A big task can seem overwhelming when you look at the big picture — especially something as daunting and ambitious as a capital campaign. However, if you can break down the goal into manageable pieces or chunks, the smaller parts feel more doable.

If you are embarking on a capital campaign, you’ll divide your work into seven segments. The largest of these is the Quiet Phase of the campaign. That’s the section of the campaign during which you raise the most money, soliciting the largest donors one by one — quietly!

In this post, you’ll learn about the power and importance of the Quiet Phase, and you’ll discover three key tactics for its success.

Quick Links — Use the links below to jump to each section and each of the three tactics:

  1. Solicit Feedback from Key Supporters
  2. Develop a Strong Strategy for Making The Ask
  3. Don’t Rush Through the Quiet Phase

Once you’ve mastered these three tips, you’ll be ready to raise the lion’s share of your goal during the Quiet Phase of your capital campaign.

Capital Campaign Timeline: Quiet Phase Overview

Capital Campaign Timeline: Quiet Phase Overview

The Quiet Phase is the fourth phase in most capital campaigns. It is preceded by:

  1. Pre-Campaign Planning, during which you clarify your objectives, develop a preliminary or working goal for your campaign, and draft the case for support.
  2. Feasibility Study, during which you test your preliminary plan with your largest donors and revise the goal accordingly.
  3. Campaign Planning, during which you actually develop a plan for your campaign that sets out the timeline, policies, donor recognition and other essential elements of the campaign plan.

Then, finally, you will get to the Quiet Phase of your campaign.

The Quiet Phase Isn’t Very Quiet At All

Many people misconstrue that the meaning of the term “Quiet Phase.” They think that during that phase of the campaign they shouldn’t be discussing it at all. However, that is not the point.

During the Quiet Phase of your campaign, you will talk to your largest potential donors and secure as many of the largest gifts as possible. Your success in securing those gifts will determine how much money your campaign can raise.

Toward the end of the Quiet Phase, you will revisit your campaign goal. If you’ve done better with the lead gifts than you imagined, you might increase the goal. If you’ve done less well, you might decrease it.

So, during the “quiet phase,” while you talk to donors and other people about the campaign, you don’t publicize the campaign goal.

How Long Does a Campaign’s Quiet Phase Last?

The Quiet Phase of the campaign may take between six and twelve months or even longer. Though the number of gifts solicited during that phase may be relatively few, they will include the largest gifts to the campaign. And soliciting those large gifts often takes time.

During this phase of the campaign, you will solicit your largest prospects and those who are closest to your organization — principally your board members.

Before the end of the Quiet Phase, every board member should have been solicited and you should be able to say, with confidence, that your board is fully 100% behind the campaign.

3 Capital Campaign Quiet Phase Tactics for Success

3 Capital Campaign Quiet Phase Tactics for Success

To make your campaign’s Quiet Phase a success, make sure to employ all four of these key tactics.

Solicit Feedback from Key Supporters

1. Solicit Feedback from Key Supporters

Soliciting the largest gifts for a campaign is often more akin to donor cultivation and engagement than it is to a simple, once and done ask. The largest donors to your campaign are really partners in the project and their willingness to invest their money in the project will depend in some part on how involved they are.

In most cases, you will have engaged them in the earlier phases of the campaign. But even when you get to the Quiet Phase and are ready to solicit them, you may find many opportunities to engage them.

Here are just a few of the ways you might involve your largest donors:

  • Invite them to serve on a lead gift committee.
  • Ask them to review a proposal you’re working on.
  • Ask them to make a call to connect you to another donor.
  • Ask them to host an event at their home for a few other donors.
  • Ask for advice about how to solicit other donors.
  • Invite them to join you for a solicitation.

Some donors, and foundations in particular, may not want to play an active role in your campaign. However, even for foundations, you should be in touch with your program officers to ask them for advice long before you submit a proposal. That, too, is a form of engagement.

2. Develop a Strong Strategy for Making The Ask

When soliciting the largest gifts, you’ve got to remember that each solicitation should be tailored to appeal to the interests and giving patterns of the particular donor.

The easiest and most accurate ways of determining a donor’s interests is by looking to see how that donor has given in the past. Ask yourself:

What has this donor given to and what size gifts has she given before?

While you can do extensive research to learn about donors (and that certainly has its place), I’ve found that there are few things more effective than a lively curiosity about people. If you ask them about themselves, they are likely to tell you a great deal about:

  • why they give
  • where their money came from
  • why they give to certain causes
  • what makes them excited about a given project

Of course, getting to know your donors takes time. But overall, it’s time worth spending.

If you don’t have any idea why a major donor would want to give to your campaign, you’re not yet ready to ask that person for a gift. Don’t short circuit the process in your rush to complete the solicitations. Your campaign will suffer if you do.

Don’t Rush Through The Quiet Phase

3. Don’t Rush Through the Quiet Phase

The end of the Quiet Phase is marked by your campaign kick-off. Here are seven items you should complete before you kick off the Public Phase of your campaign.

1. Assess progress toward campaign goal.

Before kicking off your campaign, you should have raised a minimum of 65% of the campaign goal. For smaller organizations and campaigns, having closer to 75% or even 80% is advisable. You should have solicited most if not all of the lead gifts for your campaign. And every board member should have made a gift.

2. Revise campaign timetable as needed.

This is a good opportunity to step back and revisit your campaign timeline. Are things on track? Do you need to prepare for a longer campaign or can you wrap up more quickly than anticipated?

3. Determine the goal to be published.

During the Quiet Phase of your campaign, you’ve been using a “working goal”. Now is the final opportunity to adjust the goal up or down before a public announcement of the official campaign goal.

4. Determine mid-level solicitation teams and enlist leaders for each team.

The public phase is when you’ll want to use lots of volunteers to go out and solicit mid-level gifts for your campaign. It’s time to enlist team leaders and provide training for those teams.

5. Complete your campaign brochure and develop webpage for public phase.

As you approach the public phase of your campaign and you have a firm goal, you’ll want to create a campaign brochure, as well as a web presence to give your campaign volunteers confidence as they go out to solicit gifts.

You may be surprised to realize that the largest solicitations in the Quiet Phase are usually made without campaign brochures. Instead, you will develop simple materials for each solicitation fine-tuned to appeal to that donor’s interests.

6. Plan the campaign kick-off.

A campaign kick-off or celebration will officially launch the public phase of your campaign. And that event must be planned during the final months of the Quiet Phase.

Kick-off events range in scale and scope from a small groundbreaking with punch and cookies, to something much more elaborate and formal, depending on the style of the organization and the expectation of the donors.

7. Secure a challenge gift to announce at kick off.

A wonderful tool to raise money towards the end of your capital campaign is with a challenge gift. Many donors feel motivated to give when they know their gift is going to be matched. Some donors enjoy leveraging their gifts in that way.

So, if you can, try to secure a significant challenge gift that you can announce at the Kick-off event as a way creating excitement in the Public Phase.

Tools to Keep Your Campaign On Track

Tools to Keep Your Campaign On Track

One of the most useful aspects of the Capital Campaign Toolkit is that it comes with step-by-step instructions for how to move through each phase of the campaign, including the Quiet Phase.

When you look at your campaign phase-by-phase and step-by-step, what might seem beyond your reach when you see it as a whole will become much more manageable.

You will find a step-by-step guide for your entire campaign here. Review Phase 4, the Quiet Phase, to see the specific elements involved in this all-important aspect of your campaign.

If you would like some in-person guidance about the quiet phase of your campaign, apply for a free campaign strategy session. You’ll be likely to find it helpful to get an outside expert’s sense of where you are, what course corrections you might make, and other ways to improve your chances of success.

6 Comments

  1. Paula Barger

    Great article. Thanks for sharing. Would like to share with my supervisor.

    Reply
    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      Thanks Paula. Happy to have you share it with your supervisor. It’s great when pieces like this can help people in positions of responsibility understand how campaigns function.

      Reply
  2. Dan Kirsch

    You are perfectly positioned to lead an important change regarding misunderstanding of the Quiet Phase. Please, just stop calling it that. If non development people are confused by it, it falls to us development people to make it less confusing. In general, we development people are awful at nomenclature. This would be an easy, customer/donor-focused change. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.

    Reply
    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      How about calling it the “Strategic Partner Phase?”

      What would you suggest, Dan? Thx for your comment. Of course, you are right. We development people should change the language. Here are some other phrases I’d like to change —

      Capital Campaigns should really be Capacity Campaigns
      Feasibility Studies should be Campaign Planning Studies
      And then there’s “The Ask” which I’ve always hated. Makes it sound like a dreaded disease instead of a warm and friendly conversation.
      And how about “Kick-Off”? Perhaps that should be the “Nearly There Celebration”

      I feel a new blog post in the making. 😉

      Reply
      • Jay Werth

        Nomenclature suggestions.
        Quiet phase to Engagement Build
        Capital campaign to Capacity Build
        Feasibility Study to Opportunity Analysis
        The Ask to The Request(real & respectful)
        Kick Off to The Reveal

        Reply
        • Andrea Kihlstedt

          These are great suggestions. Thanks so much, Jay! I particularly love “The Reveal”!

          Reply

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