Things are getting back to some sort of normal on most college campuses. Classes are in-person, on-campus lectures are well-attended, and stadiums are full.
That also means that higher education fundraising is ramping up again. Inside Higher Ed reports that there is a resurgence of university capital campaigns. And these aren’t small campaigns.
Yale University is aiming to raise $7 billion, its largest campaign target to date. Brown University surpassed its $3 billion dollar goal and has pushed their date back and their target up. Other recent campaign announcements include Cornell University for $5 billion, Drake University for $225 million, Texas State University for $250 million, and many more.
During the pandemic, many universities pivoted to raise funds for their emergency or student relief funds to aid students who needed help paying for food, housing, and other expenses. But now, with the pandemic woes behind them, they are marching forward to better and brighter times.
If I had to wager a guess, I would say that this trend will prove true for the broader nonprofit world as well. As Amir Pasic, dean of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy said, “I sense a return of energy after the pandemic, when everyone hunkered down a bit and was nervous about fundraising too aggressively.”
As campaigns come back in full force, here are some insights to keep in mind for your next campaign.
- To campaign or not to campaign?
You, as the leader of your organization, need to assess if a campaign is the right move for you. You need to ask yourself the right questions. For example, do you have the organizational bandwidth to take on a fundraising campaign? Do you have a strategy? What is your need? Do you have a compelling case? What about donors? Do you have enough, and do they have sufficient capacity?
This is where a feasibility study comes in. The first stage in any feasibility study is a development audit. Before you can determine where to go or how to get there (i.e., the details of the campaign itself), you need to know where you are. This is what a thorough and honest audit will tell you. It will give you clarity on donor composition, communications, cultivation, acquisition, operations, and more. Moreover, it can be an invaluable tool to determine if your staff is on the same page. How do you talk about the organization? How does your staff talk about it? Does everyone (donors and board included) have a clear understanding of the mission? These are important things to know before you launch a major organizational initiative.
- Bottom-up planning
This brings me to my second point: bottom-up planning. This is of the utmost importance. Many nonprofit leaders, when thinking about planning a campaign, may feel like it all comes down to them. “I need to plan everything,” you may think.
Don’t fall into this trap. You will burn out as a leader, and—more to the point—it will frustrate your team. Learn the power of bottom-up planning. You, as the leader, cast the vision. Then lean on your team to help you identify realistic (but ambitious!) targets and the strategies to achieve them. Push them to aim for lofty goals but at the end of the day, remember that they are the ones on the ground with the local knowledge
Finally, campaigns require grit. Campaigns are not things to be taken lightly (hence why you’ve done so much planning!). Nonprofit leaders need to be able to channel their passion for their mission into a clear vision. That vision will be the basis for making strategic decisions and it can motivate staff and donors to make that vision a reality.
As we know from experience, a global pandemic or any number of other challenges might crop up at a moment’s notice. Nonprofit leadership needs to have grit—undergirded by rigorous planning—to make their campaigns a success no matter what might be thrown their way.
As campaigns come back throughout the nonprofit world, make a commitment to thoroughly plan your next campaign. And, if you need a hand, we’ll be here to help!
At American Philanthropic we help nonprofits grow and advance their missions. Are you preparing for a capital campaign? Feel free to be in touch by email! I would love to discuss your goals and plans and how we can help ensure you have a successful capital campaign.