Checklist: Questions the Governing Board Must Ask Before Launching a Fundraising Campaign

empty board room

Series: Creating the Conditions for Support

Everyone is trying to raise more money. Rather than simply suggest the next tactic that can boost giving in the short-term, this series offers a more intensive look at the strategic thinking that drives philanthropic support: Why do donors give? How do institutions strengthen their core and emphasize initiatives worthy of support? How do we align strategic plans, strengths, and advancement strategy to create the conditions for ongoing and sustained support? In this series, distinguished current and past chief advancement officers apply their most innovative and creative thinking to this question.

Previously in this series:
Why Donors Give: It's Not What You Think
More than Dollars: How Many Opportunities are You Missing with Your Alumni?
Engaging Women in Philanthropy: Practical Ways to Shift Our Approach

by Jim Langley, Langley Innovations

In the course of running three university campaigns, and in guiding dozens more as a consultant, I have seen virtually every college or university fall short of its full fundraising potential. This occurs both because of competing assumptions by various institutional leaders about the keys to success and therefore, the strategies and tactics that are most likely to produce it, and because institutional leaders often fail to ask the pivotal questions before launching a campaign.

As campaigns meet or exceed their dollar goals, who asks if the money was raised in the most expeditious and cost-effective manner, placed the institution on stronger strategic foundations, served to broaden or deepen constituent relations, or rendered a significant return to the community or society? Many presidents or fundraisers move on to more lucrative positions after a campaign, and consultants celebrate client victories to secure more clients, but who takes stock of what actually happened to the institution? What successes can continue to be leveraged for greater institutional momentum? What deficiencies were revealed, and how can they be mitigated? Which of them are most consequential and need to be addressed quickly?

Who bears the responsibility for asking the right questions before, during, and after a comprehensive campaign?

The answer is clear: those with the greatest fiduciary responsibility, the board members. A fiduciary, after all, is one charged with the safekeeping and management of a trust or asset, so a full strategic assessment of the state of that asset must be conducted before and after a campaign.

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