Gaining approval and building momentum in fundraising campaigns

Nov 10, 2016

Fundraising campaigns are vital to the sustainability of nonprofit organizations, and a significant amount of planning must take place prior to the campaign’s launch to help ensure success. In addition, once a campaign is in progress, organizations must understand the importance of capitalizing on momentum and further engaging not only donors, but also key volunteers and employees. With proper measures in place, your organization can enhance the effectiveness of current capital campaigns, while also building a foundation for future initiatives.    

RSM US LLP recently held a Strategies for a successful fundraising campaign webinar series to help nonprofit organizations understand and overcome capital campaign challenges. In this article, the last of a three-part Muse series, we examine how to get the green light for a campaign and how to build and maintain momentum. The first article examined strategies to lay the groundwork for an effective fundraising campaign, while the second article provided insight into properly managing accounting, risk and technology.

Presenting your plan

Your campaign operating plan is your blueprint for fundraising success. Your development staff, and potentially outside counsel, should develop this document from feasibility studies and due diligence exercises completed prior to the campaign. It should reflect the activity and progress you have completed before launching the campaign, and align with the overall business plan.

The campaign operating plan should include the overarching strategy and goals for the campaign, as well as an organizational chart that identifies key individuals and relationships. The organizational chart should include detailed roles and responsibilities for the key parties in the campaign, starting with the board and then including staff (including any new positions), volunteers and any outside counsel.

The plan should also include a quarterly timeline during the solicitation period of the campaign, as well as a monthly task summary for at least the outset of the campaign. As opportunities present themselves, you can react and adjust any tasks as needed. In addition, the plan must provide a detailed revenue and expense budget.

During planning, your organization must develop financial projections, including pledged commitment attainment and cash flow and fulfillment. In this process, discount your anticipated gifts and what you will probably attain, while establishing a reserve for pledges.

If you have not developed a formal business plan, you can likely seek assistance from a board member, or leverage templates that are available on the internet. Your business plan is your road map, including an executive summary, the target audience, benefits of the campaign, a financial plan with cash flow and the decision factors that led you to move forward with the campaign.

Handling the unexpected

Capital campaigns can often feel like a roller coaster, with slow climbs followed big excitement, and numerous twists and turns along the way. In any campaign, several obstacles can force you to potentially extend the timeline, or alter strategies to help ensure that you meet your goals. Many difficulties are completely unexpected, but some offer warning signs, and your organization should always plan ahead as much as possible to avoid any challenges.

External factors that can cause donors to hesitate to make commitments can include economic challenges, terrorism, natural disasters or epidemics, and election cycles. Internal factors that may require a strategy shift include transformational gifts that may reduce motivation for other donors, institutional public relations crises or key employee departures. Potential donor factors that can impact pledges include job changes, divorces, children entering college or a death in the family. If a donor passes away, but has signed a pledge form, your organization should be in contact with the family to notify them of the decedent’s intent, which will dramatically increase the likelihood that the pledge is fulfilled through the estate settlement process.

Maintaining momentum during and after a campaign

As the campaign progresses, an organization must take advantage of momentum by continuing the planning process. Throughout the campaign, you will discover new donors, new volunteers and renewed enthusiasm; make sure you have a system in place, such as a strategic planning committee, to capture those people and ideas and channel that energy.

During the campaign, major donors, volunteers and staff may have creative ideas, such as potential new facilities or renovations to existing facilities. In addition, a campaign can help identify new leaders for future campaigns, including fundraising volunteers, advisory or planning committee members and potential board members. New prospects will also emerge during the public phase that may not be completely engaged, but want to learn more about your mission or organization.

The treatment of donors as, and after, they fulfill a pledge is an often overlooked aspect of a campaign, and can affect future giving. Communication is essential to keep donors invested in you. Your organization can send letters or various communications such as campaign newsletters, hold donor engagement events, publicize major donors and make pledge reminders more informative, rather than just an invoice. Donor involvement ultimately increases engagement with the institution.

From a volunteer’s perspective, they should feel like they are in the know with regular communications and informative, efficient meetings. Key volunteers can be recognized with profiles on your website, in the community or in press releases. Campaigns can be a long grind for volunteers, and keeping them refreshed and engaged is a key factor in continuing momentum.

In addition, your organization has a number of opportunities to recognize donors and volunteers at events. Campaign kick-off meetings, milestone achievements and victory celebrations all have the potential to create a shared sense of accomplishment and pride in the organization.

Your campaign can bring a plethora of good news that can be leveraged in public relations outreach, such as milestone achievements, groundbreakings and major gift announcements. These communications can help your standing in the community, improve your image and help to recruit new volunteers and donors. A best practice is to create a content calendar, sharing success stories 12-18 months beyond the end of the campaign.

Transparency is also important during your campaign, as it will create a deeper understanding of your mission and build trust. For effective campaign accounting, consider report formats that reconcile transactions with the development department and provide proper reporting to the board. You should consider utilizing dashboards that track key performance indicators, including pledges, cash raised, and any construction budgets and timelines. Finally, developing a formal final recap report can communicate all necessary data and information about the campaign to key stakeholders.

What to do after the campaign

Even following a successful campaign, you should stay in campaign mode, because your operating needs remain the same and new needs will emerge. Retain the staff members who have built relationships with donors and transition them to major gift roles, and work with key volunteers to determine how they want to stay involved. Personally visit donors and plant the seeds for the next capital campaign, so they can become engaged early in the process.

The conclusion of a campaign is also a great time to increase communications and evaluate your publications, messaging and website. Remember to be consistent and persistent with reminders for donors on multiyear pledge payment schedules, and use a personal approach for top donors.

After the campaign, maintain a commitment to the major gifts function. Make sure the trustees are regularly assigned to prospects so that methodology of checking in with best practices moves forward. Also, renew the focus on the annual fund, transitioning donors to a higher level of annual support.   


Developing a successful fundraising campaign can bring a new normal to your organization, with increased enthusiasm and support for your mission. It’s important to stay there, implementing key planning steps, engaging donors, employees and volunteers, and capitalizing on that momentum to generate sustained success for future campaigns.


This article was developed with content from David Coyne, CFRE, The Sheridan Group.