By Peter Fissinger, President and CEO, Campbell & Company
I was recently asked by a campaign volunteer whether I thought the uncertainty in the stock market would affect her organization’s ability to secure leadership gifts. In another meeting, a board member asked me whether the “huge” money being contributed to presidential campaigns would impact his organization’s ability to reach its fundraising goal.
First, let’s consider these interesting questions on their own merits:
Assuming an organization is well positioned for a major campaign, a correction in the stock market similar to what we have seen in the last 4-6 weeks should not impact the majority of leadership gift solicitations. In our experience at Campbell & Company, which now includes 40 years of history, the “Great Recession” of 2008 is the only time we found that a recession or stock market correction forced our well prepared clients to postpone or table their campaign plans. It is possible a client may have a small number of donors who postpone gift decisions, but this is typical even when the stock market is rising in value.
Except in the rarest of circumstances, a presidential election (and the contributions made during the cycle) will not impact major gift solicitations. The numbers simply don’t add up: In the 2012 election cycle, the FEC estimates that a total of $7 billion was spent by candidates, parties and outside groups. Meanwhile, Giving USA reminds us that Americans continue to give in excess of $350 billion to nonprofit organizations every year.
These perfectly reasonable questions lead us to a much broader point: There’s always something. Our campaigns don’t unfold in the conference rooms in which we plan them. They happen in the world, in the lives of organizations and communities that are always changing.
In the normal course of a several-year campaign, you are all but guaranteed to face some, perhaps several, of the following:
Economic recessions and stock market corrections
Election cycles and meaningful changes in political conditions
Major international events and natural disasters that capture attention, including philanthropic attention
Leadership transitions, staff changes, an unexpectedly tough budget year, and countless other internal events
When campaigns succeed, it’s not because they somehow avoid these kinds of circumstances. They succeed because they are well prepared and well executed.
So what does “well prepared” mean? Here are few key fundamentals to remember:
A compelling strategic vision for the organization (frequently arising from a recent strategic plan)
A clear and well-vetted case for philanthropic support
A thorough assessment of “campaign readiness,” including meaningful engagement of key volunteers and donors, as well as internal assessment of fundraising effectiveness, staffing and systems
Analytics to determine the giving capacity and identify gaps in the gift table
A written campaign plan that includes goal(s), timeline, fundraising strategy and budget
A strong and highly engaged volunteer leadership group
Unanimous support from the board and executive leadership including clear understanding of their own roles and responsibilities
True enthusiasm for the campaign throughout the organization
We (at Campbell & Company) have found these fundamentals to be critical to campaign success. When executed properly, an organization can overcome significant unforeseen obstacles and still succeed in its campaign efforts.
I believe the “Great Recession” had such significant impact on our economy and on major gift fundraising that we may still be recovering psychologically. The longer term experience indicates organizations can succeed in campaigns, regardless of multiple obstacles, if they are well prepared and determined. So let’s remember the fundamentals.