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The Diary of a Lead Gift

CCS and ICSC are proud to collaborate on new ways to support your important work through our webinar series showcasing creative ideas and innovations.

July 28, 2022

Perspectives on Philanthropy: Giving USA 2022 Release Webinar

CCS Fundraising is proud to partner with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy on this webinar marking the June 21 release of Giving USA 2022: The Annual Report on Philanthropy.

June 21, 2022
SEE ALL IN: Catholic

The success of a capital campaign is dependent upon several factors.  One of the most important is to get your effort off to a strong start, which is most effectively accomplished by securing large pace-setting gifts. Securing early, significant support provides the initiative credibility. Early success, in turn, inspires confidence in solicitors, creating momentum which results in more major gifts.

In the quest to attract large gifts, especially early in a campaign, challenge grants are a unique approach that, when executed properly, result in several large gifts in a brief period of time.

A challenge grant is a (semi) conditional significant gift made by a donor or group of donors that is fulfilled when others step forward to support the campaign at a specific level and/or by a specific deadline. There are a myriad of ways in which a challenge can be used to support a campaign. A few examples include:

  • A challenge tied to participation levels. For example, the College of the Holy Cross has successfully conducted a 50% participation challenge over the past three years.
  • An existing gift used to attract a new or larger gift. For example, the chairman of the board of a large social service organization offered to match all seven-figure gifts from new donors to kick off a $50 million campaign.
  • Dollar-for-dollar: For example, a large east coast academic medical center concluded its annual fund drive with a $100,000 match from a member of their board to ensure that the effort reached its goal before the end of the year.
  • Two-for-one: For example, this strategy is highlighted in the following profile of the Fifth Avenue Presybertian Church’s Kirkland Challenge.

Challenge Grant in Action: The Kirkland Challenge

In 2014 one of CCS’s client partners, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, effectively leveraged a challenge grant to launch the Major Gift phase of its $12.5 million Generation to Generation restoration campaign. The first pledge received a $2.5 million commitment from a family of noted philanthropists who encouraged the church to leverage their support in any way that could help the campaign. When presented with the option of issuing a challenge, the family was enthusiastic about the idea.

The challenge was branded The Kirkland Challenge in honor of the former Senior Pastor, Bryant Kirkland, who would have been 100 years old at the time of the launch. Several scenarios on the implementation and timing of the challenge were considered but ultimately a two-for-one match for all gifts of $25,000+, not to exceed $1.25 million (1/2 of the $2.5 million pledge), was chosen. The challenge took place during the major gift phase from January 1 until the public launch of the campaign on March 3.

An overview of the challenge was developed and presented to the Campaign Co-chairs and the Senior Pastor for approval. The donors were then briefed and also approved of the church moving forward with the challenge.

A two-page challenge flyer was developed as a supplement to the solicitation material being used by the Major Gift Committee, the team of church members recruited to solicit gifts of $25,000 and above. The Kirkland Challenge was announced at the major gift committee training in early January and volunteers were briefed on how to present this opportunity to the church members they were assigned to visit. Talking points included: 

  • A unique opportunity to triple the impact of their gift ($25,000 pledge + $50,000 match = $75,000 worth of impact).
  • A limited window in which to participate – before March 8, prior to the public announcement.
  • An important mechanism to raise the sights of members.

Progress was continually tracked, with each committee meeting and action memo offering an update on the challenge that included reminders on how to use the challenge to motivate donors.


The challenge was a tremendous success. During the seven weeks in which the challenge was implemented, the church received 36 commitments totaling $1,260,000, and an average gift of $36,000.  

Further, it had positive impacts on all involved. The volunteer committee embraced the challenge because it offered them an additional talking point when speaking with prospective donors. The challenge not only allowed the campaign to raise additional funds, but it also motivated donors and volunteers to adhere to the prescribed timeline; motivating the campaign to remain on track. Donors were provided with a strong incentive to elevate their level of support to meet the challenge.

Lastly, the challenge was a unique way to steward a donor critically important to the church by further involving the donor in the campaign in a way that elevated the value of an historic gift to the campaign.

Key Takeaways

Challenge grants are the ultimate endorsement of your initiative, as they validate your vision, confirm the case, heighten philanthropy, motivate leaders, and drive energy. 

Some guidelines to follow when formulating your next challenge grant are:

  1. Identify a qualified prospect for whom a challenge would resonate.
  2. Determine the parameters based on your needs.
  3. Solicit the donor positioning the challenge as a central aspect of the gift.
  4. Secure the donor’s buy in. Demonstrate the impact both on the campaign and the organization. Share the vision for the campaign with the donor so that they understand how the challenge fits in.
  5. Develop a plan to implement the challenge. The plan should include a timetable, promotional material, and talking points.
  6. Promote and track the challenge’s progress.

A successful campaign requires momentum. It is the result of dynamic leadership, and inspiring, pace-setting generosity. Challenge grants are an excellent way to leverage the former to inspire the latter and set your next campaign on the right path. 

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Philanthropic Landscape Report, 11th Edition

Featuring essential philanthropic research from all major sources in the industry, this exclusive report will examine key themes in American philanthropy and the latest data on giving by U.S. individuals, foundations, and corporations.

July 20, 2021

Philanthropic Climate Survey Report, 4th Edition

CCS’s fourth-edition Philanthropic Climate Survey report provides a snapshot of how more than 1,000 respondents from across the nonprofit community are persevering amid challenges, evolving their fundraising tactics, and planning for 2021 and beyond.

January 14, 2021

There are countless strategies to be successful in the fundraising industry. From building lasting relationships with prospects and stewarding donors, to successfully planning and executing gift requests, there are always steps to take to maximize your results.

Recognizing the importance of each fundraising strategy, something often overlooked is the importance of managing yourself. Based upon our experience working with development professionals across all nonprofit sectors for the past seven decades, one fact is glaringly clear: Managing time and actions effectively makes the difference between a spectacular fundraiser and one that merely gets the job done. While these points may seem like common sense, it can be difficult to put all of these practices into action. However, with a little focus and planning, a good fundraiser can follow these eight guidelines to become great!

1. Prioritize the activities that bring in the gifts.

Of course, we all must write reports, complete paperwork, and make coffee, but try to make a concerted effort to prioritize the tasks that will have the highest return on your time investment. Write down the top three-to-five revenue-generating tasks that must get done today and do these FIRST. When you get to the end of the day, the tasks that remain should be those that do not raise money—not the important, productive tasks that would have raised money had you gotten to them. Prioritize meeting with or calling prospects and focus on tasks that will lead to a gift (e.g., writing request letters, assigning prospects for volunteers to contact, conducting a ‘meet our CEO’ event with top prospects, stewarding donors, etc.). Contacts, events, and visits lead to gifts. The more you can conduct, the more gifts you will secure.

2. Sitting at your desk doesn’t raise money.

The working world has trained us to sit at our desks, in our swivel chairs, for 8+ hours to be considered “working hard.” However, as fundraisers, you can get a lot done away from your desk. Effective fundraising professionals are rarely in the office because they are meeting with donors, asking for gifts, and raising money. Do not fall into the trap of being glued to your desk – get out there, make connections, and increase support for your organization!

3. Set aside 45 minutes DAILY on your calendar to make phone calls.

Whether you make follow-up calls to prospective donors, set up in-person meetings with prospects, ask for gifts over the phone, call your board members/volunteers, or call donors to thank them for their gifts, one of the most productive uses of your time is getting on the phone with your constituents. Make time for it.

4. Get out of your comfort zone.

“The level of your success is directly proportional to the number of uncomfortable conversations you have.” – Sir Richard Branson, entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist.

Does picking up the phone make you a little bit nervous, so you keep putting it off? Are you afraid to meet that “whale” of a prospect because you’re afraid he or she will say no? Do not wait until you are motivated and comfortable, because you’ll spend all year waiting! Just pick up the phone and start dialing. Take every opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone. That is the only way to continuously improve.  

5. Do things one step at a time.

Most organizations have annual fundraising goals. But what does this mean on a monthly, weekly, or daily basis? Work backwards from your goal and set weekly, measurable goals for your (and your team’s) activities. To walk or even run, you must take one step at a time. Without knowing how many steps per day to take, it is unlikely you will reach the end of the year having reached your desired destination.

Do you need to raise $1 million this year? Look at your donor database. How many people will you need to ask, and at what gift request levels, to meet your goal? Extrapolate this over 12 months, even 52 weeks. How many calls and visits do you need to make per week (or per day) to reach your goal? Establish measurable benchmarks for activity, stick to them, and measure your performance against them.

6. Ask for help.

Even with your stellar team of fundraisers, you may still need help reaching your goals. Leverage your board of trustees by asking them to identify prospect connections, bringing them on gift request visits, and requesting their assistance in opening select doors. This group is a critical asset to your fundraising success, so use them. Recruit a team of volunteers to help: those who will visit prospects and request gifts, phone-a-thon volunteers, or volunteers who help free up your team to ask for more gifts. A successful fundraising operation is a symphony of many moving parts. Recruit your team (staff, board, volunteers, and consultants) and purposefully manage their efforts for the greatest impact.

7. Carve out time for thinking.

It’s easy to get caught up in daily tasks without thinking about the big picture. Clear time on your calendar to think about your strategy. Which actions are yielding the most results? What is the most effective way to leverage your time and your team? Are your tasks getting you closer to your desired outcomes? Is your plan the right one to achieve your long-term goals? To work smart, you must carve out time to think.

8. Evaluate and adjust.

Which elements of your plan worked? Which ones did not? Adjust and continuously tweak your strategy. There is always room to improve – those fundraisers who are introspective and identify these opportunities are the ones who get better.

If we said that 100 other miscellaneous tasks will not arise daily, we’d be kidding ourselves. But purposeful, strategic management of your tasks, giving priority to those that lead to gifts, will help you more effectively raise funds for your organization. Get out of your office, meet with your constituents, and secure support that fulfills your organization’s mission.  The keys to success are in your hands!

Four Corners is a basketball play made famous by legendary University of North Carolina coach, Dean Smith. Essentially, four players stand in the corners of the offensive half-court while the fifth dribbles the ball in the middle (see: Diagram A below). The basketball is passed between the point guard in the middle and the four players making up the corners. This “pre-shot clock” strategy— called the Four Corners— is meant to stall a game by denying the defense a chance to regain possession, and ultimately guarantee a lay-up for the point guard. 

Likewise, how can fundraisers guarantee a win in a capital campaign? The answer will make Dean Smith proud: rely on the “Four Corners of a Campaign”: case, leadership, prospects, and plan.


Point Guard (1): You

As the Development Director or Campaign Director, you have the ball and are tasked with managing the capital campaign. It is your job to direct the case for support, volunteer leaders, potential prospects, and overall campaign plan. You oversee all movement from these corners and are constantly analyzing the landscape, or the “basketball court,” to determine where to act next.

Corner (2): Case

After your case elements have been determined, start building the arguments surrounding why this campaign is needed and how you intend to achieve its goal. A strong case for support will always clearly highlight the necessity, not just the desire, to further the mission and work of an organization. The “ball” should be passed back to the case throughout the entire campaign. Once finalized, always revert to the case for support, reminding your organization and donors why these dollars are needed and what you anticipate being the impact.

Corner (3): Leadership

The point guard relies on and guides the leadership in any campaign effort. For true success, the volunteers need to be engaged, regularly updated, and tasked with next steps. Leadership is critical when developing the case and creating and implementing the campaign plan. Campaign leaders and volunteers will also be the main source of interaction and activity with prospects/donors. Passing the ball to campaign leadership, and ensuring they pass the ball to another corner, is critical in campaign movement and will ensure progress.

Corner (4): Prospects

It goes without saying— prospects/donors are the bread and butter of securing dollars. As a prospect moves through the different stages of Moves Management, the point guard/campaign director must always align eyesight with what can be the next Four Corners move. While researching new prospects, or working with long-time donors, always be thinking how the case (Corner) relates to a prospect or could interest them. Perhaps a campaign leader (Corner) has connections with a certain prospect? Or perhaps they could create a unique opportunity or event for a prospect?  While working with prospects (Corners), it is imperative to collaborate quickly and often with the other players on the court.

Corner (5): Plan

The campaign plan and individual division plans are the first things written for a campaign. This is the lifeblood of any project. Every action that happens with the other corners must be checked with the plan to ensure all activity is aligned and driven with the campaign purpose. No matter the stage of the campaign, always revert to the plans for guidance.

The goal of the Four Corners is to always keep the ball moving across the corners and, when executed properly, guarantee the point guard a lay-up.  As complex campaigns take off and begin to maneuver through the strategic offense and defense of fundraising, it is important to continue moving your actions between the case for support, the campaign leadership, the prospects, and the campaign and division plans.

And best of all, there is no shot-clock!

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CCS Philanthropy Pulse

The CCS Philanthropy Pulse survey report provides a window into the fundraising practices of almost 900 organizations based on data collected in late 2021. Check out both our main report and sector-specific spotlights for Arts & Culture, Health, Higher Education, Human Services, Independent Schools, and Religion.

January 25, 2022

Developing the case for support is one of the primary ingredients of a healthy campaign. But what happens when an organization fails to see the importance of laying out specific case elements? This lack of detail reflects poorly on both the project and the organization.

During a request visit, you never want to receive a comment such as, “Why would I invest in a half-baked concept?” Lack of planning, unrealistic fundraising goals, and lack of specificity will lead to poor results and confused, frustrated donors.

Unsurprisingly, ascertaining specific case elements can be the most difficult and challenging part of a fundraising project. But when we skip step one and move on to steps two and three, we create roadblocks and obstacles to success.

The Five Dangers of Not Being Specific:

1. Confusion

Most donor prospects do not want to sift through text to find the true meaning of the campaign; they want a simple cause and effect. “By pledging $XX,XXX, this ‘something’ will happen in our organization.” Without concrete plans, the case is left up to interpretation by donors and volunteers. This confusion leads to a skewed perception of need, misguided vision of future goals, and money left on the table.

2. Money Left on the Table

With confusion comes the potential to leave money on the table. Donors want to have, and should have, a clear understanding of their money’s purpose. A donor may see the need for a campaign but not see the full picture due to lack of detail or sense of need. As a result, that prospect may not feel compelled to stretch his/her dollars and what could have been a $100,000 pledge may become a $45,000 pledge.

3. Case of Want, Not Necessity

Lack of detail can sometimes leave donors thinking an organization has a vision based on wants rather than needs. People give to needs. For example, if a case for support has a $1.5 million goal to renovate ABC School’s building, which of the below sounds like a need versus a want?

  • ABC School is testing a $1.5 million goal to renovate the school building and fulfill our vision for future generations.
  • ABC School is testing a $1.5 million goal to fix the HVAC system in the main school building, update the classrooms by installing computers, and replace the broken tile floors with sustainable Pergo flooring.The first example gives a general idea of what will happen. Often, a Board of Directors will agree on this statement because the school building truly needs renovating and they understand what that involves. However, a prospective alumni donor who is not as close to the project may not know exactly why the school needs renovation. The second example explains exactly what the school needs and conveys a sense of need.  Anyone who reads it can envision a school with no AC, crumbling floors, and no technology.

4. Mixed Messages/Speculation

Drawing from the ABC School example, take a look at how using the first example can lead to mixed messages. That prospective alumni donor may think that renovating his alma mater is a super idea; he wants to support his school and give future students the best opportunities and education possible. When he asks the question: “What renovations are needed,” more often than not, the answer to this question may be “It depends on how much money we raise.” Trained volunteers may leave out a few elements or add in other projects that may occur if enough money is raised. Specific case elements and details help guide the campaign as well as guide the volunteers to help convey the plans of an organization. The two essential questions that need to be answered are what are we raising money for and what is the expected outcome?

5. No Sense of Urgency

A lack of specificity translates to a lack of urgency. If an organization wants to test the idea of a campaign without having specifics, why should a donor feel compelled to give when there is no specific pressing need? Part of the case for support includes defining the situation of today and the need for the future. Combined with a realistic timetable, these two fundamentals will convey that sense of urgency and instill trust in potential donors.

Have you ever found yourself or your organization in any of these dangerous situations? Share your story or any additional dangers you can think of in the comments below.

Leave your comments, email or share your thoughts on LinkedInFacebook or Twitter. Visit CCS’s website to learn more about how CCS is helping extraordinary organizations champion inspirational causes.

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June 8, 2022

Want to be able to spend your time talking to more responsive donors and experience a delightful increase in donations? You should consider integrating prospect research into your fundraising process.

What is prospect research?

Prospect research is a fundraising technique that helps uncover the personal backgrounds, philanthropic histories, wealth markers, and charitable motivations of donors and prospects. It’s used by fundraisers, development teams, and nonprofit organizations in order to evaluate a prospect’s capacity to give (how much money he or she has) and his or her affinity for an organization (desire to give to that specific cause).

The most common use of prospect research is to help discover major gift donors. For most fundraising campaigns, the majority of money raised comes from a small number of donors who give very generously. Finding major gift donors is crucial to fundraising success for nonprofits of all sizes.

Why use prospect research?

Your fundraisers can only call so many people, follow up on so many emails, and meet so many prospects for coffee. With prospect research, nonprofits gain valuable insights that allow them to more accurately choose which donors they should focus on.

The benefits of prospect research include:

  1. Refine major gift outreach – Philanthropy data reveals which annual donors have the capacity and potential affinity to make a major gift.
  2. Identify planned or deferred gift prospects – Consistent annual donors are the most likely to give planned gifts in their wills. Use philanthropic and wealth markers to determine who these annual donors might be.
  3. Generate new prospects – Gain access to the donation lists of similar organizations. Donation lists are a great way to find new prospects, as people who give to similar nonprofits may be more likely to give to your organization, too.
  4. Assess fundraising opportunities – View previous giving histories to see who prospects give to, how often, and how much money they donate. Your nonprofit can analyze donors at a glance to formulate better fundraising strategies in order to land more major gifts.
  5. Clean up your donor data – The receipt of all of this donor information is a great chance to clean up your old data. Update donor information, fill in missing fields, and take the opportunity to organize your data so that it’s easy-to-use for your fundraisers.

Specific benefits will vary by the type of nonprofit. For instance, hospitals can use prospect screenings to find the major gift donors among their constant influxes and departures of patients.

What data do nonprofits receive?

Unfortunately, you won’t learn what brand of refrigerator your prospects use. I know, how people chill their food can be a great predictor of how chill they are in social situations, but prospect research focuses on data that helps nonprofits to make better fundraising decisions.

Data gained from prospect research includes:

  • Previous nonprofit donations – Past gifts to your nonprofit are the best predictors of future major gift prospects. Donations to similar nonprofits also indicate prospects who may be apt to give to you, and, eventually, in a big way.
  • Political gifts – Donations to political campaigns and causes demonstrate an affinity for prospects to give to the causes they care about.
  • Nonprofit service – Prospects who serve on nonprofit boards and foundations not only tend to have money, but they know the needs of nonprofits and should be more inclined to give.
  • Real estate ownership – The monetary value of real estate is a wealth predictor, demonstrating a prospect’s capacity to give, so you can formulate more accurate ask amounts.
  • Employer info – Many prospects work for employers that offer matching gift programs, some of which are interestingly unique. Focusing on matching gift eligible employees can result in doubled donations, which can be an added boost to your fundraising campaigns.
  • Stock transactions – Another wealth predictor, you’ll know what prospects invest in and how much.
  • Personal information – Glean basic contact info, marital status, hobbies, and other personal data that can make fundraising easier.

How do nonprofits conduct prospect research?

Prospect research is generally conducted in one of three ways:

  1. Do it yourself – It’s best to conduct prospect research on your own when you have a researcher or team of researchers on staff. They’ll know how to search databases, organize information, and make it accessible to your fundraising team. There are a ton of online databases and other sources of information to sift through, so it is important to equip your researchers with the proper tools.
  2. Prospect research consultant – A good prospect research consultant will leverage all available resources to gather the donor data you want. Consultants might also help to train your staff about prospect research, develop better prospect strategies, and support your communications with prospects.
  3. Prospect screening company – Screening companies, who sometimes refer to themselves as prospect research companies, will screen prospects for you, saving researchers time from sifting through databases and organizing the data themselves. Screening companies provide the donor information you want in easily accessible and downloadable formats. They’re great for researching a bulk of donors at once, as screening results can be returned the next day or within the week, allowing your researchers and fundraisers to focus on other important tasks.

The method your nonprofit chooses might be a combination of these strategies. Conducting prospect research is about asking yourself how much you’d like to invest in finding major gift prospects. Typically, the money raised from major gifts is more than worth the cost of prospect research. Be sure to choose the approach that best fits your available resources and fundraising needs.

Prospect research puts the power of data into the hands of nonprofits. Not only can the data directly aid fundraising, but it can help other nonprofit efforts, such as strengthening donor relations. Whatever you use prospect research for, it’s more data at your organization’s disposal, and we all know that, when it comes to crafting the types of personal communications that donors will actually respond to, knowledge is power.

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August 2, 2022

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July 26, 2022

At the heart of fundraising are our donors. Thus, the most fundamental component of a successful development effort is having a broad pool of prospective donors and prioritizing your limited resources to focus on the right donors, at the right time, for the right amount.

Developing new prospects and expanding your donor pipeline can be accomplished with a three-stage process we call raising your organization’s “donor IQs”: identifying (I) prospects for your pipeline, qualifying (Q) them, and ultimately segmenting (S) them to determine how to engage them.

I – Identifying Prospects

We can group our prospects into three distinct buckets. This is useful for prioritizing individuals in order to qualify and segment them appropriately.

  • Prospects: Existing and lapsed donors
  • Suspects: Individuals who have a connection to your organization, but have yet to give
  • Unknown Prospects: Individuals who are not yet affiliated with your organization

Q – Qualifying Prospects (The Three A’s)

Ask yourself the following questions when attempting to determine the quality of a potential prospect.

  1. Does this individual have the ability to give?
  2. Does this individual have affinity towards my organization?
  3. Do I have access to this individual?

To answer these questions, think about the following in terms of your prospect:

  • Ability: Affluent address(es), wealthy lifestyle, corporate executive or business owner
  • Affinity: Giving history to your organization or a similar one, or a direct connection to your organization because the individual is a patron, student, alum, patient, parishioner, etc.
  • Access: Connection to the prospect via professional networks, local communities, alumni organizations, religious affiliations, philanthropic activities, interest groups, family or friends

Prospects with all three factors – ability, affinity, and access – are the most likely to make a gift at the leadership level to your organization.

With this in mind, there are some groups of people who naturally do not make great prospects at this time in their lives. For example, CEOs that are young and new to the position are still early in their careers and probably do not have the ability to be a major donor. Additionally, when people are overcommitted philanthropically, they may not prioritize your organization in their giving choices. Lastly, celebrities may seem like a good choice, but are approached by a range of organizations and are unlikely to choose yours. It is important that we spend our time on prospects that have the greatest propensity for supporting your organization at a major gift level.

S – Segmenting and Tracking Prospects

Segmenting and tracking prospects is the foundation for managing the donor base. When done well, it drives a multitude of positive results, such as refreshing the prospect pool, focusing our efforts on the right prospects, controlling the process, and building excitement around our organization. The first step in tracking prospects is building the donor pipeline. The pipeline will serve as your tool for generating the donor lists for cultivation. We recommend including the following data points in the pipeline:

  • Name
  • Solicitation status (Ask, Brief, Cultivate)
  • Target ask and project
  • Key relationships
  • Affiliations
  • Strategy
  • Next steps

Other pieces of information may be useful, such as residence and contact information, organizational giving history, pledge payment status, charitable affiliations and other major gifts. Of course, the additional information should be tailored to your specific organization or sector.

The donors in the pipeline should be segmented into three main buckets:

  • High: Top 25 list; Leadership/strategic solicitations; “Players on the field”
  • Medium: Next 50 list; “Players on the bench”
  • Low: Unlimited number; Long-range list; “The farm team”

The pipeline is your best way to manage a large pool of prospects. When used well, it can be a powerful tool for understanding your donors and helping the staff to engage them in a meaningful way. It is a fluid, ever-changing document that is constantly being updated and added to. Managing prospects can be an exciting endeavor as you reconnect with lapsed donors, engage existing donors on a higher level, or find new donors with affinity for your organization.

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July 22, 2020

A capital campaign is a transformational moment for your school. By effectively engaging your board of trustees, you empower some of your most important friends and donors to help you succeed. When you bring your board “on board,” your campaign will galvanize your school’s community, connect with your volunteer leadership, build a culture of philanthropy, inspire and motivate your donors, and implement your vision for the future.

A culture of philanthropy is one of the most important indicators of success in fundraising, especially when considering the involvement of your board. What does a philanthropic culture look like?

  • Everyone has contact with donors, not just development staff.
  • Development costs are seen as an investment in your school’s future, not just another line item.
  • Donors receive informational reports in addition to recognition. They feel like important insiders.
  • Personalized communication has replaced boilerplates. Donors’ interests and issue areas of focus are kept in mind.
  • More time is allocated to keeping donors than to acquiring new ones.

For your school to develop a culture like this, it is necessary to start at the top with the board of trustees. A board is responsible for three main arenas for a school: the strategy and direction, or mission and values; oversight and accountability, especially in financial matters; and participation, ensuring the school has the resources it needs to do its work. With this oversight, it is important that the Board accept that philanthropy has a vital role in advancing the school’s mission, then define that role and integrate it into the strategic plan. Once it is considered an essential part of the school’s strategy, communicating that importance becomes much easier.

Another important part of building a culture of philanthropy on the Board and throughout the school is ensuring that board members actually give each year, and especially during a campaign. Board members are the leaders of the school and they should be among the first to give. The BoardSource Nonprofit Governance Index from 2012 shows that nearly 75% of nonprofits report a 90-100% giving rate by board members, and that only 64% of nonprofits require contributions from board members. 100% participation from your board members should be an expectation! Since your Board makes up your closest friends and strongest supporters, a demonstration of financial support is essential in making your philanthropic case to others.

Beyond making their own gifts, both in annual giving and especially during a capital campaign, board members are critical fundraising partners. As the volunteer group closest to the organization, their own participating in fundraising efforts sends a clear signal of commitment to others. In the solicitation process, they bring credibility and are one of the strongest voices of support for the organization. During a campaign, board members can play many essential roles:

  • Identify, evaluate, and cultivate prospects
  • Attend events
  • Advocate for the case and articulate compelling arguments for support
  • Explain the reasons for the campaign
  • Introduce new potential donors and open doors
  • Invite friends to events
  • Provide leadership in giving and financial expectations of board members
  • Serve as solicitors
  • Host special events
  • Thank donors

In order to involve the board in all these ways in a campaign, you will need to convince them that all of the above is true – that their participation is critical to the campaign’s success, and that their support will inspire the support of many others. Some important messages that they should hear from the development office and the Head of School include:

  • We can’t do this without you.
  • This is necessary for the school’s future.
  • Thank you for your leadership!
  • This campaign will change the lives of our students.
  • If not you, who?
  • Your gift and participation will bring in many more gifts.

Once your board members know how important their role can be and are eager to be involved, they will need some training coaching to determine the best role for each member. Involve everyone in reviewing prospect lists for connections, and then determine the best possible fit for each board member. When it comes to coaching board members who are doing solicitations, remember:

  • Provide specific action items so they have a clear idea of what is expected of them
  • Support them before, during, and after each solicitation they are involved in
  • Train your board members as you would any other solicitor
  • Provide resources: fundraising priorities, case statement, financial goals, brochure, proposal, talking points, gift table, background information, and training on how to handle objections or answer difficult questions

By taking a thoughtful approach to involving your board of trustees in a capital campaign, you will be able to make your most important group of supporters your biggest advocates. When you take the time to foster a culture of philanthropy at your school, you can turn gratitude and passion into dependable giving. Your board members are your most significant partners, and with their leadership and support, your campaign is certain to achieve success.

How is your organization successfully working with its board members on capital campaigns?

Comment below, email or share your ideas on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. To learn more, visit CCS’s website and view highlights from recent schools projects to learn more about how CCS is helping extraordinary independent and private schools fund facilities, innovations & futures.