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Managing & Reporting on Fund-Raising Campaign Progress, part 2 : Mid-Course Corrections & Problem Solving

Managing & Reporting on Fund-Raising Campaign Progress, part 2 : Mid-Course Corrections & Problem Solving

Mid-Course Corrections and Problem Solving

(read part 1 here)

We track progress in a fund-raising campaign in order to identify problems in time to take corrective actions so that the goal stays within reach. If at any point in the campaign it begins to look as if the ability to achieve the goal is slipping away, then those managing the campaign must stop and take stock of the situation.

The most common problem encountered during a campaign is the failure of solicitors to gain commitments from the proven base of donors for the amounts which the rating and evaluating process ascribed totem.

Early tracking of progress is crucial. It is better to find out that results are 15 percent below estimate after 10 percent of the prospects have made their donations than after half have been solicited. Once a campaign is under way, the steps you can take to make up a projected shortfall are limited, but the earlier you take them, the greater the effect they will have.

What can you do to cover a projected shortfall and get a campaign back on track?

  1. Solicit a matching/challenge contribution to inspire and compel the gifts of others. (A matching/challenge gift would greatly assist in carrying out all of the following steps, but even without a matching/challenge gift, the following steps must be considered.)
  2. Ask trustees and campaign leadership to increase their gifts.
  3. Increase the suggested giving for prospects yet to be solicited.
  4. Identify additional prospects to be solicited.
  5. Go back to selected donors who have already given and ask them to increase their gifts. (Must be done with great care: with selectivity and sensitivity.)

If it looks as if the goal is not going to be reached, go to the campaign’s strongest constituency—the organization’s trustees and the campaign’s volunteer leaders. They have a special interest in the campaign’s success, and will be making gifts, probably substantial gifts, to the campaign anyway. Ask them to up the ante.

Next, rework your ratings and evaluations for prospects yet to be solicited. Either increase the suggested gift level for all by a set percentage, or, better yet, go back and reassess them individually to a higher level. If proposal letters have been sent with a suggested giving level, that’s water over the dam. Go ahead and make the change anyway. The solicitors can explain the need for a larger gift during their presentations. In fact, this “problem” can give added impetus to their solicitations. They can take the negative of a projected shortfall and turn it into a positive argument for increased support.

The third thing you can do to offset a projected shortfall is to broaden the base of the campaign by finding new prospects. With the exception of some direct-mail campaigns, an organization rarely contacts a majority of the persons capable of giving to it. Once again, the negative of a shortfall can be turned into a positive. New prospects will be contacted and the proven donor base will be enlarged for future campaigns.

As a final recourse, comb the list of those who have already given to the campaign. Who among them has proved to be a special friend of the organization in the past? It is to those carefully selected persons that you should return with a request that they increase their gifts. The fact they have already given shows that they bought into the case for support of the campaign. Go back to them, and go over the case again, calmly explaining why it is necessary that they give more and how they are the ones who are needed to make the campaign a success. Sure, it’s embarrassing to have to go back to them, but not half as embarrassing as having to explain to them and other constituencies that you failed to raise the money needed. I’ve had to do both, and I would rather ask an organization’s supporters to increase their gifts than face them with a campaign that failed to achieve its goal.

A discrepancy between donor ratings and actual gifts received isn’t the only problem that can beset a campaign. Solicitors will typically complain that they are having trouble reaching their prospects—they’re out of town or just too busy to meet with them. That may be true, at least in some instances, but usually the “problem” is with solicitors who need to put more effort into their follow-through. Sometimes they will have slacked off a little because they don’t want to keep bugging someone. (Of course, a prospect who simply will not take a solicitor’s calls has to be written off for that campaign.) Sometimes solicitors find themselves under increased work pressure—their company is merging, the workforce is being downsized, they have a new boss. Sometimes the pressure comes from home—a new baby, buying a house, marital problems, a death in the family. And sometimes solicitors just don’t do what they have promised. When a solicitor, for whatever reason, is not bringing back answers from prospects, it is up to the team captain to solve the problem. In the end, it may be necessary for the captain to take responsibility for calling on some or all of the solicitor’s prospects.

Another omnipresent complaint from those working the front lines is that there isn’t enough publicity. You can have generated reams of publicity, and they will still feel it isn’t enough. This is a phantom complaint. Publicity just isn’t that important in most campaigns. It comes from solicitors and team captains who are not making progress. You won’t hear it from those who actually have something to report.

A Campaign Deferred is a Campaign Defeated

Then there is negative publicity. I’ve known of everything from an officer of the organization being indicted for stealing to employees going out on strike. United Way knows about the former problem, and I encountered the latter once when the Cleveland Orchestra’s musicians took to the picket lines. When something terrible happens, invariably there are people who want to stop the campaign. “Put it on hold!” is their cry. “Wait until this blows over, then restart the campaign,” they say.

Never, ever stop a campaign because of negative publicity. A campaign deferred is a campaign defeated. Volunteers will disappear. Previous donors not yet solicited will be less likely to give when the campaign is restarted. People who have already given money will be left wondering what is going to happen to their gift. Pledges will be rescinded. No matter what the negative publicity is, halting a fund-raising campaign will make it worse. The media will hop on the suspended campaign as an indication that the organization is in even deeper trouble.

The other major problems I have had come up in a campaign all involve the loss of key players. Once my entire development staff—the people recording gifts, sending out acknowledgments, and doing many other things—was wiped out by flu for nearly two weeks. Those of us who remained on our feet just worked harder, and when the others came back we played catch-up. Solicitors, team captains, division chairs, even the campaign chair can all disappear during a campaign. People quit, change jobs, and even die. Twice the chairs of large campaigns on which I was working left town permanently during their campaigns. Once we recovered nicely. The other time the campaign flagged.

Replacing solicitors is a smallish problem. Replacing team captains is a little bigger quandary, and finding new division chairs is a real headache. But a campaign that loses its chair teeters on the brink of disaster. Obviously you look for team captains to replace lost solicitors or take on the work themselves. Division chairs should be able to replace a team captain, and the campaign chair, with some assistance, can either personally handle the work of a division chair or find a stand-in. But replacing a campaign chair in the middle of a campaign is a real job, and it’s the job of an organization’s trustees. Ideally the president of the board or an influential trustee is both right for the job and ready to take it on. Barring that, perhaps a division chair could be persuaded to step up. Maybe there is somebody within the departing chair’s company who can fill the bill, or perhaps the organization’s board president will call in a big favor. Just as recruiting a campaign chair is the job of trustees, so is finding a replacement for one.

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