indicates there may soon be more change on the horizon. “Back in the 1980s or early 1990s, big campaigns were the highest priority. It used to be the command performance. If they could roll it into the annual appeal now, however, many organizations would do it,” he says.

Could the next generation of vigilant fundraisers face an entirely different sector 25 years from now?