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Capital Campaign Magic: Revealing Five Secrets of Success

September 2012

Have you noticed big capital campaigns in your community that raise millions ... even hundreds of millions?

From the outside, it looks effortless. Like magic. They announce the goal and Presto! They're celebrating success.

How does it all happen? How can you pull off big-time results like these for your smaller organization?

Just follow these five secrets of success, and you'll find those larger gifts start coming your way.

And even if you're not in a campaign, you can use these five key strategies now, in your everyday fundraising this fall, to bring in the big gifts.

1. Focus on the Right Few

Major gifts always come from a very few people. It makes us laugh when people say, well we raised $xx million, but it was only because of three really big gifts—as though those gifts didn't count!

The success of capital campaigns is ALWAYS built on a very few lead gifts. And if you don't take the time to identify those donors and bring them close, you won't make campaign magic.

Don't spread yourself too thin, trying to work with a great many donors. If you do, you'll never develop the strong, deep, meaningful relationships you need with the right few.

Here's your winning strategy: Narrow down your focus. Spend ample quality time with a few very special people who believe in your cause.

Find out what makes them tick and what they want to do that your organization can help them achieve. Slather attention on those special folks who have deep pockets and are committed to your mission. Listen! And listen to them some more. They want to be partners with you.

The real magic in fundraising comes from a few deep and meaningful relationships. Build them.

2. Tie Your Campaign to Community Benefits

You make campaign magic when you stop talking about your organization and its needs and start focusing on what your community needs.

This is a huge shift of perspective. And it's a hard one to nail, because it doesn't come naturally.

You instinctively talk about the good work your organization does, your grand plans, and what you need to pull them off.

Here's your winning strategy: Shape your organization's messages to be about what your community needs, not about what your organization needs.

Your donors will be more interested in you if you show them how their gifts to you serve the greater good.

3. Get Everyone Pulling in the Same Direction

Do all of your board and staff members know where you are headed next?

You might try asking them, and facilitating some completely open discussions.

You might be surprised to find that some people either don't know where your organization is headed or don't agree with the direction.

Only when everyone pulls in the same direction will you make fundraising magic. If your board is not on board, the negative undercurrent will hold you back.

Check to find out if everyone is on board. You may find that you need some good old-fashioned conflict resolution before courting major donors.

Here's your winning strategy: Spend the time and energy to make sure that all of your insiders enthusiastically buy into your vision.

When your board members talk about your vision and plan, not only do they become clear on the direction forward but they start figuring out why and at what level they should support that vision.

Don't miss that step. Without a shared vision, there's no energy to harness.

And no energy, no magic.

4. Train People to Ask

You were probably pretty good at asking for what you wanted when you were three years old. Remember then? Not much finesse, but no hesitation, either.

But now that you've grown up, it's so very much harder, particularly when what you are asking for is money—the great taboo.

Few people are natural askers. But anyone CAN learn to ask for gifts, though that doesn't happen by reading an instruction manual on asking.

People master a skill by learning the basics and then practicing. And asking is a skill.

Your winning strategy: When your folks are ready (and they have to be ready!), be sure to give them good hands-on training in asking.

And once your people have mastered the basics, practice with them. Pair them with experienced askers. Role-play. Use a portion of every board meeting for a little exercise about asking.

Great magic appears effortless, and that remarkable sense of ease is always the result of practice. Lots of it!

5. Set a Dollar Goal and Put It Up against a Deadline

Goals and deadlines work. They won't make you comfortable, but they'll help you make magic.

In fact, goals and deadlines are what get people pulling in the same direction at the same time. They create the energy you need to get everyone inspired.

Without them, you'll have no sense of accomplishment, no celebration, and NO MAGIC.

Here's your winning strategy: Find the courage to set measurable goals and a realistic timeline. Then stick to them. Unless, of course, your fundraising magic is so powerful that you decide to raise the goal.

Can You Make Campaign Magic?

You bet. Just focus on the few, frame your need in terms of community benefits, line up your troops facing forward, train people to ask, and have the courage to stand behind a dollar goal and a deadline.

Those are the components of your powerful magic wand.

Andrea Kihlstedt and Gail Perry
© 2012, Capital Campaign Magic

Andrea Kihlstedt and Gail Perry have joined forces in a new blog site, http://capitalcampaignmagic.com, where they will offer ideas and strategies to help nonprofits create fundraising magic in their capital campaigns.

Andrea Kihlstedt was a capital campaign consultant for more than 25 years. She has written two books on fundraising and she cofounded Asking Matters, an invaluable resource that teaches people how to ask for donations in a natural way that complements their own personal Asking Styles. Her book Discover Your Personal Asking Style: A Fundraiser's Guide to Getting the Gift will be out next month.

Gail Perry is the author of Fired Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion into Action, and is an international speaker, fundraising consultant, and trainer. Her Fired-Up Fundraising blog has more than 10,000 followers from around the world. She's led more than 25 capital campaigns and says she's seen it all!

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and may or may not represent GuideStar's opinions. GuideStar is committed to providing a range of topics and perspectives to our users. We make every effort to obtain articles from knowledgeable, trustworthy sources, but we make no warranties or representations with regard to articles written by persons outside GuideStar.

Andrea Kihlstedt
Andrea Kihlstedt

Gail Perry
Gail Perry