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The 4 Avoidable Mistakes of Capital Campaigns: Mistake #3

These past two weeks, we’ve covered the first two mistakes fundraisers commonly make in capital campaigns. If you’d like to review them, you can read them HERE and HERE.

The third mistake people make is “going public” too soon. Currently, one of our team members is providing counsel to a capital campaign in Bemidji, Minnesota. Along the route, they pass through Duluth, Minnesota, where one can see from the freeway the ubiquitous campaign thermometer on the wall. If only we could have safely taken a picture of it! Their goal was $2 million, and the thermometer was literally stuck at 10%. I can’t think of anyone who gets excited when the thermometer is at 10℉.

Many donors looking at a cold thermometer will likely think, “Well, how is my $1,000 going to make a difference toward the $1.8 million needed?” To those of modest means, the goal can seem unreachable. To those of exceptional means, your agency will appear naive. Either way, your donors’ enthusiasm is going to be as cold as that thermometer.

So, when do you go public? After a successful “quiet phase.” There are three major goals to a quiet phase:

  1. Establish the campaign steering committee comprised of well-connected, well-organized, committed volunteers (identified in the campaign planning study recommendations).
  2. Quietly raise 60-80% of the campaign goal from leadership and closely-held gifts (board members, staff, and key volunteers).
  3. Plan for the public phase.

When you have accomplished the quiet phase goals AND you know where the rest of the funds will come from, it is time to “kick off” the public phase. Like it sounds, the kickoff begins a flurry of activity, including media, events, direct mail, telefundraising, and other fundraising activities. This is the time to talk to service groups and churches, next-door neighbors and friends, foundations and businesses, to make one final push to get across the finish line.



Asking the community to rally together to raise the last 25% of your campaign goal is both exciting and compelling. That thermometer is going to look a lot more inspiring. People will look at how close the goal is and start collecting their pennies; they’ll sell baked goods, bratwurst, lemonade, and carwashes; they’ll give their $1,000 gifts all the way down to $5 to push that thermometer to the goal. That “big push” psychology will carry your campaign to the end.

However, be careful that you don’t go public too early in your campaign. The “big push” energy only has a short window!

Worried about being left out in the cold? Our team of dedicated experts are put in place to guide you through the Quiet Phase so that your Public Phase will be a great success. That is just one of the many things that sets Dickerson, Bakker & Associates apart from other firms. Contact us to find out how!

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