There comes a time in the life of most organizations when strategic or infrastructure funding needs cannot be ignored, and they are too overwhelming to handle through the operating budget or financing. A capital campaign is born! A case is written! Some early gifts—from Board members and others in your inner circle—roll in. And then…Silence. Confusion. Apathy. Whether the project is upgrading technology, renovating an aging but adequate facility or creating a special endowment fund, the broader audience just doesn’t “get it.”
Here are some reasons that campaigns and their case statements often miss the mark and what you can do to mitigate these challenges:
- The project directly serves only a portion of the organization’s stakeholders. Consider an independent school that is enhancing its athletic fields and approaching all parents, including those of non-athletes, for support. The argument here is that exceptional facilities make the school more valued and help it to attract outstanding students. Therefore, the case should leverage the school’s value proposition first and foremost and should position the athletic project as a means to an end.
- The project is important for the organization internally but its stakeholders do not receive a tangible benefit from it. An organization would like to upgrade certain technology in order to work more efficiently, but its audience will never see, touch or use this equipment. Again, the institution is essentially asking for an investment in its mission, so the case should talk about the broader impact, which will be enhanced through the new equipment.
- The project is easy to justify intellectually but has not been presented from an emotional standpoint. A community center is conducting renovations to enhance accessibility—a goal which everyone can agree is worthy. But what does “more accessible” mean in terms of how the building will be used and who will be able to use it? What is the vision for what can be done in the future that cannot be done now? Rather than merely explaining the problem, the case should paint a picture of a solution that everyone can embrace.
- The project is critical to the organization’s long-term financial sustainability, but it isn’t “sexy.” Consider a college or university with needs that far outpace its general operating budget. It has to stay competitive and current and provide its students with the highest quality education while keeping tuition costs down. Building an endowment secures an organization’s future by providing a consistent source of annual revenue and a reserve fund in times of emergency; it also demonstrates sound financial practices. Instead of writing a case about the importance of building endowment, speak to the impact that educated and prepared students can have on the economic and cultural viability of your larger community.
- The project is just too big, too bold, too complicated to comprehend. Organizations often seize the moment and launch a capital campaign that includes everything and the kitchen sink. It’s no surprise that donors become overwhelmed and have difficulty digesting all the elements of the case. Try breaking the case down into manageable pieces by writing one-page case statements for each component, and use the appropriate segment(s) based on a donor’s interests and inclinations.