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The 4 Avoidable Mistakes of Capital Campaigns: Mistake #4

Today, we’re going to talk about the final mistake people make in capital campaigns. If you’re late to the parade, don’t worry—you can read the previous posts here. Like the last blog post, this mistake has to do with timing. It’s launching your campaign prematurely.

Over the past 30+ years, our team has seen several nonprofits launch their campaigns before they were ready. What’s our #1 tidbit of advice? It’s simply that it is better to have no campaign than a bad campaign. Campaigns are a big, bold, very public step. You want to demonstrate to your community that you are capable and successful. If you launch a campaign that flops, your nonprofit will be marked by failure. That blemish doesn’t do much for the brand you are trying to create.

There are two ways to approach a campaign. First, some organizations approach their campaign in what we call the “Campaign Cycle.” It looks like this:


This “Sad Panda” model cycles between long periods of no campaign, no campaign, no campaign—then suddenly, there is so much growth that they need to do a campaign NOW. The capital campaign is launched, but they aren’t prepared. Donor systems, development systems, and the case aren’t in the right shape. Their staff is overwhelmed. Their volunteers and donors are unimpressed. These nonprofits weren’t ready for a campaign, but they went ahead anyway because they were between a rock and a hard place.

The other way to approach campaigning is what we call the “Growth Cycle.” It looks like this:


These nonprofits go through a disciplined planning and preparation process well ahead of their Growth Phase. These organizations start with a plan, and then they move into the preparation stage. They say, “In two or three years, we’re going to launch a capital campaign. So, we’re going to get our donor database in order. We’ll expand our donor base. We’re going to beef up our PR.”

With everything in place, launching the campaign and going into the Growth Phase is more natural. After they grow, that growth is sustained because it was planned for. The magic of the Growth Cycle is focusing several phases ahead. You may not need to launch a campaign for another ten years, but when that day comes, your agency will be ready.

Don’t get stuck in a position where you’re forced to launch a weak campaign. Instead, take the time NOW to plan and prepare. Then when you’re ready to grow, everything is in place for success.

Nervous about your future campaign? Dickerson, Bakker & Associates can help! We offer a Campaign Readiness Assessment that is designed to reduce the stress in your campaign plans. Contact us to learn more!

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