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The 4 Avoidable Mistakes of Capital Campaigns: Mistake #2

Last week we talked about the first mistake people make in capital campaigns: expecting uniform gifts. If you missed that blog or need a refresher, you can read it here.

The second mistake people commonly make is to skip the campaign planning study. “Ready! Fire! Aim!” is their strategy. Without the planning study, also known as a campaign feasibility study, fundraisers are often navigating the campaign landscape in the dark.

The planning study is a scouting mission into your community to discover how to successfully approach your campaign. Studies include confidential interviews with key prospective donors and community leaders about your campaign. Planning studies assess the three primary attributes of any successful campaign: case, capacity, and leadership.


First, planning studies test how the case resonates among your prospective top twenty donors and community leaders. The case statement of the campaign outlines what societal problem you are trying to address, how you intend to address that problem, and why your agency is the one to address it. Essentially, we are trying to determine the inclination of individuals to give extraordinary gifts to your campaign. If you don’t have the support of your top twenty donors and influential community leaders, there’s little chance of success.


The next thing the planning study does is assess the capacity or financial resources out there to be given to this campaign. Do you have enough donors? Do you have donors with the capacity to give the top gifts? Once the consultant gauges this, he or she can say, “I think that $1 million is a bit steep. You should go for $750,000 instead.” Or they might say, “I really think you should go for $2 million!” Regardless of the result, you will have a more practical and attainable goal.


Finally, the planning study looks at who will lead the campaign. Leadership is everything in a capital campaign. It is more important than either case or capacity, because the right leaders will make your project happen even when the situation is less than ideal. Thus, your steering committee roster should include community volunteers who are well-respected, influential, organized, and hopefully have the ability to give a top-twenty-level gift. Here’s the key question that I ask when I do a planning study: “Who can you think of who, if they were part of this campaign, doggone it, it’s going to succeed?” Those at the top of the list have the potential to bring your campaign to the next level.

So, don’t navigate your campaign in the dark! Invest the time and energy so you know what you are aiming at. Planning studies will help give you the critical intelligence necessary to make wise decisions, ultimately leading to a smashing success.

Thinking a “Ready! Aim! Fire!” strategy might be better? Dickerson, Bakker & Associates take the guesswork out of campaigns with a comprehensive planning study. Contact us today!

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