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Season 2, Episode 38

Campaign experts Amy Eisenstein and Andrea Kihlstedt discuss the public phase of capital campaigns and strategies you will use to get to your goal.

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This episode was recorded as part of a live webinar held Monday, May 9, 2022. To participate in future webinars, register at ToolkitTalks.com.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
We spend a lot of time talking about the planning for the campaign, the feasibility study, the getting ready for the campaign and this long quiet phase of the campaign where we solicit all the largest gifts and the people who are closest to our organization. That process often takes a long time. It takes 12 months, 18 months, sometimes longer than that, where you are very patiently soliciting one person after another in a very personal, careful, thoughtful way. Really, in many of those, each of those solicitations is a little campaign in and of itself where you’re doing research and you’re finding out who knows whom and you’re cultivating people. It’s a long, long process.

We call it the quiet phase of the campaign not because you’re not supposed to be talking about your campaign at all, not because you’re really supposed to be quiet. That’s not the issue. We talk about it as the quiet phase because during that whole long phase of the campaign, you are not publishing an official final campaign goal. What’s quiet is the campaign goal.

So you’re talking to donors using a working goal or a draft goal that may go up or down, but once you’ve solicited the largest gifts and you have most of those pretty well in, you at some point will be ready to make a decision about what it is you can really raise, what the final goal of your campaign is going to be. Then you are going to use that as an opportunity to announce the goal of your campaign, announce how much money you have raised towards that goal, tell everybody what the campaign is about, how much money you have left to raise and engage the broader community in helping you raise whatever is left to get to that goal, the gap, between where you are and what the campaign goal is.

What is the Public Phase?

So that gap period from the time you announce your campaign goal itself to the time that you actually raise all of that money and get over your goal, that is what we call the public phase of the campaign. Now, what’s funny about it is that it seems like it should be long. Many people think it will be long because of course, you’re reaching many, many more people during the public phase of the campaign. It may be that during the quiet phase of the campaign, you have solicited a total of 100 gifts, including the board and all the people who are close to you. Maybe it’s only 75 gifts. It’s a fairly tight number of gifts that you’ve solicited in this long quiet phase. When you go public, the hope is that you’re going to be getting many more gifts. Of course, they will be much smaller, but there will be many more gifts, and there will be a public energy created around your campaign. Amy, was that clear? What did I miss?

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. I think one of the big distinguishing indicators, and you’ve sort of alluded to this, but I want to hammer it home is the way people are solicited and who is solicited. That to me is a big distinguisher between the quiet phase and the public phase. In the quiet phase, you’re doing primarily one-on-ones, face-to-face or Zoom-to-Zoom individual solicitations. In the public phase, you’re turning towards more bulk solicitation strategies. So you’ll have direct mail and maybe a phonathon and some Crowdfunding and email solicitations. The way in which you are approaching the public, you’re inviting everybody to participate in the campaign. The kickoff is the big announcement of, “We’re this far into our campaign. This is our official goal. Now that we’ve raised 60, 70, or even 80% of our goal, and now we’re making a big public announcement and inviting everybody else in the community to participate and help get us over the finish line.” So, yeah. All right. What else about the public phase?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Here’s something always strikes me. It’s always strikes me that I actually know far less about how to raise money from the broad base than I do about how to raise money through the quiet phase and that most of the people who end up or have ended up being clients of us, of mine, of ours, when they get into the public phase because they are experts at things like galas and annual fund solicitations, and —

Amy Eisenstein:
Direct mail.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Online solicitation. This is the meat and potatoes of what you do in your annual fundraising all the time. So most people who run fundraising programs are actually really comfortable and really good at this broad base of fundraising. They’re not so good at the earlier stuff, which is how do you actually get up the courage and the will and the energy to ask these people for much larger gifts than you’ve ever gotten from them before? But you will be on much firmer ground once you get through your kickoff, and then we or your consultants will say to you:

“Okay, now go get as many gifts as you can, get as much energy and as much public relations as you possibly can to raise the remaining million dollars to get to your goal.”

This is going to feel like old home week to you.

Avoid Cannibalizing Your Annual Fund Through Good Planning

Amy Eisenstein:
Right. So now here’s the thing. Everybody’s afraid that a campaign will cannibalize their annual fund. So one of the many strategies to use so that it doesn’t is to keep this public phase short. So if you do let it drag out for a year or God forbid more, then it will get confusing with your annual fund. But if you have a three-month short targeted, specific, strategic wrap up to your campaign and say, “Hey, listen, we know that you supported the annual fund already this year or that you will. Right now we’re coming to you just for this short period of time to wrap up this very important, exciting, big project. We hope you’ll make an additional one-time special gift,” it’s not nearly as confusing. If the public phase drags out for a year, then of course it’s confusing and muddled and mixed up with your annual fund.

So don’t let that happen. That’s one of the many reasons to keep this public phase short is because you are just … Think about it. If you’re raising two-thirds or three-quarters of your campaign goal in the quiet phase, that’s the amount of time it should take. Three-quarters of your campaign because you’re raising three-quarters of the money. So the last part where you are raising just the last 20% or whatever, it’s just a few short months, and that’s one way to think about it. Not getting mixed up with your annual fund. Andrea, what-

Andrea Kihlstedt:
I never thought about the timing like that, Amy, but I suppose that’s right. For me, I’ve always found that it’s frustrating, I guess, is what I want to say … It frustrates me, let me put it that way because in the beginning part of your campaign, you’re working on bringing in these very large gifts. Now, they do take work, but it’s a different kind of work. Then with one ask, guess what? You’ve raised one million dollars. With one ask, so it feels like your time is incredibly well spent. Then in the public phase of the campaign, you put in all this time, energy and effort to go to a broad base of people and they start sending you checks for $500, $250, $100. It’s like, “Ugh, so much time and energy.”

The Public Phase Expands Community Excitement

Every once in a while, I have to ask myself, “Well, why do we do it, and does it matter? Should we really do it?” Here’s the answer, and I just have to keep reminding myself of it because I get frustrated by these things. The answer is this. The primary goal of the public phase of your campaign is to expand the excitement about your organization and your project as broadly throughout your community as possible. You have something very exciting going on at a time when your organization is growing, and that’s an opportunity for you to become better known as an institution of substance, as an organization of substance, doing exciting things. So it is as much a public relations effort as it is a fundraising effort.

Yes, you will raise money, but you have to think about the importance of it as being far more than just raising money. It really is seeding the future for your ongoing operating funds, your ongoing support from people who may never have given to you before. But they’ll jump on board during this public phase of your campaign because you’re in the newspaper and maybe you even have a billboard and you have events, and all of a sudden you have a sign saying that this building is coming to this piece of land right in the middle of this community. All of a sudden you are present in a way that you haven’t been before. That’s worth a lot actually.

Amy Eisenstein:
I’m glad you said that, Andrea, because there was just an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy the other day about a campaign that just did the major gifts and skipped that part. I think that it’s important to remind everyone why that piece. Because sure, one additional gift of one million dollars and you don’t have to do that broad-based fundraising. But what’s the value of inviting everybody to participate, inviting people in? To say that, “The $100 donor is important, that we want them to be included, not, “Forget it. If you only have $100, we don’t need your money or your participation.” No. We want to have an inclusion aspect of the campaign where everybody’s contribution is valuable. These smaller donors at the end of the campaign get you over the finish line, and you couldn’t do it without them. There’s really something to be said for that.

The Public Phase Celebrates Campaigners’ Hard Work

Andrea Kihlstedt:
The other thing it does, Amy, is that it gives the people who have worked so hard to get the campaign as far as it got an opportunity to celebrate and be celebrated. It’s often a very small group of people that have done all that work. Maybe it’s a total of, I don’t know, 10, 15, 20 people, volunteers and staff that have done all that work for 12 months, 18 months in the quiet phase of the campaign. Well now, as you get ready to celebrate in the public phase, you are able to point to some of them and say, “Look at the work these people have done. Look what they’ve accomplished. Look how close they’ve gotten us to the goal. Now it’s everybody else has turned to get on board and to join hands with them and to help make this campaign, help really drive it across the finish line.”

So I think rewards the people who have worked quietly for a long time to be able to be celebrated in a way that’s not … You shouldn’t stick up your nose at that. That’s an important part too. So to draw this to a close … Well, one more thing perhaps to say, and then we can draw it to a close. It used to be back in my day, that’s pretty long back, it used to be that what we did was we organized teams of people to go and solicit one-on-one people they knew for low-level gifts and to do phonathons. Well, these days, I think we can still do some of that, but there are of course many different ways to do public phase fundraising. I mean, you can get people to do organized teams of their own to raise money.

Online fundraising has made possible much more efficient ways of making this happen than was the case 10 or 15 or 20 years ago. There can be events throughout the community. There can be press releases that come out about one thing or another. Anything you can do to really build energy and enthusiasm I think is worth doing, and you shouldn’t stick your nose up in the air about it. I think it’s a big mistake not to have this concluding piece of a campaign that welcomes everybody into the process. We don’t want it to be narrow, only controlled by a relatively few people. That’s not what this campaign is about.

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