Capital Campaign Volunteers and Donors Make All the Difference

Here at the start of 2018, there are at least twenty capital campaigns underway in Greenville County. Some are in the feasibility study phase and others are nearing completion, some are for $1 million and others in the 8-figure range. But no matter the size or stage, most if not all of these campaigns engage members of the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy in some way.

A capital campaign can be described as a significant fundraising effort to raise a specific amount of money, in a set period of time, for a defined project, such as new construction, the purchase of land, or an endowment. This can be one of the most intense endeavors that nonprofit staff and board undertake.

To support local nonprofits in this work, GPP brought international fundraising expert Erik J. Daubert to Greenville on January 11, 2018 for a day-long training on capital campaign readiness.  The attendees – who included nonprofit directors, nonprofit development staff, Board members and campaign volunteers, and funders – agreed it was one of (if not the) best development trainings they’d participated in.

Erik shared that capital campaign fundraising is best described by the old fundraising adage: it’s about getting to the right person, making the right ask, to the right donor, for the right cause, in the right way, at the right time.  He covered some great information and “how-tos” in during his time with us here at GPP.  In an up coming blog series, I will be sharing some of the ideas, thoughts and concepts from Erik’s work with us…here is your first installment!

The Importance of Volunteers and Donors

In 2016, 72% of contributions in the U.S. made to nonprofits were given by individuals (followed by foundations at 15%, bequests at 8%, and corporations at 5%).  Individuals (who, of course, are also the staff at foundations and corporations who make the decisions) give to organizations that meet important needs, have donors’ respect and confidence that they are the right nonprofit to fulfill the mission and be good stewards of their funds.

But converting those annual donors into major gift contributors – the kind that will support a capital campaign – can be a lengthy process.  Erik reported that a university studied its own philanthropic revenues and found that their donors’ journey from their first gift (most of which started at $500) to a gift of $50,000 took an average of thirteen years.

People give for many reasons: involvement with the nonprofit, repaying a debt, guilt, peer recognition, improving the community, concern for others, habit, tax benefits, respect for the person asking, and more. But in the end, they usually give because someone ASKED.  Good fundraisers making the ask look for the places where donors’ values and nonprofit values intersect.  Good fundraisers also look for potential donors within the organization’s existing constituency, because the more connected someone is, the more likely they are to understand and believe in the mission and organization.

Volunteers are often not only great donors – they can be the perfect people to help engage other volunteers and donors. The annual campaign is a good way to engage volunteers in solicitation. They can grow their skills with smaller gifts, then be ready for major annual gifts, which will prepare the nonprofit for a capital campaign and the need for volunteer engagement in the work.

Regarding volunteers: many nonprofit staff directors are unsure of how to use the Board of Directors during a capital campaign – Who should they be? How many? What is their role?  A lot of fundraisers can go overboard on the Board’s role in fund development.  Board members already have extensive obligations with the nonprofit – serving as representatives of the organization’s constituency, fiduciaries, policy-makers, strategic vision, etc.  But if we would also like them to fundraise, we might miss the other important aspects of governing and leadership.  It may be unrealistic to find someone who is good at all of those things, so the nonprofit needs to consider this carefully.

As a nonprofit enters a capital campaign, not only does it need volunteers who are ready to help with asks and a base of potential donors, it needs sufficient staff to get the work done. Often, the Executive Director is the sole development officer and does it as a part of his or her job. Or, it may have a development staff member whose experience is limited to a particular type of fundraising, such as the annual campaign or special events. If a nonprofit arrives at the time for a capital campaign, the director and board need to seriously consider staff expansion with people with experience in capital campaigns.

Stay tuned for the next blog, “Capital Campaigns – Getting Ready to Get Ready”


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