Sarah Durham, the CEO of Big Duck, invited me and Andrea to be guests on her podcast, The Smart Communications Podcast.

Big Duck puts smart communications in the hands of nonprofits. Similarly, the Capital Campaign Toolkit puts capital campaigns in the hands of nonprofits.

And that’s just what she wanted to talk about — do nonprofits really need consultants to conduct a capital campaign? Or can they actually do it themselves?

We had a great conversation about the changing landscape of capital campaigns. In the past, nonprofits purely relied on consultants for their campaigns. Today there are an abundance of online tools staff can use to do more of the work themselves.

That doesn’t mean all organizations don’t need consultants. Or that those who lead their own campaigns don’t need support and coaching. We talk about that too. When do you need a consultant and when do you not?

We are excited to share this podcast episode with you. Listen to it above, or read the transcript that follows. Reach out if you have any questions!

Complete Podcast Transcript

Sarah Durham: Welcome to the Smart Communications Podcast. I’m Sarah Durham and I’m joined today by Andrea Kihlstedt and Amy Eisenstein, two people who collectively have probably 50 or 60 years of expertise in the fundraising space.

We’re going to talk about something they’re working on together. But before we dig into that, I want to give them a chance to introduce themselves individually. So Andrea, tell us a little bit about your background.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Thank you, Sarah. I’m happy to. I’ve been in the capital campaign business for nearly 30 years now. That’s a long time in a big industry. Perhaps you know, capital campaigns are the times in an organization’s life when they raise a great deal more money than they raise at any other time. They happen only occasionally, but they’re tremendously exciting and adrenaline producing.

Sarah Durham: And you’ve produced books on this topic. You’ve done training. You’ve been a coach for years. You co-founded Capital Campaign Masters.

And Amy, please introduce yourself.

Amy Eisenstein: I’ve been a consultant in the nonprofit space for a little over 10 years now helping organizations primarily with major gifts and capital campaigns. I do coaching, consulting. Before that of course, I was a development director in a variety of organizations, at large and small organizations. But I’m thrilled now to be helping people raise major gifts and capital campaigns.

Sarah Durham: I met Andrea and Amy through the Association of Fundraising Professionals, which is a trade association that, in my experience, most smart fundraisers belong to. They both are regular speakers at those conferences. We’ve been talking about capital campaigns in various forms for years, the three of us.

But you two have collaborated on something new, on a Capital Campaign Toolkit. Andrea touched a little bit on what a capital campaign is, but before we talk about the Toolkit specifically and what you guys are working on, let’s just back up. Andrea, you mentioned that capital campaigns happen very occasionally, but they’re a very big deal in the life of an organization. Tell us just very briefly what a capital campaign is in case any of our listeners aren’t familiar with them.

Andrea Kihlstedt: One of the other ways to describe a capital campaign is that these are springboard campaigns, that they raise money to help an organization move from one level of function to a much higher level of function. It’s quite common for an organization to raise 10 or even 20 times what they raise in their annual fund for a capital campaign to increase their capacity, in terms of how they carry out their mission.

Sarah Durham: A lot of the organizations that Big Duck works with, when we work with them on a capital campaign on the communications, they’re often trying to raise easily tens of millions of dollars, often hundreds of millions of dollars depending on the size of the organization. That’s on top of the annual giving. This is not a big lift just in a particular year. It’s often over many years, right?

Andrea Kihlstedt: That’s right. Yes, often over three years, four years, five years.

Sarah Durham: You guys are disrupting the model of capital campaigns as I understand it with this Capital Campaign Toolkit. I think before we dig into that, we gotta get on the same page about how capital campaigns typically go…

Often, there’s a feasibility study to see if this money can actually be raised from this organization. There’s a planning phase. Then there’s a step by step process, usually led by a consultant who is an expert in capital campaigns where the organization goes through a series of steps over years to raise this money.

But you guys are changing all that, so Amy tell us a little bit about why it’s time to change that model and what you guys are up to.

Amy Eisenstein: We see a change in the way that people work, and it’s no different in fundraising and specifically in capital campaigns. One example we like to use is in the past, if you had a pain in your chest, you would immediately call the doctor or maybe take a trip to the hospital. But today, what do you do first if you have a chest pain? You go on Google. Honestly, that’s happening across all different types of sectors, that you’re able to access resources and tools and information in ways that you haven’t been able to in the past.

That’s what we’re seeing with capital campaigns, too. In the past, if you talked about having a capital campaign, you’d pick up the phone and call a capital campaign expert, a consultant. These days, that’s not necessarily the first step. That’s what we see changing.

Sarah Durham: If I needed to do my taxes, I used to always need a CPA. These days I might use TurboTax right?

Amy Eisenstein: That’s right. It’s an analogy we love to use, TurboTax, and LegalZoom, too, is another one, where in the past if you needed to do a simple contract or a will, you’d need an attorney. But that’s not the case anymore. There’s resources, tools, and platforms online to help you change the way you can do some of these professional tasks. The same is true with capital campaigns.

Sarah Durham: You’ve created a really easy to use plug and play set of resources for somebody who’s trying to do a capital campaign. If I sign up for the Capital Campaign Toolkit, what can I find and how is it going to help me raise this money?

Amy Eisenstein: If somebody signs up for the Toolkit, they are going to find that they now have a step by step guide, a roadmap, of a campaign. They know what to do each step of the way, and they have all the tools and resources to be successful.

Sarah Durham: What if I need extra help? Are you going to do coaching or other kinds of support? I can imagine that the lift of doing it all on your own might be great for some organizations but really challenging for others.

Amy Eisenstein: Yeah, as part of the Toolkit, we’re offering several options for advising. We see this being used in conjunction with coaching, which is very different than a traditional consultant who might come in several days a month and hold your hand every step of the way. The Toolkit and an advisor replaces that.

Sarah Durham: That’s a big disruption. That’s a little bit shocking. I know for me, I’ve worked on the communications side of capital campaigns for a long time, and I can probably count on one hand the number of organizations who did not use a consultant. Andrea, in particular, you’ve worked in this field for years and years as a consultant with capital campaigns. Is there a place where you still need a consultant? When would that still be relevant?

Andrea Kihlstedt: Yes. I think there are places where you may still want a consultant. But something to keep in mind is that over these last few years, the ways in which people comfortably communicate has shifted radically. That people of all ages and all places in society now use conference calls and Zoom calls, video conference calls very easily. So the need for a consultant to be on-site regularly for whole days, and the cost involved in doing that, is simply not necessary.

Now there are still roles for consultants, and important roles. A consultant serves as a remarkably important resource because they represent an outside view. When you’re working with someone on the inside of an organization, they come with a certain set of political requirements. You bring in a coach or a consultant from the outside and they have the ability to see and say things that no one on the inside could.

What we’re recommending within the context of the Capital Campaign Toolkit, is that organizations do an a la carte use of consultants or coaches. That they might bring in a consultant to help draft or prepare the campaign materials like you do, Sarah. Or they might bring in a consultant to do a feasibility study, where having an outside voice, an outside expert voice, going and talking to some of their major donors, is incredibly helpful.

They may bring in a consultant to come in and train your board. You know that the things you tell your board members all the time, they often don’t listen to. But if you bring in an outside expert, well lo and behold, the very same things you’ve been said become the holy grail when a consultant has said them.

There are a variety of things you may still want to bring a consultant in for. But with the Toolkit and with coaching, you can be much more in charge of and knowledgeable about, so that you can lead your organization from stem to stern through a campaign.

Sarah Durham: I love the way that this model really puts the organization in the drivers seat of the campaign, instead of relying on the consultant to be the driver of the campaign.

Let’s talk about the scale of capital campaigns. Is there a size at which an organization is best served by the Toolkit or not? Are there situations where maybe I should steer clear?

Andrea Kihlstedt: I often think about not so much dollar amounts. Everybody wants to know how big should the campaign be before you need one thing or another. I think more in terms of complexity.

If what you’re looking at as an organization that is a community based organization, where the structure of the organization itself is quite simple, then there it will be easy and appropriate for them to use the Toolkit and coaching.

If however, it’s a complicated organization with multiple countries, multiple regions, multiple schools within one organization, you may well want to hire a consultant to help you sort through, among other things, the politics of that kind of organization for its campaign.

Sarah Durham: Yeah, I have worked on campaigns where the campaign was so large and it was fundraising for so many different initiatives that sometimes the donors also had very unique challenges, very unique reasons why they have to be communicated with a certain way. So developing a campaign that can be modular or speak to unique audiences in different ways, I can imagine would be challenging too. Amy, were you going to say something?

Amy Eisenstein: I just wanted to add some examples of organizations that would be appropriate for the Toolkit, regardless of the size of their campaign. Things like schools, hospitals, things as Andrea said, in one location. So a performing arts center, or an animal shelter, a YMCA, those types of things that are in one community that would do really well with the Toolkit.

Learn More About the Toolkit

Sarah Durham: That’s great. Before we wrap up, the best place to find the Toolkit is CapitalCampaignToolkit.com. On that website, you can find information about:

Are there any other resources you would encourage nonprofits to consider as they think about their own capital campaigns?

Two Free Capital Campaign Resources

Amy Eisenstein: Two things we’re giving away on the Toolkit website:

  1. One is a free step by step guide, a checklist if you will, for your whole campaign. You don’t have to do anything, pay any money. You can just get a free checklist, step by step guide, a roadmap for your entire campaign.
  2. We’re also inviting organizations to apply for a free campaign assessment to help figure out if they’re ready for a capital campaign and whether the Toolkit would work well for them.

So those two things are complimentary resources that we’re offering on the website.

Sarah Durham: Andrea and Amy, thank you for being here today. I look forward to hearing about all the money that is raised and capacity that is built as a result of this project. Thanks for joining me.

Andrea Kihlstedt: Thank you, Sarah.

Amy Eisenstein: Thanks, Sarah.

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