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Season 2, Episode 69

It’s no secret that you’ll raise a ton of money during the quiet phase of your campaign. But in this session, Amy Eisenstein and Andrea Kihlstedt demystify the process.

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Amy Eisenstein:
The quiet phase will make or break your campaign. We’re going to share three tips to make sure you get it right. Hi, I’m Amy Eisenstein, and I’m here with my colleague and co-founder, Andrea Kihlstedt, and we are super excited to be talking about the quiet phase.

Probably, well, they’re all the most important phases of your campaign, but arguably the quiet phase is the most important phase of your campaign. Andrea, why don’t you talk a little bit about what the quiet phase is, and then we’ll get into our [quiet phase] tips of how to make sure that people are successful.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Great. Thanks, Amy. Hi everybody.

What is the Quiet Phase of a Capital Campaign?

The quiet phase is not a period of time when you can’t talk to anybody about your campaign. Let me just take that off the table. It’s not quiet, in the sense that you can’t talk about your project. It’s quiet, in the sense that you have not yet announced an official goal for your campaign. That’s why we call it a quiet phase of your campaign.

You are doing the most important work of the campaign during this phase, but you have not yet announced publicly what your goal is, because during the quiet phase, you’re going to be talking to your largest, most important donors and the donors who are closest to you. If you do your work right, through those conversations, you will get a very clear understanding of how much you actually can raise.

That’s going to inform the final goal that you announce for your campaign. What we’re talking about today is this fairly long period. It’s often 12 months or 18 months, sometimes 24 months, during which you talk to the largest, most important, most committed donors to your organization.

Amy Eisenstein:
Not just talk to them, but actually ask them for gifts to the campaign. Of course, talking to them, but actually soliciting them and that is how your ultimate goal that you announce in the public phase is going to be informed, because you find out, hopefully in the quiet phase, you’re raising 60, 70, sometimes even 80% of your goal from these people who are the most committed to your organization.

Alright. We’re going to talk about three tips to ensure that your quiet phase is successful, and therefore your entire campaign is successful. Andrea, you want to start with number one?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yes. The first tip is to be sure that you’re talking to and soliciting, as Amy says, the right people. Now, there are two groups of people you’re going to want to be talking to and soliciting in the quiet phase of your campaign.

  1. The first group are the people who have the most wealth and who have the most likelihood of giving the largest gifts to your campaign.
  2. The second group are the people who are closest to your organization. That would include your board, for example. Some of your board members may not be wealthy, may not be able to give large gifts, but you’re going to want to solicit them in this quiet phase of your campaign as well.

You have to make those choices of who you’re soliciting quite carefully.

Whom to Solicit in the Quiet Phase

In most quiet phases, you probably aren’t soliciting more than a hundred people even, and maybe that you’re only soliciting 50 or 60 people over a fairly long period of time. Now, why does it take so long?

Because each one of those solicitations, each one of those donors is like a little campaign in and of itself, and you have to think them through, think it through very carefully, and approach them in the way that is right for them. You can’t just sit down and write a letter to 50 or 100 people and say, “Well, now I’m done with the quiet phase of my campaign.” That’s not how it works.

Amy Eisenstein:
Or an email. No soliciting anybody in this phase by email or letter.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Right. Right.

Amy Eisenstein:
I guess occasionally it happens. It is the absolute exception to the rule if somebody will not talk to you or schedule a meeting. But the goal is to meet with all of these people, and I really like that you said Andrea, these two groups of people, the biggest potential donors, the people at the absolute top of your gift range chart and the people that are closest to your organization.

I would include board members and any other committee members that maybe campaign committee members that don’t fall into that biggest donor potential, because you may have some campaign committee members who are movers and shakers, but won’t necessarily give the biggest gifts, but they should commit early.

Alright, so number one is identify the right people to be soliciting in the quiet phase and I think you started to touch on the second point we wanted to make, which was patiently work on one donor at a time from the top down.

Once you’ve made your list of the right people, both the biggest potential donors and the people closest to your organization, then really the key is focus not on a list of 50 or 100 people. That will be too overwhelming, but pick two or three people per week to really discuss amongst the key leaders at your organization about how you’re going to approach them, who’s going to set up the meeting, how they’re going to be solicited, what you’re going to ask them for.

The Order of Solicitation

Andrea Kihlstedt:
It’s worth thinking, Amy, about how important the order of solicitation is, and that you have to be prepared not to rush.

For example, let’s say you have two prospects for the top gift to your campaign. Let’s say the top gift to your campaign is $1,000,000 and you’re asking two or maybe three donors for $1,000,000. You’re going to want to do that carefully and thoroughly, and you’re not going to want to rush to ask the next levels down, until you’ve actually secured one of those top gifts.

Because once you can say to the people at the next level down, “Well, Joe has already committed $1,000,000 to this campaign,” it’s going to increase the likelihood that the people at the next level down are going to make significant gifts. The order of solicitation and the patience to wait until you have some of those early largest commitments will really set you up for success. It’s very tempting just to race ahead and try to solicit everybody, but you lose this incredible power of starting at the top, securing those top gifts and creating a momentum that other people will want to join if you don’t do it right.

This is the Longest Phase of the Capital Campaign

Amy Eisenstein:
I think pointing out that the quiet phase is the longest phase of your campaign is a really important point, because a lot of people are confused and think that the public phase is the longest phase, and that takes a year or so. But if you look at how much money you raise in the money-raising phases of a campaign, and we have a timeline available for people on our site and we can share it, you’re raising 60 or 70 or 80% of your dollars in the quiet phase.

That should take 60 or 70 or 80% of the time you spend on your campaign as opposed to the public phase, which is significantly shorter, when you’re raising less money. The quiet phase may take 12 months, 18 months, 24 months, or longer as you secure these biggest gifts to your campaign.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
It’s an exercise in patience and you know, probably should tell your board that it’s going to take quite a while for those large gifts to come in and that you don’t want to rush the process, so that they’re prepared. They’re not saying:

“Well, where’s the money and why haven’t you sent out letters to everybody?”

There is an important thought process that requires patience. It’s like slow cooking. You have to be in the mode of thinking through every solicitation carefully and going on the donor’s timeline, which often is not one solicitation.

Then the donor writes you a check. Right? If a donor is going to give you a gift of $1,000,000 or $2,000,000, it’s possible, but it’s unlikely you are going to solicit them and they’re going to make a decision, right then. You’re going to have to go through several steps to help them make the right decision and figure out how to make the gift.

There’s a Lot to Track in the Quiet Phase

Which brings us to our third point, which is, it may sound simple to take a year or longer to solicit 50 or 100 lead gifts of top gifts, but because each of those becomes a little campaign in and of itself, there is a lot to keep track of.

You may have one or two or five or 10 contacts with any specific donor from the time you start reaching out to them until you are ready to start thanking them for their gifts. You have to be able to keep track of that in a clear and effective way so you know what you’ve done, you have it all in front of you, and you figure out what the next step is in a clear, sort of considerate and considered fashion.

Whether you use Excel spreadsheets to do that, or whether your CRM does a good job of helping you track that and see what happens with each of those top donors, or whether you set up a Trello board. You need to set up a system for tracking all of that right up front, when you’re getting going so that you’re not losing the thread. The more you work on this, the more donors you talk to of course, the more meetings you have with individual donors, the more complicated it’s going to be, even though from a high level it’s quite simple.

But once you get into the weeds of it, you will find it’s easy to lose track of, “Well, who did I send a proposal to? Who am I going to call next? Who else should I get to be calling on my behalf? Are we inviting them in to visit the program? What are we doing?”

You have to be able to keep clear track of that in a way that is easy to see, so that every week you are looking to see, “Well, what am I doing now? What am I doing next week? Who am I moving forward to the next level?” That’s going to lead to a successful quiet phase of your campaign.

Amy Eisenstein:
I just want to go back for one second, Andrea, we talked about soliciting the top gifts first and how important that is, but let’s say that the top donors take six months or eight months to solicit and or make a decision. I don’t want anybody leaving with the idea that you’re literally just waiting and all other donors are on hold. Let’s just give some ideas of what we’re doing, while we’re waiting for those biggest gifts to come in.

The first thing that I would say, is that you can absolutely during that time, solicit your board, even if they’re not making those top gifts. Hopefully a few board members are, but we do want our board members coming in early and showing their support, even if it’s initial gifts. You may go back to them for second gifts, but we do want our board members.

That’s something that you can be doing in the early months of the quiet phase, is making sure that every single board member makes a significant commitment for them and you can let them know you might be coming back for another gift, but you want their initial gift. What else would you say to make sure people are not just sitting waiting for that big gift to come in for six or eight months?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Right. Yes, you can be inviting some of the other donors in for visits, for example, for program visits. You can be having your executive director go and talk to those people about what it is you’re planning and to get their opinions and thoughts on it. You can be asking for help. You will be putting together a committee, probably a lead gift committee or a quiet affairs committee that will be helping you build the relationships and sort of have precursors to actually asking for those gifts.

Sometimes if you’re pretty sure that lead gift is going to happen, there’s a long decision process. You can be talking to the next donors down and letting them know that you are in conversation with the X, Y, Z foundation and that you believe they’re considering your proposal to give a lead gift favorably. There are a variety of ways to do that, even though the best of all worlds is to get the top gift secured before you go to the next donors down.

Final Thoughts

Amy Eisenstein:
Excellent. Alright. We want to make sure that your quiet phase is successful, because it really does make or break the campaign. It does take a long time.

  1. Step one, identify the right people to be talking to in the quiet phase.
  2. Number two, is really be patient. This does take time, but methodically and strategically work from one donor to the next, top down.

And of course, be organized and track and manage your donors, so that you’re not losing the thread of any donors that you’re talking to.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
You’re not losing sleep, because you’re afraid everything is dropping between the cracks. Right?

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
That’s terrible. That’s a terrible thing. You have to be organized.

Amy Eisenstein:
Excellent. Alright. Thank you so much for joining us. We’ll see you next time.

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