“And They’re Off!” Starting Your Campaign Right

If you’re a racehorse, the starting gate can be a scary place. It’s just barely wide enough to squeeze into. The air is filled with commotion as jockeys and gate crew coax the shy, prod the stubborn, and calm the anxious. When all the horses are finally poised and looking straight ahead everything quiets down for a just moment… Bang! The gate flies open and they’re off—galloping to the finish line with all their might! With the right trainer and plenty of practice, horses eventually learn the “ins and outs” of gate etiquette and how to break fast and clean. Races can be won and lost at the gate.

Just like a horse race, a clean start is essential for your capital campaign. Prepare well so you don’t get stuck in the gate or stumble in your first steps. Between the conclusion of your pre-campaign/feasibility study and launching the quiet/leadership phase, there is typically a period of reflecting on the study results, deciding the best path forward, establishing the campaign size and scope, and developing your plan and strategy. This foundational or preparatory phase can take a month, three months, or more. Some organizations even prepare for a year to launch their campaign.

You should address at least these five items during this preparatory phase before you launch your campaign.

Campaign Organizational Structure
A great start depends on great leaders. Recruit your campaign chair(s), along with additional sub-committee directors, assign staff and board roles, and provide training and orientation for your steering committee. Strong volunteer leadership is the heartbeat of every successful capital campaign. It is critically important to carefully select and properly train your campaign leadership.

Campaign Timeline and Calendar
Concurrently with committee organization, you should establish a realistic timeline for the campaign. Start with key dates such as the launch of the quiet phase, benchmarks for the transition into the public phase, kick-off events, dedication or ribbon cutting ceremony, projected end of the campaign pledge period, and moving into pledge fulfillment. Realize that your timeline is a guide that should remain fluid and subject to change.

Campaign Theme
Every campaign needs a catchy, compelling theme that projects growth, change, fulfilling your vision, enlarging your footprint, and moving forward. Add a tagline and find just the right scripture reference. This campaign theme will help your steering committee and leadership “define” the campaign to your constituency and community.

Material Development
Create some persuasive collateral materials to help tell your ministry story. Generally, if you conducted a pre-campaign study, you already have a compelling case statement which shares your vision. Make any edits to strengthen your case and convert it into an “ask” piece, or gift proposal. Develop a “Frequently Asked Questions” document, commitment card, letterhead, stationery, and thank you notes. Prepare a campaign video to use in your public phase.

Your “Top 100” Donor List
This is the most important step of all. You cannot raise money until you know whom you will talk to. Ask these questions: Who has the capacity for a 7-figure leadership gift? Who can provide a large 6-figure mega gift? Who are our friends who can give $25,000, $50,000 or more to our campaign? Who should be on our Top 10/Next 20 list? Developing this top 100 list is extremely important. Don’t rush the process. The time you spend researching your donors now will pay off in the end.

And You’re Off!
As you evaluate your team, you may need to coax the shy, prod the stubborn, and calm the anxious. But when your leadership, board, and staff are finally poised and looking straight ahead—Bang! You’re off to the races! Pray fervently, recruit well, plan carefully, and run hard!


About the Author: Kent Vanderwood, Vice President – Kent offers clients over 35 years of non-profit experience including teaching, administrative, consulting, and directorships. Through his work as Development Director for The Potter’s House, Gospel Communications International, and Mel Trotter Ministries, Kent brings a wealth of experience in fundraising and development. He currently serves as a board member for the West Michigan chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). His passion for seeing Christian stewardship principles applied in a systematic way helps the non-profit organization or ministry be successful in fulfilling its mission.

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