Before I was a capital campaign consultant I had the unfortunate opportunity to observe a capital campaign disaster. It started in a homeless shelter in the Midwest.
And this particular shelter went against the counsel of their consultant and started construction and launched their capital campaign publicly when they had only raised about 40% of their goal.
Now, the consultant had said, “You’re not ready to launch the campaign.” “You’re not ready to build the building …to start construction.”
That was their advice.
But they wanted to move forward anyway because they were impatient. They’ve got people they need to serve.
And so, we need to break ground and we need to launch the campaign so everyone can give right now.
So, here’s what happened.
They launched their campaign and they essentially said, “We’re having a capital campaign. We’re trying to raise $5 million. And we’ve got $2 million in the bank. Everyone come pinch your pennies and give sacrificially so that we can get the last $3 million and get this building built.
Well, predictably that didn’t work. Because, here’s the question: A donor who can give a very generous $5,000 gift – what is that donor going to feel like $5,000 does towards a $3 million goal?
Nothing! $5,000 doesn’t even move the needle in a $3 million campaign. It’s barely a drop in the bucket. And that’s not to be disrespectful to the donor, it’s just the reality and psychology of that gift, of that proposition, of that offer.
So, what ended up happening in this organization is that donors looked at that offer and they started giving money but at some point it fizzled out.
And they stalled at about 48%. And they never got above 48% of their goal.
What it ended up doing is it left the shelter picking up the tab for a $2.5 million mortgage that they were not expecting and did not really want. All because they were impatient.
And 10 years later their still paying off that mortgage.
This can be prevented though. This can be prevented with patience and with sound strategy. After years of planning the work it can be tempting to let the cat out of the bag and shout from the mountain tops that you’re having a capital campaign because it’s so exciting and you want it to succeed so badly.
However, to do so too early may cause great harm to your campaign. You see, there’s a cadence and a psychology to the way campaigns work. But if you get jumpy disaster can strike.
At Dickerson, Bakker & Associates we generally recommend publicly launching the capital campaign when you’re at 60% to 80% of the goal and you know how you’re going to get the rest of the money.
Until then, campaign funding is best to be raised quietly, one-on-one, or in small groups with major donors who have the ability to make substantial gifts to the campaign and truly move the needle.