If planned well, campaigns can deliver impact for nonprofits long after they close. In addition to raising new dollars to address important institutional goals in a finite span of time, campaigns can:
- raise an organization’s public profile
- identify new volunteer leaders
- attract new donors
- permanently raise the sights of long-standing supporters
- change the habits of your staff fundraisers for good
But, to achieve this kind of long-term impact requires leadership and staff aligned around all goals and objectives, appropriate staffing and infrastructure at the campaign’s outset, frequent analysis with recalibration when warranted, regular and transparent internal and external communications, and dogged pursuit from pre-campaign to campaign close and into post-campaign fundraising. Without this intentional focus, you may fall prey to what occurs at too many institutions: “phew…the campaign is over – now we can revert back to our old habits.”
Several of our clients have recently closed or are in the final months of their campaigns. They span sectors: human service to performing arts to independent schools. Each launched with detailed strategies to accomplish not only their public dollar and programmatic objectives but also more internally focused goals to retain, expand and upgrade annual giving donors; raise, cement or modify their institution’s public persona; identify new board prospects; engage donors more strategically and deeply; and—in turn—achieve new levels of support from their biggest donors. When the pandemic hit in early 2020, each one had to pivot in different ways, while never losing sight of the crucial outcomes their campaign was intended to achieve.
Here are some of the key takeaways that are positioning each of these varied institutions for post-campaign success – and tips on how your organization can do the same:
1. Begin post-campaign planning 6 to 12 months prior to campaign-end
- Work closely with leadership to develop a post-campaign narrative: What new initiatives have emerged that need funding? What initiatives were left undone? It might be hard to get leadership’s attention at first, but it’s worth being persistent. You cannot keep donors engaged without a compelling case and the days of “taking a rest” post-campaign are long over.
- Share your emerging post-campaign narrative with major gift officers so they can begin to seed important messages to campaign donors in stewardship and/or to prospects who may emerge too late for campaign asks.
- Add some inspiring post-campaign talking points into the campaign narrative in the final stretch of your campaign.
- Pine Street Inn has been using language along these lines: “We began this campaign with a firm conviction that the key to ending homelessness is more affordable supportive housing. If COVID taught us anything, it’s that we were 100% right. We have real-time evidence that crowded dormitories are unsafe environments – for our guests and for the community. We need even more supportive affordable housing than we envisioned just 18 months ago. Developing that housing is our #1 job for the foreseeable future.” This narrative underscores the campaign’s importance while laying the groundwork for continued conversations and support.
- Jacob’s Pillow was in the final phase of its Vision 22 Campaign to renovate the Ted Shawn Theater when it experienced a devastating fire that destroyed its Doris Duke Theater, obviously not a part of their initial campaign plan. Rather than allow the fire to upend its campaign’s final stretch, the Pillow decided to be transparent with donors. Jacob’s Pillow told them they would eventually reconstruct the Duke, but only upon the successful completion of the renovation of the Shawn Theater. By building the Duke into its post-campaign narrative, the Pillow’s leaders were committing to a donor-centric approach, knowing that some may hold off giving until the rebuilding of the Duke, but betting that, in the end, their donors would give their most generous gifts where their passions lie.
- Some organizations combine campaign-close planning with Post-Campaign Planning. Developing new strategies in the final stretch of a campaign can infuse new momentum and really impact both the outcome and future fundraising. Consider the Ransom Everglades School Campaign. They received a $5M challenge grant designed to come when they were within $5M of hitting their goal. Ransom Everglades took the opportunity to consider whether they wanted this to be when they were $5M from their public goal or when they had wrapped up all solicitations outstanding and reached the highest number possible. They chose the latter and will likely exceed their goal by a considerable margin. This tremendous achievement has strengthened donors’ confidence and emboldened staff and board members alike to set ambitious post-campaign goals and objectives that will further its mission well into the future.
- Other organizations combine organizational strategic planning with Post-Campaign Planning. St Mark’s School will begin developing its next five-year strategic plan nine months from its anticipated campaign close. The overlap of strategic planning with Post-Campaign Planning will provide context and detail to St. Mark’s post-campaign narrative and to defining its fundraising goals rooted in the institution’s future objectives.
2. Do a formal Campaign Wrap Up
- Use the Wrap Up to present “final” data: project goals achieved/exceeded, allocation of gifts to project “buckets”, gift table comparison of actual to projected, giving by audience, annual fund performance over the course of the campaign, staff hiring, performance and retention patterns, volunteer engagement, and board role and development during the campaign.
- Once the data is compiled, include an analysis of results (findings) and their implications for post-campaign fundraising (recommendations for moving forward).
- The Campaign Wrap Up should be shared with the head of fundraising, then Development/Advancement staff, the CEO/President, volunteer campaign committee, and the Board.
- The very exercise of developing a Campaign Wrap Up is always illuminating and often helpful in recognizing important wins that may not have seemed so consequential in the race to get to the finish line. They can be easy to miss! In reviewing its campaign experience, Noble and Greenough School paid particular attention to donors’ behaviors during the campaign. In one highlighted example, it took three separate gifts from one family over the life of the Campaign to achieve the largest cumulative gift in the School’s history.
- Formal wrap ups are also critical components of identifying post-campaign opportunities in the immediate and longer-term future.
3. Keep the emphasis on major donor engagement
- Campaign Committee members, board members and CEOs play critical roles connecting major donors to an organization’s future. Continuing this connection after your campaign ends is an important element in post-campaign fundraising success. Ensure your leadership understands this and make sure they are properly staffed post-campaign so that they can continue to foster these connections.
- Vet campaign donors for board recruitment throughout your campaign as well as post-campaign. While many will not be suited for the role, a few may emerge as important champions eager to share their expertise and devote the time and attention to furthering your mission. In some cases, a Board role may be the key to their next big investment in your organization.
- While most of your major donors will not end up board members, involving them in meaningful ways is key to keeping them close, engaged and feeling proprietary.
- One way is to involve key donors in your post-campaign strategic planning process. This sends the genuine signal that you are anticipating a long and mutually rewarding future.
- For other top campaign donors, beginning conversations in the final year of the campaign about post-campaign goals and objectives without necessarily involving them directly in the strategic planning process can have a similar effect. You don’t want their financial support yet. You want them to feel like “insiders” as you plan your organization’s post-campaign agenda.
- If you haven’t already, now may be the time to consider launching an ancillary board so that some of those that you brought along during the campaign have a landing pad that anchors them in wonderful and natural ways to your organization. St. Mark’s School launched a Heads Advisory Council during its recent campaign with a two-fold goal: First, to help boost the annual fund by requiring a $5K gift for membership; second, to offer donors a deeper and more structured engagement, short of board membership, to bring them closer to the School and more vested in its success.
4. Adopt a post-campaign practice of always having a robust and varied list of funding priorities – don’t wait for the next campaign
- Always have restricted gift projects and naming opportunities available to connect donors where they—and you—feel they can have the biggest impact. This should be part of your post-campaign planning (prior to campaign end!).
- Remember, many ‘transformational’ gifts are not part of campaigns – or for purposes not originally part of a campaign. They are developed over years of engagement and commitment to mission. One recent example: Pine Street Inn received one of the largest gifts in its history during its campaign timeframe but outside of the campaign scope. In other words, the campaign itself was not the motivating factor for the gift.
5. Refresh major gift officers’ portfolios regularly
- Wealth screen new annual donors on an automatic schedule.
- Assign top rated new donors to MGO portfolios. Solicit for campaign if appropriate or cultivate for post-campaign solicitation in a year or two.
- Post-campaign planning also gives you a perfect opportunity to consider lessons learned, including what happened in portfolios over the life of the campaign: How did original assumptions play out? What experience did you have in converting annual donors to major donors? Did the gift table play out as you anticipated? What good surprises occurred? This conversation—and evidence—helps you retool portfolios and reconsider your assignment practice as you are coming out of campaign and setting goals for major gifts over the next several years.
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If your organization is mid-campaign or planning for a campaign in the next year or two, remember this: with foresight, the long-term impact of your campaign’s success will deliver benefits many years post-campaign.