Making Your Campaign Successful

Meeting campaign goals in this economy remains a challenge, and recent news emphasizes how few institutions are exceeding campaign goals this year (a very different story than in 2007-08). Many institutions are just barely meeting their goals:

  • Pace University recently celebrated the close of a seven-year capital campaign with a $100 million goal; the amount raised: $101.1 million
  • Carleton College closed a $300 million campaign last month; the amount raised: $300.4 million

The Cygnus Donor Survey (pdf link) released this summer also speaks to the continuing reticence of major donors. In this philanthropic climate, how can institutional development officers plan an effective campaign?

We turned to Jim Langley, founder and president of Langley Innovations, and past vice president of advancement at Georgetown University, for his advice on campaign strategies during the recession.

Fundraising by Objective

While it is common to invite funding to meet dollar goals for particular categories of institutional needs (e.g., financial aid, endowing faculty, programmatic initiatives), Langley suggests that in this philanthropic climate, it is essential to fundraise by objective, not by category:

  • An example of funding a category: setting a dollar amount to raise for financial aid
  • An example of funding a strategic objective: identifying an enrollment target, the number of students you want to add from a particular underrepresented class over the next five years (and what it will cost to get there)

"Donors are looking to make a more targeted investment than ever before. Talk with donors about a series of compelling, practical, forward-looking, achievable objectives."
Jim Langley, Langley Innovations

Langley suggests that many of your donors may prove "skittish" about giving to the endowment, but may be eager to give if you have objectives that involve cost containment. Donors need their gifts to contribute toward a meaningful goal; they are looking for opportunities to make the greatest difference with their constrained resources.

For example, if you approach your donors and say that you need funding for financial aid but you don't add that you are also planning to cap tuition, then donors will be more reticent. "They will be thinking, 'Oh, you're just going to keep up with the demand, and my gift won't make much of a difference.' However," Langley notes, "if you can bring a cap and then ratchet up financial aid, this looks as though you are going to actually cut into the need. Donors will feel that their gifts are making a difference, moving toward a target."

"Donors in this environment are asking, 'Show me a problem I can solve with my dollars, show me a long-term benefit. Then I can feel good about my gift.'"
Jim Langley, Langley Innovations

Langley offers two scenarios to illustrate how fundraising by objective can capture the imaginations of your donor base.

Scenario 1: The Green Campaign

"Imagine if a university or college could say: We have defined concrete ways to reduce energy costs, and in so doing, we'll be able to contribute as an institution to reduction of global warming. Through these steps, we will become a more sustainable university and at the same time contain or reduce our energy costs," Langley says. "Then we will redirect those savings into financial aid and create a series of sustainability-funded scholarships. So we are going to drive down costs, contribute to reduction of global warming, we are going to quantify a savings amount, and redirect it into another issue our donors care about." Talk with your donors about specific steps toward making this happen, and ask for their assistance with the initial, one-time costs.

Langley notes that donors often cite four barriers to giving:

1. "I have already paid enough in tuition."
2. "The money seems to go into a black hole."
3. "They don't really need the money."
4. "They haven't really made an emotional connection with me."

This scenario addresses all of these barriers. In this case, you are asking donors to give to your institution to help you drive down operating costs, reduce the bottom line, and make it possible to fund more scholarships. "You don't sound entitled or indifferent to the financial struggles of your constituents," Langley comments. "Instead, you're saying that given this new economic environment and these new challenges, you have a strategy to redirect your limited resources by driving down costs, and you need the donors' help."

Scenario 2: Fighting Cancer

Langley notes that Washington, D.C. has the highest mortality rate for cancer in the US, and that African-American women are the most adversely affected. This demographic actually has a lower incidence of cancer but a higher likelihood of dying from it because of a lack of robust early detection. "Let's say that a local university with a cancer research center announces its intent to drive the mortality down. That university could create a fundraising initiative to reach out to the community through black churches, beauty parlors, other gathering places. The message is that 'we can make a difference in our city.' The gift isn't just about the university's needs. It's about imagining together how we can better serve this community in very concrete ways."

"Convey that the university is not a place you give to but a place you give through, in order to achieve specific objectives. Don't say to the philanthropist, 'Help us.' Say, 'We're working together for a common cause.'"
Jim Langley, Langley Innovations

Canvass Your Alumni

"The key is research. To identify the right objectives, you need to know what issues resonate with the largest percentage of your donor base."
Jim Langley, Langley Innovations

For example, canvass your alumni and identify where their volunteer hours are spent. Learn what causes and what issues they are giving to, and then look for places where your goals are aligned. Find the opportunities that are presented when the community has an unmet need that your alumni care about and that your institution has the skills to address.

"Then," Langley remarks, "when you approach donors for their help in covering the initial costs, you aren't competing with other worthy causes, you are collaborating."