Historically, the traditional fundraising campaign has been the vehicle of choice for nonprofits to energise the community and secure significant philanthropic commitments. Campaigning raises more money, creates excitement, provides a rationale to support giving, and demonstrates what donations will accomplish.
Sounds like a good idea, right? Not so fast. Traditional campaigns undoubtedly provide tremendous benefits to those organisations that run them well. Yet many nonprofits focus too much on the five-year horizon of a campaign and forget to consider what happens when the campaign is over. You have surpassed your goal and celebrated your success. Now what? If you have not planned ahead, it is likely that your post-campaign fundraising revenue will drop to pre-campaign levels. While you funded the greatest needs of your institution, you neglected the overall health of the nonprofit by failing to create sustainable growth.
Consider an Alternative Campaign Approach
To mitigate the traditional post-campaign lull, alternative fundraising campaign designs are becoming more common. Some organisations never stop campaigning, taking a perpetual approach with decade-long funding initiatives and back-to-back traditional campaigns. Others employ smaller and shorter mini-campaigns to continually target specific funding priorities, or to simply bridge between traditional efforts. Some organisations are scrapping the traditional campaign altogether, instituting a “never” campaigning approach where targeted gift requests are built into “business-as-usual” fundraising.
While these campaign designs have separate benefits and risks, they all share one common element – the flexibility to pivot strategy to accommodate shifting donor desires, community needs, and institutional priorities. As the COVID-19 pandemic endures, this adaptability is particularly important given the changing philanthropic landscape. Economic volatility, new legislation, evolving trends, societal interests, and institutional leadership changes are just a few of the challenges that you may face in the coming months and years. Don’t get stuck in a campaign that restricts funding to a singular and rigid initiative. Consider a single project as one of your campaign funding priorities, not the only one.
Don’t Forget the Annual Fund
Regardless of campaign design, make sure you pay attention to your annual fund at the start. Consider growing your annual fund as one of your campaign goals or as a parallel strategic initiative. Focus on bringing in new donors and new dollars. Cultivate and upgrade your smaller gifts. Prioritise stewardship. These gifts may take years to cultivate, but by the end of your campaign you should see an increased fundraising baseline, a softened post-campaign revenue dip, and a secure fundraising future for your organisation.
Campaigning is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, and traditional campaigning may remain the best fit for your organisation. However, campaign timing and design should be grounded in the financial needs, strategic initiatives, and specific culture of each organisation. The key is to remain flexible to changing priorities and community needs while addressing the traditional post-campaign revenue decline. Appropriate campaign design alongside a deliberate approach to building and sustaining relationships will ensure that your organisation is in the best position to raise more money while growing sustainably.