Planning for a major gifts campaign can be a thrilling endeavor. The organizational work that precedes active fundraising is critical to setting a strong foundation for a campaign. This begins with the early, quiet leadership gifts phase to confirm pace-setting and attract momentum-building gifts. The official announcement of a public phase is then made to engage a school’s entire community with the aim of bringing the campaign to or over goal. It is this specific moment – “going public” – that causes many school leaders, board members, and fundraising professionals the most anxiety. However, by focusing on a few key elements of the campaign, beyond the amount of money raised, most campaigns will be prepared and well positioned for a successful public launch.
What Does Going Public Mean?
Formally, we define “going public” as the public announcement of a fundraising campaign and the initiation of gift requests to all parents, alumni, grandparents, and friends. More specifically, “going public” is the moment when a campaign reaches key milestones and benchmarks including exhausting the leadership and major prospective donor pools, building a significant amount of momentum and excitement internally and externally, and knowing that achieving the goal is more reality than conjecture.
Important First Steps
Most schools approach their campaign announcement and public phase primarily focused on the following steps:
1) Raise initial funds
2) Hit a predetermined goal
3) Make the public announcement
4) Raise the additional funds needed to meet the campaign goal
On its face, this strategy is straightforward and logical. A school would only announce its campaign goal if it was absolutely sure it would be successful. The reality, however, is that a campaign needs a strong foundation and infrastructure beyond the funds raised before going public. There are many reasons why a school would want its campaign to have a strong foundation and infrastructure but two stand out as the most critical. A campaign public phase 1) increases the scrutiny and desire for information from school leadership and the community, and 2) is characterized by a large influx of gifts of all sizes, requiring trained staff and a working database for accurate tracking and acknowledgement. Looking beyond the obvious concern of whether a sufficient amount of money has been raised, there are three key components every school should have in place before beginning a campaign’s public phase:
1) A complete case for support
2) An organized volunteer base and structure
3) A communications and marketing strategy
A Complete Case for Support
Having a solid case for support is intuitive but occasionally the case document or the correlating suite of materials is not as complete or robust as needed for a campaign public phase. School leadership must ensure that the campaign collateral – beyond the case statement itself – are ready for publication and dissemination. All campaigns should have:
- A campaign name or theme
- Clarity on all campaign projects and initiatives including benefits and associated costs
- Various iterations of the case for support (long-form narrative; digital)
- One- and two-page summaries
- Infographics, video, and other visual elements as determined by the needs of their prospective donors.
Regular meetings and opportunities for the board, campaign leadership, and volunteers to engage with staff on the case for support will help to answer important questions and ensure consistency of message.
Cincinnati Country Day School—a coeducational private school in Ohio—used the creation of its case for support to address a number of important issues. In its most recent campaign case materials, the school acknowledged the importance and impact of gifts to previous capital initiatives. Having satisfied their desire to steward previous campaign donors, school leadership also included examples of how gifts to the current campaign were positively affecting change and benefitting students and faculty. Add to this messaging a simple, powerful campaign theme, a well-designed case statement, and well-detailed campaign initiatives, and Cincinnati Country Day School was more than prepared to announce its campaign with a solid suite of materials.
An Organized Volunteer Base
By the time a school has reached its public campaign announcement, it is imperative that the volunteer leadership is organized and prepared. Board and campaign leadership should have approved the timing and plans for going public, as well as the broader public phase efforts. Constituency-based volunteer groups – class or division committees, alumni committee, grandparents committee etc. – should be
recruited, convened, and given specific tasks or assignments. Having volunteers ready will help the school capitalize on the excitement generated by the public announcement. Ongoing training and staff support for volunteer outreach efforts will be an important factor in their success. Since the development staff will be supporting all of this activity, they must be prepared as well with clearly defined tasks and responsibilities for the public announcement and fundraising phase.
Communications & Marketing Strategy
The public announcement should be guided by a thoughtful, holistic, coordinated communications and marketing strategy. The strategy can be broken down into three phases: pre-public announcement, the announcement itself, and post-announcement through the campaign closing. The messaging leading up to the public announcement should confirm the goals, projects, initiatives, etc. that have been achieved and the positive effect they have had on students and faculty. The public announcement itself will need to be crafted so that it matches the tone of the launch event. Once the public announcement is made, the campaign must be prepared to act quickly to maximize the post-announcement activity. This means selecting powerful program examples, success stories and donor testimonials in advance to share with the broader school community. Everyone should be hearing regularly about the campaign through various platforms – mailings, social media, direct emails from the headmaster – including the launch of the “donate now” button on the school website or campaign microsite.
With the appropriate time to organize and plan for a major gifts campaign, most schools will initiate their quiet leadership gifts phase with the framework of these three elements – a solid case for support, organized volunteer base, and communications and marketing strategy – in place. As the campaign progresses and gifts are confirmed, the pathway to achieving the goal becomes more clear, and the details of when (and how) to “go public” solidify, school and campaign leadership together with development staff can rest easy in the knowledge that they are truly prepared for the resulting increase of activity and gifts that is indicative of a campaign in its public phase.
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