43 min Read
October 3, 2017

Advancing your organization’s mission through capital campaigns

Andrea Kihlstedt

Sarah Durham, Big Duck’s CEO, and Andrea Kihlstedt, founder of Capital Campaign Masters, debunk the myth that nonprofits should only pursue a capital campaign when they need a new building—and explore the remarkable ways organizations can use major fundraising efforts as springboards to so much more. In case you missed their webinar, we’ve transcribed it here.

Sarah Durham: Hello, welcome everybody. I’m Sarah Durham from Big Duck.

Andrea Kihlstedt: And I’m Andrea Kihlstedt from Capital Campaign Masters.

Sarah Durham: And we are going to walk you through what’s kind of an unusual format for us. You’re going to be seeing us through this webinar. If you see me looking off to the side, that’s just because that’s where my video of Andrea is, and also the chat panel is over to my right. I want to encourage everybody that’s participating today to chat in your questions, your comments, your experiences. I’ll be monitoring that throughout our conversation, and we really want to make this kind of like a group dialogue, so let us know what you’re wondering as we get into it, and we’ll tell you a little bit more about what we’re going to talk about as we go, but this is fun for me.

I’m excited about this because the genesis for this webinar grew out of the launch that Andrea and I had a few months ago, where we were talking about all of the amazing things you can do with a capital campaign that many organizations just don’t think to do, or haven’t taken the time to reflect on. We’re hoping today we’re going to inspire you and give you some really good food for thought. Before we dig in, let me give Andrea a chance to introduce herself, and we’ll do some housekeeping. Sorry, I’m jumping. Oh, the slides are jumping. Go for it, Andrea. Sorry.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Go for it. Here, I am. Now you get two pictures of me on your screen. I’m Andrea Kihlstedt and I am the president of Capital Campaign Masters. I have been in the Capital Campaign Masters, capital campaign slice of the fundraising world most of my career, which is, you can tell from the wrinkles on my neck, fairly long. I have written a major book on capital campaigns. I have honestly been fascinated by the subject of capital campaigns, because organizations can raise so much money, and make such a big difference through this remarkable kind of fundraising.

I am a person that gets a little bored with the same old, same old, so capital campaigns are for people who are adrenaline junkies like me. I’m always excited and happy to talk about them, particularly with my friend Sarah Durham, who is one of the smartest, sharpest, most freethinking people I know in this business.

Sarah Durham: Why shucks, thank you very much. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m the CEO of a company called Big Duck, and we are an agency that works exclusively with nonprofits. We help them build strong brands, run strong campaigns and build strong communications teams, and we worked on a lot of capital campaigns, really largely on the creative side. We’re helping organizations leverage the capital campaign to engage donors in new and exciting ways, and really move their organizations to the next level. We put together a few kind of prompts that we thought we’d go through today, and you’re going to see a lot of what we’re going to do today is really just talk about the things you’re seeing onscreen now.

What capital campaigns are, new ways to think about them and use them, and some of the communications aspects of this. Really, just to kick it off, I want to go back to something that Andrea said early on in her introduction, about her vision for capital campaigns. Andrea, talk to us a little bit about this. How should an organization think about a capital campaign?

Andrea Kihlstedt: Yes, you should pretend you’re Simone Biles, I think this is Simone Biles who is doing this amazing jump, but maybe it’s not. Anyway, she’s remarkable, and anybody who those gymnastics like this is remarkable. What does that mean about capital campaigns? Really, capital campaigns are, I think of them as springboard opportunities for your organization. Think about them as though they are this wonderful springy thing that she’s jumping off, and they give you boosts in elevation. They move your organization from one level to another.

They are not ongoing, recurring fundraising. They are special, and what makes them so successful, and really organizations can often raise 5, 10, even 20 times the amount of money they raise in their animal fundraising through a capital campaign. What makes them special is that the benefits are so big. It literally moves an organization so that you can be doing that much more good work to accomplish your mission.

Sarah Durham: You said to me in our conversation, you said to me that you often advise or encourage nonprofits to think about doing a capital campaign as often as every 10 years, do I remember that correctly?

Andrea Kihlstedt: Yeah. Really, I’m actually shortening that in my mind. With the 10 or 15 years, most organizations do a capital campaign when they need a new building, or some crisis happens. They lose their lease, or they’ve outgrown their facilities, or the roof falls down. Something happens that triggers a capital campaign, for one reason or another. When that’s the case, one of the things that characterizes campaigns is that donors pledge, that they have a pledge period. They don’t give their gifts, for the most part, in one lump sum. They’ll give a gift that is pledged over, let’s say three years or maybe even five years.

You don’t want to do a second campaign while your donors are still paying off their pledges for the first campaign. That’s one of the things that pushes them aside. You want a bit of a reprieve. You want all the donors to payoff their pledges, and you want a bit of a recuperation period, and then honestly you should go into campaign planning again. Why not?

Sarah Durham: Wow, so you’re always in the cycle of you’re competing a campaign or planning the next one.

Andrea Kihlstedt: That’s right. Really, you should always be in a cycle of that, whether it’s a big campaign, or even a small, mini campaign. We’re going to talk more about that ahead.

Sarah Durham: Can you just speak for a minute about what the difference is between a capital campaign and just annual giving, or other types of giving? Just to make sure we’re all on the same page about that.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Yeah, that’s such an important question, Sarah, and I think people often are not on the same page about that. I think of fundraising as being in two big buckets. One bucket is what I think of as recurring fundraising, right? These are gifts that you ask donors to make, where both you and they have an expectation of doing, making a gift like that the following year, and the year after that, and the year after that. With some luck, if you’re doing your work right, some of those donors increase their gifts over time, but they don’t increase them spectacularly, because they know that what you’re asking them for is recurring fundraising, so they calibrate their gifts accordingly.

If you give $500 to an organization and you know they’re going to come back to you again, maybe that’s what you think of every year, or maybe you think of $100 a year, but donors have patterns for their giving. One of the patterns is around recurring fundraising. On the other hand, when you think about capital campaigns, or campaigns like that, these springboard campaigns, those are special. You’re asking donors to give gifts that are over and above their recurring gifts, right? Their annual fundraising. You’re asking them for, those will be much bigger gifts, the anticipation of which is that you’re not going to come back and ask them for this again and again. This is a once and done. Now the reality is, you’re doing a campaign every few years.

Sarah Durham: Until the next time.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Right, but that’s not what sticks in your mind, or the donor’s mind. It’s like, “Help us with this campaign.” I think of it as recurring fundraising on one hand, and special fundraising on the other hand. The piece of that that is most important is what goes on in the donors mind, and how they calibrate their gifts accordingly.

Sarah Durham: You’ve already talked a little bit about, sometimes a capital campaign happens when there’s something like a roof that caves in, or a building that needs to get built.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Right.

Sarah Durham: But can you speak a little bit to how else capital campaigns can be used? What do you see them most typically done for?

Andrea Kihlstedt: Sometimes the language of a certain kind of fundraising gets embedded in the fundraising culture, and sometimes the language that gets embedded is not the right language. I’ve come to think about that with the phrase capital campaigns, because when you think about the phrase capital campaigns, what you think of is building, right? Or capital needs. If I could wave a magic wand and change the language, I would probably say these are capacity campaigns, or capacity capital campaigns, to indicate that any money that you raise that is going to increase your organization’s capacity can be done through this kind of special fundraising.

Sarah Durham: I like that term you used, springboard.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Springboard campaigns. You can raise money to do a whole lot of stuff, both big things and little things. The program is at the top of this. I’m going to come back to that at the end, but let’s look here at the list of things you might raise money for. One is for evaluation, the evaluation of your programs. That often takes a major investment, setting up the systems for that takes a major investment. If you evaluate your programs really well, they will have more. You will be able to design them so they are more effective. Program evaluation is something you might want to look at. In fact, I’ve worked here in New York with an organization that is undergoing a campaign, taking on a campaign.

A big portion of that campaign is to fund, they’re very sophisticated at their program evaluation, and they’re looking to endow that so it will be funded over time, which is interesting. You can include in a campaign, or even have a special campaign for fundraising that increases your capacity. For example, I just had this come down on my head. Excuse me for a second while I un-decapitate myself. I am about to un-decapitate myself here. There is a window open, and my screen blew down. Fundraising, you can’t raise money through a capital campaign for ongoing fundraising expenses, but you can certainly raise it to hire a major gifts person, for let’s say the first year or two that they’re ramping up, with the expectation that it’s going to take them some time before they start bringing in larger gifts and can pay for themselves, plus some.

Sarah Durham: Isn’t it true, evaluations, fundraising, communications, technology, even training or experts, those are all capacity building, right?

Andrea Kihlstedt: That’s right, exactly.

Sarah Durham: If we raise an extra $10 million on top of a planned campaign where we need $80 million for a new building, we could invest very deeply in boosting capacity across all of these areas, right?

Andrea Kihlstedt: That’s right. To the extent that you’re boosting capacity with the expectation that it’s going to help you do more good, that it’s going to help you live out your mission, accomplish your mission more effectively, you can tuck it into a capital campaign.

Sarah Durham: I’m sorry, go on, yeah.

Andrea Kihlstedt: I was just going to go back to this issue of programs.

Sarah Durham: Okay, before you do that, I just want to add one thing before we move into that, which is an example. I had a meeting earlier with an organization that is going through the planning stages of a capital campaign, and one of the technology issues they have is that they don’t have a centralized CRM system, a robust database that they can pull all of their development, and programs, and all the data they’ve got on all their constituents together.

One of the things they’re planning to do is invest in, I think it’s a SalesForce integrated database, and they’re going to build some new money into their capital campaign to get the SalesForce specialist consultants that they need to customize, to hire a person who’s going to be responsible for the data migration integration. I think they’re actually hoping to create a staff position around data. That’s what you’re talking about, right? Do I understand that correctly?

Andrea Kihlstedt: That’s right. And of course, if you’re going to include that in a capital campaign, it’s not compelling, particularly for people to want to pay for a SalesForce and all the things they’re going to raise money around. That’s not particularly compelling. What is compelling is what the benefit of that is going to be. You always have to be translating what it is you’re actually paying money out for, into, “Well, what difference is it going to make?” If it’s going to make you more efficient, where are those efficiencies and what more will that enable you to do? That translation is often challenging for people.

Sarah Durham: Speaking to the value, and the outcomes of these capacity building initiatives, not to the nuts and bolts of the work itself.

Andrea Kihlstedt: That’s right, yes.

Sarah Durham: I interrupted you rudely before you were going to tell us a little bit more about the program’s piece, so let’s make sure we get back to that.

Andrea Kihlstedt: I want to talk about the program piece, because really often when I ask people, “What is it you need more money for that’s going to help you make a bigger difference?” They say program staff. That’s right, duh, of course. The more program staff you have, the bigger the difference you’re going to make. What’s the problem with incorporating program staff into a campaign? The problem with it is that it is an ongoing expense. You can’t look at it as something that is paid for by the campaign, and then will be self-sustaining, or will be picked up by something else.

Now, you can include startup programs, for example, where you can say, “Help us pay for the first three years of this new staff person, who is creating this new program,” in declining amounts each year. By the end of that, we will have increased our fundraising to cover the costs. Because anyone who is giving a special gift, this goes back to the nature of recurring versus special gifts. Anyone who is giving a special campaign gift for a program wants to know that you’re not going to come back to them and say, “Well, your gift covered three years, but now we’re going to have to fire this person unless you give us more money.” You have to find some way of showing that it’s only the startup portion, or some time limited portion of what will be a recurring expense that gets tucked into your capital campaign.

Sarah Durham: Don’t many academic institutions create chairs, like endow a chair or a position in some way here?

Andrea Kihlstedt: Yes, they do, and those are organizations. If you have an organization that has significant endowment, and has the capacity to manage an endowment in an effective way, then you can cover some portion of those staff salary lines through endowment. You can sometimes raise money through a capital campaign for endowed chairs, some organizations do that. It’s a bit dicey for smaller organizations to do, that don’t want to handle that kind of collection.

Sarah Durham: Because of the management of the endowment?

Andrea Kihlstedt: Yeah, for all sorts of reasons, but that among other reasons, that, yes.

Sarah Durham: Okay. Before we dig into my favorite topic, communications, I also just want to encourage the people who are joining us today, you, the participants, to chat in questions and comments. I’m very interested, Andrea is very interested to hear what you’re planning your capital campaign around, if you’re in a planning stage, or if any of the things that we’re talking about are sparking new ideas for you that we could share with everybody. I’m keeping an eye on my questions in chat, and looking forward to hearing from you. Meanwhile, let’s forge ahead, shall we?

Andrea Kihlstedt: Let us forge ahead. Do type in, whether you’re in a campaign or what you’re thinking to do a campaign for. I would love to see that. I’d love to know that. Sarah, I’m trying to see how I can chat to everybody.

Sarah Durham: Yeah, I’ll tell you when I see some things. I’m not sure you’ll be able to see it.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Right, I’m not sure I can see them, but do let us know what it is you’re doing. When Sarah and I had lunch together, and started talking about this, one of the questions was, might you have a special campaign to re-look at, to analyze, evaluate and redo your entire communications program? Wouldn’t that, in some cases, be one of these springboard opportunities? That got me thinking about really whether and how redoing your communications program really can take your organization to the next level. Tell me how that works, Sarah.

Sarah Durham: Well, there are a lot of ways I think it can. It goes to some of the essential questions that people struggle with about communications. For instance, one of the things we hear organizations of all shapes and sizes say is we’re a best kept secret. We do all this great work, nobody has ever heard of us, or we could do such a better job communicating if only we could just change our name, and have a name that aligned more with what we do now as opposed to what we did 20 years ago when we were founded. First, I think it’s important to define communications, and to say that communications can be fundraising related, programmatic related, advocacy related, and there are ways to boost your capacity through a capital campaign in all of these.

You might, for instance, do an awareness campaign, fund a special awareness campaign where you actually raise enough money to do some serious advertising or media buys in order to increase your visibility among a core audience that you want to reach. Let’s say, for instance, potential clients or policymakers, so that you’re no longer that best-kept secret. The other finite endeavor that can be really powerful to fund through a capital campaign is a rebrand. We were talking, actually before we got on today about, Andrea was saying to me, “Does every organization need to rebrand?” Absolutely not. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but very often, after a strategic planning process, or after a moment of reflection where your organization has been looking ahead and envisioning the future, maybe you’ve got a new executive director, or a new board chair, and there’s some visioning happening.

That is a great time to stop and say, “Do we have an identity as an organization that we feel good about? Do we have a visual system, a messaging system? Is our staff trained to speak and write effectively about the organization?” When I talk about rebranding, or investing in branding as part of a capital campaign, that’s what I mean. You might have all the assets you need. You might have a great way that some people know how to write, and speak, and communicate, and maybe what you’re investing in is training everybody. Bring in people who can help facilitate that, and move the caliber of communications or the culture of communications up in your organization, across everything.

Those are some of the places I’ve seen it. There are a number of communications components that we see organizations of all sizes really struggle with, from not having great technology, just not having the right CRM system. I’ve talked about that earlier. Not having great visual elements, not having media training for people who are out there as spokespeople all the time. Those are some places that I would really encourage you to think about from a communications point of view. Andrea, I’m seeing we’re getting some good questions here, which is good, because we’re going to switch over to those in a minute.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Fantastic.

Sarah Durham: Yeah. Have I touched upon what you were wondering about, Andrea?

Andrea Kihlstedt: Yeah. Let me reflect to you a little, Sarah, about what I see in the world. What I see, people contact me a lot. I have a company that does work in this pre-campaign work. We do a lot of online coaching to help people get ready for campaigns. The way communications often comes up is that during this early campaign period, we encourage people to go out and be talking to their major donors. We encourage them to get some of their board members to go talk to their major donors. What we find is that people are flummoxed about how to talk about their organization. They really are. It’s one thing when they talk about to their partners or their friends. When you start sending them out to talk to major donors, everybody says, “Well, what should we say? What really is the language that we should be using, and how can we get on the same page? How can we find similar communications?”

To me, this early part of campaign planning is actually a wonderful time, or would be a wonderful time to do even an online workshop about getting your message clear. Even if it’s not a rebranding, to say, “Let’s find the language that we want everyone to be able to use to describe what we’re doing.”

Sarah Durham: And you can ask those donors, for sure. I mean, if you’re talking to somebody as a feasibility for a capital campaign, to feel out if they might be interested in making a special gift, it’s a great opportunity to really understand what inspires them about the organization.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Right.

Sarah Durham: Sometimes those inspirational quotes from a donor can be a springboard to how to develop a messaging platform. You can see here in this brandraising model, I haven’t really talked this through here, and there are lots of resources on the Big Duck website about brandraising, which is a model that we use when we rebrand organizations that we created. It starts with vision, mission, values, objectives. It’s the stuff of strategic planning, and those are all the things they get donors excited in a capital campaign, although oftentimes it’s where we might go with those things, if we can raise this money.

If we can endow these programs, build these buildings, do all these great things we’re talking about. It really begins with brand strategy, the visual identity, the messaging and how that gets expressed, and everything kind of rolls out of that. Rebranding in a really deep and thoughtful way, and boosting your team’s capacity to manage a brand, or manage a big awareness campaign is expensive. It’s a great one-time, if you can pack on some more money into the capital campaign to fund that, you’ll get a lot farther a lot faster.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Right, and I see no reason why that wouldn’t be a perfectly good campaign objective, for many organizations. I think that’s something you really should consider. Very few organizations do, in my experience. They think of raising the money that they need to invest in the campaign, but they don’t think about a bigger view of their communications strategy. What they think about, and what I hear all the time is that board members or other people will say, “Well, we need a campaign brochure before we can go out.” They think campaign brochure. They don’t think brand, they don’t think messaging more broadly than that, right?

Sarah Durham: Yeah.

Andrea Kihlstedt: As far as I’m concerned, most organizations can do an entire campaign without ever producing a campaign brochure.

Sarah Durham: Absolutely.

Andrea Kihlstedt: If they focus on the real, underlying messages of the communications plan.

Sarah Durham: Yep, it’s quite possible. Absolutely. We’ve gotten in some questions that relate to what we’re talking about here, and also some things you’ve said earlier. This first question I want to ask you, Andrea, comes from Jenny. She says, “Can you talk a little bit about how to assess readiness for a campaign? We’re thinking about a capital campaign for a new building, but there’s a disagreement about whether or not we are really ready.” This is really what you do.

Andrea Kihlstedt: This is what I do.

Sarah Durham: How does Jenny know if she’s ready for a campaign?

Andrea Kihlstedt: How does Jenny know if she’s ready for a campaign? First of all, Jenny, I would send you to the Capital Campaign Masters website. We have a lot of information on that website about campaign readiness, and you should sign up for the blog because there are lots of articles on, there it is, yes, on that site about campaign readiness. Let me tell you the four or five things that we always focus on for campaign readiness. Number one, do you know clearly and have you thought through effectively exactly what it is you want to raise money for, what you’re going to spend the money on? People often don’t. They think, “Oh, we need a new building,” but they haven’t thought about all the other things, which we’ve been discussing today.

Startup programs, costs of fundraising, brand re-evaluation. Is there going to be an endowment component to it? Are you going to tuck in some money for startup programs in your new facility? That’s a big conversation. Often organizations haven’t looked at it carefully enough, or thoroughly enough. They think they want a campaign for $2 million, what they really should be doing is a campaign for $3.5 million, or $5 million, or $10 million, whatever the number is, that includes more than just the immediate pressing need. Are you ready for a campaign? Do you know what it is that you’re going to raise money for, and have you really thought about it?

Number two, ad really critically important. If I were to ask you if you could sit down with a napkin and a pen, and write down the names of your top 20 donors who are likely to give the largest gifts to the campaign, number one, could you do that? Number two, have you been talking to them all about your plans? So that you’re not going to them for the first time asking them for really big gifts. That’s number two, right? Two parts. Sarah, you look like you have something to say.

Sarah Durham: Well, it’s interesting. As I’m listening to you talk, I think you’re addressing some other questions we’ve gotten in, but I want to just push you a little bit further down the road you’re going on, because Hannah has written in a question that I think relates to where you’re heading. She says, “How do we broaden our donor’s understanding of what a capital campaign is to include, that a capital campaign can include capacity building activities? How do we move them to think beyond brick and mortar, and naming opportunities with their capital giving?” You’re already talking about these conversations that we should be having with donors. How do we get them to fund this?

Andrea Kihlstedt: Let me talk for a minute about naming opportunities. Donors do think about naming opportunities if you have a building campaign, but the naming opportunities are based on the giving levels of the larger campaign, and it’s up to you to structure the campaign. It’s up to you to say these are all the things we’re going to raise money for. The centerpiece, of course, is our building, and there will be naming opportunities at these levels, but the amount of the naming opportunities do not correlate to the cost of those spaces. They correlate to the giving levels of your gift range chart, and that’s a big deal. It shifts the way you think about your campaign, and it shifts the way the donors will think about it.

The donors think about naming opportunities, but they’re not thinking about the campaign. They are not necessarily saying the only thing you’re raising money for the building, right? You’re saying that.

Sarah Durham: In other words, if I am a million dollar donor, you are saying to me, “Sarah, as a million dollar donor, we’ll put your name into any of these places.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean that my million dollars is restricted.

Andrea Kihlstedt: That’s right.

Sarah Durham: To go to the building that my name is going to be on, right?

Andrea Kihlstedt: Yes, exactly.

Sarah Durham: My million dollars might be helping support the capacity piece.

Andrea Kihlstedt: That’s right.

Sarah Durham: It’s just rolled into all the support.

Andrea Kihlstedt: That’s right, and your case for support really captures the benefits of the entire package. Not how many rooms, right? Your case for support has to rise up beyond the features of what you’re doing, and has to highlight the benefits of the entire package. If you’re raising money for a building, but you haven’t thought about anything else, then your ability to say the benefits to the community are going to big are going to be hampered, right?

Sarah Durham: I’ve noticed a real shift in this. We’ve been helping nonprofits with the communications aspect of capital campaigns for probably about 15 years, maybe 20 years. In the early days, when we worked on capital campaigns, and we produced case statements, we helped write them, design them, produce them, they often did list naming opportunities in this very, “Your donation of X will pay for Y” kind of way. I can’t actually think of a case statement I worked on in years that does that anymore.

I would say that it is much more typical that the case statement is helping the donor envision a stronger, bigger, more vibrant organization. The organization of tomorrow, in somewhat abstract terms. It’s actually the job of the fundraiser to help the donor go from that exciting vision to the specific gift they want to make, and what that’s going to look like for them. That’s kind of like an intimate conversation.

Andrea Kihlstedt: That’s right, and the naming opportunities are important and real. You will tie it back to a naming opportunity. You’ll say, “If you give a million dollars, then you can either name in the main lobby, or you can name the wing, the childcare wing,” or whatever it is, right? But there is a bigger piece in between those. This is something that happens all the time. This actually is not a problem for donors. We worry about it.

Sarah Durham: That’s downstream. It’s downstream. It’s after you already know where we are.

Andrea Kihlstedt: I want to go back to readiness, let me see if I can finish the readiness up. In the readiness we have, do you know what you’re going to raise money for? Can you identify, and have you engaged your donors? Is your board ready? Do they know what it is you’re doing? Are they signed on? Do they understand what’s going to be asked of them? Four, can you articulate clearly and effectively why this matters? Can you articulate a case for support? That does not mean you need a brochure, but you need to be able to articulate why this matters.

I think I forgot one. When you know what it is you want to raise money for, do you have a pretty clear sense of what the dollars are that are really going to accomplish that? You do need a working goal for your campaign, so that’s part of the readiness piece.

Sarah Durham: Natalie’s asking a question, too, that I think jumps off of this about, “Do you have to have a solid, recurring donor base to do it? What if you want to do this? You know how much it’s going to cost, you know what you want to fund, but you don’t necessarily have, you’re not sure you’ve got a solid base to build on. Is it too ambitious to do a capital campaign without a recurring donor base?”

Andrea Kihlstedt: It depends on your relationship to the major donors in your community. I have, upon occasion, done capital campaigns for startups, for example, where they had no donor base at all, really. No donor base to speak of. But the major donors, the leaders of the community felt that the project was important enough so that they actually would dive into what was a significant campaign to make this organization happen, to create this organization. That was my lovely husband. It’s possible, right? But what’s not possible is if your organization has been around for a while, and you have the sense that if you just go to Bill Gates or to Oprah Winfrey, they might give you major gifts, that’s not going to happen.

It’s the people in your community who have, you can define community in multiple ways. But it is the people in your community you are going to have to sign on to the campaign at pretty high levels, and most campaigns are made or broken in the top 10 gifts. In 10 gifts, you will have raised 50% of your campaign goal, so you can’t escape that, right? You can’t say, “We’re going to raise this money in $100 gifts.” It just isn’t going to happen. You can’t make up at the bottom what you don’t have at the top.

Sarah Durham: Got you. Hannah’s asking another important question that I think is relevant for everybody who’s listening today about, when we talk about baking capacity into a capital campaign, are we really just tacking it onto a more traditional campaign? Are we basically saying, “Okay, you’ve got your capital campaign to endow, or build a building, or do a more traditional capital campaign kind of project,” and we’re saying, “Let’s just layer in an extra bunch of money that we’re going to use for capacity building sort of discreetly.” Is that what we’re saying, or is there a way to do a campaign like this when you don’t have a brick-and-mortar component, you don’t have a more traditional component?

Andrea Kihlstedt: Right, thank you for that question. You can, and you should, in my opinion, be doing smaller campaigns periodically, maybe every even three to five years, that are for capacity building. You do not need to have a building project in order to do a campaign. A capital campaign is an effort to raise significantly more special money to do something that is going to springboard your organization through the next, higher level of operation. It might be for $300,000 to invest in new systems, and it might be for $3 million to do a new building, and it might be something that combines a bunch of those things.

The best of these happen when you really understand what this investment is going to make possible, out in the field. Just because you have a hankering for new systems doesn’t mean that it would be good for a campaign, unless you could tell me that it’s really going to make a difference. If you can tell me and your donors that it’s really going to make a difference, the chances are you can raise money over and above what you usually raise, maybe even in very small ways. I kind of like the idea of an organization tucking a mini campaign into their organization almost every year, right? Going to donors and saying, “Do something special, over and above your annual fund this year, because this is going to make a difference.”

I like, the capital campaign model is a powerful model. It brings a dollar goal up against a deadline, and asks a few people who can give significantly more to give those because of the benefit their gift is going to make, and the benefit is specific. That’s a neat model.

Sarah Durham: Yes. I had a meeting, actually I think just yesterday, with an organization that successfully completed a $20 million capital campaign that was space related. They’re moving to a new home in a couple of years, and so that $20 million was specifically raised for the space. But as soon as they concluded that campaign, they began a new $40 million campaign, which funds actually a lot of work they’re doing as they merge with another organization, which is happening again upstream of this move, and to create a series of endowments, and basically ensure that once they move into that space, they have a stronger, more capable team.

A lot of the kinds of capacity building things we’re talking about here. The space came first, but then everything else in the second campaign is the springboard to the next level. Maybe that’s one way to do that.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Right, yeah.

Sarah Durham: I want to encourage people to keep chatting in questions. We do have a few more, and maybe before we do more questions, we can just take a quick minute to talk through some of the resources we’ve put together for you, too. Does that sound good, Andrea? Are you up for that?

Andrea Kihlstedt: Yep, sure does. Oh yes, my book. Here’s what’s exciting about this book. I wrote this book, I don’t know, 20-some odd years ago, and this has just come out this past, last year in its fourth edition. Can you imagine, four editions of this? It is a big, if you’re doing a capital campaign, and it’s not because I’m tooting my own horn, you really should have this book. It’s a big, 400 page book.

Sarah Durham: This is the Bible. I mean, this is the Bible of capital campaigns, I think.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Yeah, it’s friendly. It’s not onerous to read. You’ll find all kinds of stories and other things, and examples, and in fact there are a lot of online resources from it that have a link. If you buy the book, then you get a link to special tucked away pages on the Capital Campaigns Masters website, which includes downloadables of the various charts in the book. That’s cool.

Sarah Durham: Great, so this is a great primer.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Yeah. The best place to get it is on Amazon. It costs me more to buy it through the publisher than you will pay through Amazon. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it is.

Sarah Durham: It’s true. It’s true for my book, too. I’ve got a couple resources I want to share with you, too, that are specific to communications. I don’t think I put a slide in here for my book, Brandraising, but if you are thinking about rebranding, there are a lot of free resources on the Big Duck website, and the book, Brandraising, is available also through Amazon. But this is an e-book that I think is useful if you’re thinking about boosting your communications capacity. It was a collaborative, it’s an e-book that grew out of some collaborative research that Big Duck did with the nonprofit marketing guys.

It identifies the five factors that really successful communications teams have, and it will give you a sense of some of the areas you may want to think about boosting your communication capacity. You can download the e-book for free at this URL. On our website, there’s a webinar archive, and there are other webinars, and blogs, and other resources on there about capital campaigns, all free. If you just go to our site and search capital campaigns, you’ll find a few of them. Then lastly, we have found that this desire to be no longer a best kept secret is becoming increasingly more urgent for nonprofits.

But it’s very hard to know how people think of you. How does the public think of you? How do you know if you’ve moved the needle from being a best kept secret, to being better known in the public area? If you were a New York City based organization, or an organization that works nationally, you might be interested to check out our brandraising benchmark, which is the public perception polling tool we created. I won’t spent a lot of time talking about here, because I don’t know how relevant it will be for many of you, but it’s on our website. Go to and you can learn a little bit more about it there. Let’s switch back over to questions, though.

We have a comment, actually, from Liz. She says, “We’re considering a special campaign, and I hesitate to call it a capital campaign because it’s not necessarily related to a building. We have a need for new programs, staff capacity endowment. I like the idea of a valuation component as well.” This is probably, I think Liz’s comment is responding to your question about, what are you working on, it sounds like you’re working on stuff for that.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Yeah, remember that you can include in the campaign like that, perhaps the first year, or two, or three of new staff lines, but then you have to be able to answer the question, “What happens then? How are you going to be able to pay for it after that?” Be sure you can figure that out, and you include that thinking in what you’re doing.

Sarah Durham: Okay, so we’ve tackled, I think all of the questions we’ve received. If anybody has a last-minute question they want to throw our way, feel free. Andrea, any parting words of wisdom? What would you encourage the good people here today to do next?

Andrea Kihlstedt: I think I would encourage them to have the courage to be going and talking early, and often, to their major funders. Don’t wait until you’re ready to ask them for money. They want to hear from you, actually. They want you to ask their advice, and I would encourage you to do that sooner than you think, right? You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t need a campaign brochure. You don’t have to know precisely what it is you’re doing. You have to go with an idea, and then ask them questions about what they think and how they would advise you forward. That’s probably the best piece of advice I ever give to anybody, honestly.

Sarah Durham: That’s such great, evergreen advice. Of course it’s great advice if you’re thinking about a capital campaign or a springboard campaign, but it’s just good advice all the way around. It’ll help you understand who your donors are, what motivates them to give. It’ll help you do a better job writing to them, communicating to them, making sure you’re really serving their needs and keeping them connected. One last question. Wait, can you say any more about pre-campaign communications? That’s it? Just have an idea, and start talking to donors?

Andrea Kihlstedt: Yeah, just have an idea and start talking to donors, absolutely. Listen, you should be talking to your donors. You really should be talking to your donors, and when you have an idea about how it is you’re wanting to grow, if you’re an executive director and you think you know what it is you want to be doing next, the time to be talking to your donors is when it is in the formative stage, right? That’s when you want to be talking to them, because that way you’re not defensive when they don’t like it. You want to be listening to them. What do you think of this idea? Should we be moving forward?

If you’re talking to more than one donor, to a group of donors, then you’re not going to be held accountable for any one of their opinions. If you’re going to be doing that, say, “You know, we’re making a round of visits with our top 10 donors to hear what they think about this idea.” Then you can get back to them and say, “We’ve heard some suggestions, but by and large people think this is a great idea, or not, we’ve shifted gears.” Just one of the things that happens when you are, first of all, as old as I am, and second of all when you are in the capital campaign business is that you get to know some very wealthy people.

It just happens, right? You end up being friends with them, more or less, and some of my very wealthy friends tell me, in one way and another, how lonely it is to have a lot of money. Why is it lonely to have a lot of money? It’s because people only see you for your money. They’re afraid to come to you for things other than money, because they’re afraid of what you might say. Going and talking to donors early about their ideas feels so good to them, right? Because it breaks that sense of isolation that people who have a lot of money often feel. Get over it. Go talk to them.

Sarah Durham: I know a fundraiser who has an expression that’s something like, actually if you want somebody to give you money, ask them a question, or ask them their opinion.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Right.

Sarah Durham: Don’t ask them for money.

Andrea Kihlstedt: That’s an old saw in the business. If you want money, ask for advice. If you want advice, ask for money, but I think people often don’t understand why that matters so much. When somebody has real serious resources, everyone starts looking at them as though they were just money. That doesn’t feel good. It just doesn’t feel good, so get over your anxiety.

Sarah Durham: Yeah. I want to chime in and say we’ve worked on two campaigns that were half a billion dollar capital campaigns. These were large organizations trying to raise $500 million, and in both cases, there were lead donors. There was a campaign cabinet, and both of those campaigns began with a lot of those kinds of conversations.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Yes.

Sarah Durham: Then the concept for the case statement, what the case statement was going to look like, or how the ask was going to be made, was developed first in very flexible ways. Microsoft Word documents, PowerPoints. We were generating creative ideas that literally, the executive director or the lead development people would take in very rough form, sit down with the donors and the cabinet, or those lead donors and say, “What do you think about this? Does this theme for a campaign resonate? Would you be inspired to give to a campaign like this? Why or why not?” Over a period of time, in both of those examples, and actually others we’ve seen, the work was shaped and molded through the conversations with those donors that were very iterative.

The final products that were produced, which were then used with a lot of other, actually lower level asks, reflected what the lead donor saw as the vision, so those lead donors were very bought into asking their friends for money, because they actually helped shape the case for support.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Right.

Sarah Durham: It really works.

Andrea Kihlstedt: That’s exactly right. Yeah, it really works. With today’s technology, where we can really be shifting communications on-the-fly all the time, we can think about creating different materials for every donor. We can think about creating different slide decks. We can think about for every segment. It’s this wonderful freedom we have, to communicate in ways that’s much more nuanced, much more iterative, and it works. It’s good for everybody.

Sarah Durham: Okay, so we’re out of questions, and we’ve talked your ears off, but thank you all for joining us, and Andrea for your sage advice on this meaty topic.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Yes.

Sarah Durham: As Kayla said at the beginning of the hour, this is recorded. We’ll send you a link. We’ll probably transcribe this and post also the copy on the Big Duck blog, maybe on Andrea’s blog, too. If there’s pieces of the conversation today, you want to extract, and pull out, and share with other people on your team, just come back to Andrea’s website or the Big Duck website, maybe in about a month. We’ll hopefully have a transcript up by then, and thank you all for participating. Andrea, we just got a nice chat from somebody who said, “Thank you, this was super positive and inspiring.” We feel the same way.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Fantastic. It makes me feel good.

Sarah Durham: Go out there and raise some money.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Sarah, thank you so much for being the host of this, and for doing this. It’s a pleasure to work with you, and to be near enough where we can have lunch together now and again.

Sarah Durham: Good times. Thank you.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Thanks, everybody.

Sarah Durham: Bye everybody.