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Top Ten Reasons Why Campaigns Fail


Article By William C. Krueger

In 20 years of capital campaign consulting, I've heard any number of comments or questions that immediately raise warning flags. See how many of the below "warning flags" are raised during your discussions with your board members.

Bonus: "We need to think outside the box with the campaign and do different things. The same old way isn't going to work for us because..."

Yes, creativity is good and there are always new ways to approach difficult challenges. However, "the box" has worked for decades because it is tied to human nature. Generally, organizations that are looking "outside the box" are doing so because they are looking for a shortcut, or because the leaders of the organization aren't sure that the hard work normally associated with the traditional (and proven) activities is going to be worth the rewards. Try the tried and true – if that doesn't work, then try to reinvent the wheel and do new things – but first, do the tried-and-true. Realistically, your situation isn't that different from any number of other organizations.

1. "If we need a million dollars, all we need to do is get 1,000 people to give us $1,000 each."

Creating "grass-roots" campaigns will usually only work in projects where there is a pre-determined number of prospects - memberships, churches, etc. In most community campaigns, the concept of equal sacrifice (wealthier people give more than less wealthier people) must be used to insure reaching goals.


2. "There is no way 'Mr. Smith' will make a gift to this campaign ... he doesn't give!"

There is a tendency to assume certain prospects won't give, but a true campaign builds the campaign atmosphere and leadership confidence necessary to have a reasonable expectation most people who are asked, correctly, will give. Outside counsel should base decisions on capability ... and then determine willingness.

3. "Let's do the first part, and then see how that goes before we decide how to do the rest of it."

A key to virtually every campaign is a comprehensive, yet flexible, campaign plan that shows the path to reaching a pre-determined goal. Unless an organization has a blueprint for success a campaign really can't succeed.

4. "There is no way I can ask anyone for that much money."

Major gifts are critical to a campaign's success. Many people, and companies, are committed to making their community a better place by making what are, to many people, an extraordinary gift. If you don't ask for a major gift, most prospects will never think to make one. Remember, 80% of the funds you raise will come from 20% of your donors. This is true in virtually every successful campaign. Proper training by experienced counsel can ensure that gift levels are at a maximum and the solicitation is conducted properly.

5. "I'm donating my time, I shouldn't have to make a sacrificial, or any other type of, gift."

If the very people closest to the organization - the ones who should be most committed - don't make gifts, then why would anyone else? Board members in particular are important. Even if no single individual can make a major gift, often times the Board of Directors as a group can make the leadership gift.

6. "This campaign will last until it's finished ... even if it takes years!"

A solid timetable, with built-in "mini-goals", is crucial in order to keep a campaign moving. Built in "pressure points" will help create faster decisions from prospects and keep leaders focused on the campaign. Most importantly it will avoid the campaign "dragging on".

7. "We raise a lot of money every year, we can easily do a capital campaign."

Capital campaigns are different. You are asking people to buy into your vision, not just your immediate goals. You are asking them to make multi-year commitments to your cause and that requires a special level of commitment. Often times it is harder for donors to see the need for bricks and mortar - especially if your normal fund raising is centered on social services needs.





8. "We can save a lot of money by "piggybacking" on our current development efforts."

Campaigns are different. A unique theme, materials, style and plan must accommodate these differences. The campaign must become the focus of the organization's efforts.

9. "We have to get a lot of publicity. Once people know why we need this money, people will gladly give."

Actually, news articles and television reports are not extremely helpful in raising money. People are inundated with emotional appeals and are not generally moved to make major gifts because of press accounts. Newsletters and personal letters are most effective in reminding already solicited prospects they need to make a decision. Publicity must be a part of the overall campaign plan and is not a substitute for good planning and implementation.

10. "Fund raising counsel is too expensive. Our own staff can do it and we have a couple of board members who have been chairpersons of some other campaigns.

Campaigns managed by counsel usually raise more money than campaigns run without counsel. For the most part, counsel-driven campaigns take less time, use leaders more effectively and the total cost (expenses plus fees) is usually less than 10-15% of the funds pledged. Experienced staff is helpful, but can they do their normal responsibilities and conduct a major campaign?

Experienced fund raising volunteers are important but no substitute for the efforts of an experienced manager to make sure a solid campaign plan is in place and executed. Besides, it is usually the campaign director motivating the volunteers.

Major institutions (hospitals , universities, etc.) make use of counsel during campaigns even though they employ highly paid, experienced staff and usually can attract experienced volunteer leadership. They know campaigns require a special effort and the special skills of outside counsel.

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