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The 4 biggest risks to campaign success

by Susie Hills | Jan 6, 2020 | Fundraising

Fundraising campaigns rely on many factors to achieve success. But high-impact campaigns all have one thing in common – the institution has given time and consideration to a thorough campaign risk assessment, identifying and mitigating areas of weakness. Here are the four biggest risks to the success of your campaign:

1. Lack of leadership

Successful fundraising campaigns are led from the top and have broad buy-in across the institution. Senior leaders are prepared to give time and get actively involved. They are willing to help build relationships with prospects and ask. A highly experienced fundraiser-in-chief is vital, but they cannot do it alone. One of the biggest risks to a campaign is the change of senior leadership within the campaign period – the loss of a VC or Development Director during the campaign. Before you embark on your campaign make sure that the leadership is likely to be in place for the life of the campaign.

2. Launching too soon

Campaigns have three phases (planning, private and public) for good reasons – the different phases help you achieve momentum and test and set your target. One of the most common risks to campaign success is to launch too soon. A campaign feasibility study can help you identify the best point at which to launch.

Campaigns typically launch at 40-60% raised. If it’s a first campaign, it’s prudent to go for a higher % as your knowledge of your pipeline is less robust and the confidence of your institution will be lower. It’s better to launch when 60% is raised, and finish above target or ahead of time to generate confidence and momentum for your next campaign.

Targets can be tested and scaled up or down throughout the planning and private phases. There are no ‘rules’ around this. You only need to fix and declare your target when you go public. And indeed, some campaigns launch without a fixed target or timeframe at all.

It is important to set an ambitious but well-informed target – better to overshoot and have second campaign/phase than undershoot and extend time. You can choose to announce your target but be less committal on your timeline.

3. Setting an unrealistic target

You need to be clear about how much you are planning to raise, from what sources it will come from and over what period of time. Setting an ambitious but realistic target is vital to success. Choosing an arbitrary number because it is the same as an institutional anniversary or bigger than a competitor institution is a big risk.

The scale of your target will be determined by what you decide to count – philanthropy, philanthropy + research, + government… its up to you. There are no hard and fast rules about what you can include. The key is to choose what is right for you to signal that your campaign is highly strategic and is about additionality not ‘business as usual’. It’s vital that you are transparent as to what you are counting and that this does not change if your campaign struggles. Lack of clarity leads to internal/sector cynicism and risk of the campaign being seen as a failure.

Your target must be informed by a robust analysis of your prospect pipeline. This should be both quantative – an assessment of the warmth and capacity of your prospect database – and qualitive – discussions with your top prospects.
Success will lie in a small number of high-level prospects – individuals and trusts (and for some institutions corporates too). The received wisdom in fundraising is that the Pareto principle applies – that 80% of funds will come from 20% of donors. For most campaigns, especially first campaigns, it’s probably 95/5.

Back counting is a given and will enable you to set an appropriate target. Generally, institutions back count for 2-3 years but some go further back. As long as you have clarity and can justify it then there are no ‘rules’.

4. Lack of investment

A car can’t run without gas and a campaign cannot run without a fundraising team. You can’t scrimp and just expect to do more with the current resources or wait to see how the campaign goes before you invest more. Lack of resourcing or delays in resourcing leads to lower amounts raised – simple.

Campaigns are hard work and require great fundraisers to do a lot of asking. You need the right mix of capacity and capability. Given that it can typically be two years from first meeting to major gift, you must invest in capacity early.

It’s hard to get fundraisers and keep them, so you will delay your major gift income if you don’t recruit hard at the start. Not only is it difficult to get people, the ones you recruit don’t always work, so the earlier you find this out the better. Profiling can assist with recruitment.

Additional capacity will be needed to support communications (internal and external), events, data and research and engagement opportunities and stewardship. You can’t step-change philanthropy through a campaign without appropriate investment and it must be made at the outset.

Halpin is the home of experts in higher education fundraising and beyond – offering consultants with ‘boots on the ground’ experience at the most senior levels of fundraising. If there’s an area of your fundraising that could benefit from an external perspective, get in touch.

Susie Hills is Joint CEO of Halpin – management consultancy specialising in higher education fundraising, governance, strategy and marketing.