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Betty, the Executive Director of a small nonprofit, works hard every day to keep her nonprofit running. She’s capable and committed. She cares deeply. She’s built an excellent team of people to keep the programs going.

Hiring Help for Your Campaign When Margins are Tight

But everything operates on very tight margins. She makes her annual budget every year through fundraising and program fees. And the work gets done. But there’s no margin for error. Everyone is working to capacity.

So now, with a capital campaign in the works to raise money to fund a much-needed expansion, Betty realizes that she’s got to expand the development staff. She gets a new position approved by her board and starts on a search.

Unfortunately, three months later, having talked with and interviewed more than a dozen people, she hasn’t been able to find anyone. The people who are experienced and qualified to run a campaign will cost much more than she can afford. And the people she can afford have little campaign experience.

What might Betty do to increase fundraising capacity without hiring an experienced development person?

A Better Way to Acquire the Right Campaign Talent

Many organizations find themselves in Betty’s position. They’re desperate to hire a qualified development staffer who has major gift and capital campaign experience. But they either can’t find or can’t afford the right person.

We suggest an alternative approach

Rather than hiring someone to do high-level fundraising, Betty should prepare herself to do that work and hire someone who can take over the portions of Betty’s job that could (and should) be done by a smart, effective lower-level staffer.

We’ve found that many hard working and well-meaning EDs of small nonprofits have fallen into the trap of doing everything. And when we ask them to take a good hard look at what work they might shed to someone less senior, they are often surprised at how much they can off-load.

Sometimes within minutes of asking an ED what she might offload, we can see her light up with ideas about how to reorganize and reassign her work. But even if it takes a few days, most EDs can develop a clear plan to free themselves up by either delegating to other current staff members or by hiring an assistant.

It’s often harder, however, to convince an ED to take the lead in the capital campaign.

An Example of an ED Taking the Lead

Let’s get back to Betty. Betty knows a fair amount about fundraising. As you might expect, she’s involved in running the gala. She signs hundreds of thank you letters. She works on grant proposals and is the face of the organization around town.

But Betty hasn’t often been involved in soliciting major gifts. So, when it comes to a capital campaign, she feels out of her depth.

A New Model to Help Betty

Betty’s not at all sure she’ll be able to solicit the large gifts her campaign will need. The idea of talking with her largest donors makes her uncomfortable. In fact, her overly busy schedule with her fingers in every pot seems far less stressful than major gift fundraising.

Luckily for Betty, working on a Guided Feasibility Study gave her the breakthrough she needed. Rather than using a traditional consultant, Betty’s organization decided to conduct a Guided Feasibility Study with the help of the Capital Campaign Toolkit team to prepare for the campaign. This model calls on the leaders of the organization to have conversations with the prospective donors rather than having an outside consultant do interviews.

As we started to work with Betty to get ready for those conversations, we told her that as the ED, she would have to free up the time to meet with a good many of her major donors. We assured her that we would help develop the materials and train her, and a couple of her key board members, to conduct the donor conversations.

Newly Found Confidence

Like many EDs we’ve worked with, we saw Betty gain confidence. By the end of the study, she had found her stride and was so comfortable talking to her major donors that she was ready to play a lead role in the campaign.

Not only did Betty feel more confident, but she realized that as the leader of her organization, her largest donors wanted to get to know her. What seemed like a job she might not be up for turned out to be the opposite. She could see her work with donors as a huge opportunity to build relationships with people who could help manifest her dreams for the organization.

More About Guided Feasibility Studies

Want to learn more about a Guided Feasibility Study and determine if it’s right for your organization? Click here to schedule a free strategy session and speak with an expert.

Hiring Help to Remain Campaign-Focused

As Betty reconsidered her staffing needs, she was eager to hire someone who could free her up to be more active in the campaign and fundraising at a high level. Here are some examples of people who could be a great hire:

  1. Administrative assistant
  2. Stay at home mom returning to the workplace
  3. New college graduate
  4. Someone looking to flee corporate America

Beyond Fundraising Skills

The person you’re looking for doesn’t necessarily need to have any fundraising skills. Here’s what they need to have:

  • Dedication to hard work
  • Communication skills — written and verbal
  • A passion for and commitment to your mission
  • Enthusiasm
  • Computer skills / competency

Top Takeaways from Betty’s Experience

Your organization’s ED has an important role to play in the capital campaign. The desire to hire an experienced fundraiser to do that work may not be the best approach. Instead, consider hiring someone who can free up and support your ED to do more major gift fundraising.

Anxiety about major gift fundraising is common and appropriate. If your ED is not comfortable in that role, Capital Campaign Toolkit’s advising team is here to help build skills and confidence. Learn more about how we can help support you and your team through a campaign.

If you are going to conduct a feasibility study to test your campaign plan and goal, consider using the Guided Feasibility Study model. It might be just what you need to help ease your ED into a bigger fundraising role.

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