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Season 2, Episode 36

In today’s episode, Amy and Andrea describe the gamut of capital campaign kick-off events, and discuss the pros and cons of each.

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This episode was recorded as part of a live webinar held Monday, April 25, 2022. To participate in future webinars, register at ToolkitTalks.com.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Today’s topic is kick-off events, campaign kick-off events. And we seldom talk about kick-off events for the later phase of the campaign, the public phase of the campaign, but just to put this in context, so Amy and I, and the Capital Campaign Toolkit break campaigns down into seven phases. Starting with pre-campaign planning, going through feasibility study, campaign planning, the quiet phase, and then the campaign kick-off, which is this little bitty sliver when you finally announce the public goal, you finally announced to your public, whatever your public is, what your real goal, the real dollar goal of your campaign. Until you get to that kick-off period, you’re using what we call a working goal. That’s a goal that might go up and might go down depending on how the leadership part of your campaign goes during that quiet phase.

But eventually when you ask most of your largest donors for gifts, you’ve asked all of your board members for gifts, you have a pretty good idea how much money you could raise from this whole front end of the campaign. You really do need to settle on a final published goal, a real goal. And that’s what you announce at the campaign kick-off. So that’s a big deal actually. On the timeline, if you download the Capital Campaign timeline from the toolkit, you will see that it’s a little bitty sliver, which is maybe why we don’t talk about it very much, but there is in fact, a whole lot of stuff to know about it and how to go about doing it, and when you should do it, and how much money you need to have raised before you actually kick your campaign off, why you have a campaign kick-off, many, many questions.

When to Kick-Off Your Campaign

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah, let me jump in for one second before you start to give some examples. So I think, the term kick-off probably is confusing and I’m glad that you’ve clarified. A few sessions ago, we talked about when do you start counting your campaign or when does the timeline start on your campaign. And that’s very different from the public kick-off. So maybe when we say kick-off, we should say public kick-off, because it’s not actually at the beginning of your campaign, it’s actually closer to the end of your campaign.

And before you do your public announcement and your press release and your public kick-off, when you invite the whole community to contribute and support your campaign, you’ve been in the quiet phase and campaign planning. And so you’ve been in the campaign already for one or even two years and you have raised probably 60, 70, even 80% of your campaign dollars before you have this kick-off or public kick-off. Maybe we should start saying public kick-off. I don’t know. So you’re not kicking off the beginning of your campaign, but you’re kicking off the public piece of your campaign, where you’re going out to the whole community and formally announcing your campaign goal and inviting them to participate. All right.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Let’s talk for a minute about what we mean by the whole community, right? When you kick off your campaign and you’re going to the whole community. So what do you mean by your community? And being able to understand that question, to answer that question has a lot to do with how you will design your kick-off because community means different things to different organizations. If you are, for example of public library, chances are your community is very broad. It may be pretty much everyone who lives in your community or everyone who lives in your community with a library card. And that may be a pretty good percent of your population. So your community is going to be very, very big. On the other hand, if you are a private school, a fairly new private school, for example, you’ve only been around for five years, maybe you only serve grades K through three for example, let’s do it really little, right?

Maybe you have 60 kids in your whole school. Right now, look at that, if you’re three years old or five years old, you’ve got 60 kids in your whole school. You’ve only ever had a hundred kids that have ever gone to the school altogether. Maybe you can include in that the parents of the students, maybe the grandparents of the students, the teachers who teach at the school, the immediate neighbors of the school, maybe in your community, but your community is not going to be the same community as the public libraries community, right? It’s going to be very different. Your community, it’s an important community, but it’s a very different shape. Yes, Amy.

Amy Eisenstein:
And let’s take it wider. I mean, there’s lots of organizations that serve the whole country or maybe multiple countries. And so your community might be people with whatever, who care about the environment or whatever the topic is, right? If you are across multiple states or across multiple countries, that’s your community. So I think, to Andrea’s point, it can be very small, it can be very wide. So important, when you’re kicking off a campaign, who are you kicking it off to? Who’s your community? So good. Small to big.

Consider the Community You Serve

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Small to big again, of course, how you kick it off, has everything to do with what community you’re actually trying to reach. Right? So if you’re trying to kick off the community of this little private school that I just mentioned, you’re not going to want big press releases to everybody, to all of the major media outlets in your region, they’re going to laugh at you, right? And it doesn’t much matter if the person who lives across town, who has no kids who never thought about sending a kid to your school, knows about your campaign. They’re not going to write you a check. They’re not going to give you money, right? You don’t need to reach them. You need to do a really good job of reaching the people for whom you really do matter. On the other hand, if you’re the public library, you’re going to want to do everything possible to get your entire community to be aware of your campaign of your goal.

And you’re going to want to do everything you can to get as many small contributions, contributions of all sizes from your community. So there are many consequences of that to how you design your campaign kick-off, right? This wasn’t an idle conversation. This is like, “Oh. All right. If I have a really big organization, I’m trying to reach people, a lot of people, I’m going to have to think about this event that I’m doing in a very different way than if I have a fairly small organization and I can wrap my arms around who those people are.” And sometimes I think about churches and the community of churches, right? And for many, many local churches, that community is quite well established, right? It’s not going to be everyone who goes to, who has any kind of religious affiliation in your community. It’s going to be people who are members of your, of that particular religious organization, whatever it is. So, all right. We don’t need to beat this any farther, but it’s an important point when you’re thinking about your campaign kick-off.

The Campaign Kick-Off / Announcement Event

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. So Andrea, you’re referring to a campaign kick-off as an event, so let’s broaden it or narrow it. Why don’t you expand on that? Is it an event? Is it a series of events? What kind of announcements does it include?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Right. Well, I actually think about it as an event perhaps with a series of media opportunities right beyond it. But I like to think about it as, “Okay. Let’s design an event. Let’s think about it as an event.” It is always a media event of some sort. Maybe it’s a media event just to reach the communications mechanism in your institution. But it always is a media event where you are announcing the campaign goal. You may then follow up with a whole host of other things.

For example, let’s say you’re a performing arts organization, you may want to have a media event to kick off your campaign and maybe you want to do a series of concerts out throughout your community to get the word out, even farther. So there are many ways you can think about planning a kick-off, a broader kick-off, but I think it begins by understanding, “Okay, what do we want to accomplish? Who do we want to reach? What do we want to have happen at this event? And then how do we broaden it out so that we really get the maximum bang for our buck?” “Buck for our bang” is what I should say.

Amy Eisenstein:
I think there are a few important things that we haven’t mentioned yet. One is of course, what does an event look like in COVID or hopefully post-COVID. So let’s get to that in a second. But I think also, we haven’t touched the issue much of announcing how much we’ve raised and recognizing the people who have gotten us this far. Because presumably you’ve raised 60, 70, 80% of the dollars, let’s say 75%. I like that number, right? Let’s say you’ve raised three quarters of the campaign dollars and that is part of the announcement. You’re announcing a goal and you’re announcing massive progress towards that goal. So what are your thoughts on that?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Well, I’m so glad you raised that, Amy. So how much money you have to have raised before you go public, as they say, has everything to do with how wide a base you have, right? If you have a really broad base of people to reach that you’re hoping are going to contribute, you may not have to have raised quite as much percentage-wise as if you’re an organization with a very narrow base and your ability to raise a lot of money after you’ve kicked off the campaign is going to be quite limited. So all of these things relate really to what your community looks like. But as Amy says, you kick off the campaign when you have already raised a significant amount of money towards your working goal, towards the goal you were working as you planned the campaign and in the early phases.

Adjusting Your Campaign Goal Before Kick-Off

Now, before you kick off the campaign, you’re going to look and see, “All right, this is, we thought we could raise $10 million. We have solicited all of our largest donors. We have solicited our board members. We realize that we’ve only been able to raise so far $5 million and we don’t see our way clear to getting to $10 million, no matter how we slice and dice the numbers, we can’t see that’s possible. We had a couple disappointments in the lead gifts.” So, all right, you don’t have to go into punishment for that. You just need to say, “Well, you know what? Before we announce the campaign, we now have an option of raising or lowering our goal, of extending our timeline.” One or the other of those things. So if we say, “All right, we don’t want to extend our timeline. We don’t know really who else we would go to if we did extend our timeline to raise those big gifts.”

Maybe instead of a $10 million campaign, maybe we’re going to have to pull it down to eight, seven and a half, or 8 million. There’s no harm in that, right? We always encourage people to shoot high. Sometimes you really are able to do that and sometimes you can’t. So before you go public, and that’s why you don’t announce your campaign goal early on, because you’re testing to see what can we really raise. So by the time you have a pretty good sense of what you can really raise, then you can finalize your goal and then you have your campaign kick off when you announce that goal, right? That’s Goldie speaking of gold. Hi Goldie.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. We have so much construction on our street today. So there’s going to be lots of dog barking. I think that you make some really important points, Andrea. People really want to think about this though. Some people who are listening may be thinking, “Oh my gosh, how can you not raise the $10 million?” Well, often we build buffers into the campaign, there’s endowment components and other things. So hopefully you will raise the amount that you need for your physical project or your programs or services, but sometimes you don’t get to the goal and announcing a goal that’s way over and hoping and wishing that the public is going to magically come through with magical hypothetical campaign gifts is not a good, solid plan.

It’s much better to scale back your goal at that point and say, “All right, this is what we’re going to be able to accomplish. We’ve raised this amount of money. We’re going to be able to do amazing things. It may not be our ultimate dream project or our high goal that we set, our lofty, ambitious goal that we planned for, but we still can accomplish this, that, and the other thing with the amount that we raised, and we’re going to scale back the goal.” Because otherwise what happens when you announce publicly this big lofty goal of 10 million and a year later, you’re still at six and a half. Then the campaign languishes, it goes on forever. It falls apart.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
And that’s a bad idea.

Amy Eisenstein:
Right.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
That is a really bad idea. Then you lose energy. Then the people who’ve work so hard in the early phases of the campaign feel like they’re involved in something that’s failing. You don’t want that to happen. You really don’t. Now, before we leave this subject, Amy, I want to say that it really does happen the other way around also, that you have a $10 million working goal, this early goal, you work like mad to raise as much money as you can in the quiet phase of the campaign, all of a sudden you realize that you are at 9.2 million and climbing, and you haven’t even announced, you haven’t even started getting to the public phase of the campaign yet. You’re pretty sure you have another couple million dollars out there, just keeping going on what you’re doing, right? So you’re not going to have to lower your goal, you’re going to raise your goal before you go public. That’s as much of an issue as anything else. I mean, these things really do happen.

So I want to be sure we balance the conversation. This is not always, “Oh my goodness. We can’t do it.” It’s a, “Oh wow. We had more opportunity than we even realized we did. Before we go public, let us actually go to our board and let’s go to the steering committee, let’s go to the board, let’s raise the goal. Then let’s go public.” Otherwise, we’re not going to raise as much money as we could for this project.

And I think that that’s something that resonates with me that you always talk about, that campaigns are really opportunities for you as an organization to raise as much as you possibly can, right? So the goal is a target and it connects to your project. And it’s an opportunity to see really how much can you raise. A lot of the organizations we work with at the Capital Campaign Toolkit sail way past their goal, and others need to scale back the project. Now there are things that we put in place early on in the campaign to try and temper some of that. And sometimes, it goes one way or the other, and there are things that we do that balance that out and it’s okay. Yeah.

And this is a campaign strategy, right? This is not a, you know, “We made a mistake.” This is a campaign strategy to shoot for as high as you can reasonably hope to shoot, to actually plan a project that is as good a project as you can imagine. I actually was on a call the other day. It was quite an interesting and call with an organization that is planning a music building and right up front in the call, they said to me something like, I can’t remember the words exactly, but the gist of it was this:

Well, we can plan a music building for this amount of money, but we’ve also talked to our engineers about what it would cost to have just a basic music building and much less, which would cost less.

And my response to them was, before you start cutting down to a basic music building, why don’t you figure out what you would really like to do? This building is going to be with you a long time. They just told me that the music building they’re in was built in, I don’t know, 1912. 1912, and you’re going to have this new music building a very long time, you better shoot for what you want. At least try and see if you can raise the money for that. Then if you can’t, then you can pull back. So that’s a strategy that we really encourage all of you to use with your campaign and concomitant, how’s that for a word, with that is the notion that having to pull your goal back before you go public is not shameful, is just a part of the strategy.

Quiet Phase vs. Public Phase

And you may find that you don’t have to, but if you do, it is a perfectly good thing to do. Now, let me say one more thing, which is this, there is a lot of confusion about quiet phase, public phase. And of course, the moment between the quiet phase and the public phase is the campaign kick-off. That’s what separates them, right? When you announce your goal. Now, what that means is that during the quiet phase, it’s not that you can’t talk about your project. You’re just not announcing a final, official campaign goal until you go public.

That really is what happens among other things. But that’s sort of the core thing that happens when you have a campaign kick-off and go public, you are celebrating the people who helped you get, raise so, and so much money. You’re announcing what the goal is, you’re highlighting the gap between where you are and the goal, and you’re setting out a timeline for reaching the goal. It’s like, “All right, here we are. We’ve done really well. These are the people who have made it happen. Aren’t they amazing? We have $2 million left to go. We want to raise that money by September of 2022 or by June of 2022.” Whatever the numbers.

Amy Eisenstein:
Okay. We have one more thing to talk about.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Okay.

Amy Eisenstein:
And then I know we’ve gone on long for today.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah.

Amy Eisenstein:
But the other, I think turning point in the kick-off is how you’re soliciting people primarily. So prior to the kick-offs, it’s all one-on-one conversations. It’s individual solicitations. It could be with corporations and foundations, but really it’s strategic and one-on-one. As you move into the public phase, while you still may be doing some more of that one-on-one fundraising, you’re also employing more mass marketing. You might be doing direct mail appeal or an email effort or a social media campaign, so there will be more as you go public. There will be more broad fundraising, broad based fundraising, as opposed to all one-on-one, which is what’s been happening in the quiet phase. So last thing, Andrea, we didn’t talk about this idea of an event in COVID.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Right.

A Word on Virtual Campaign Kick-Offs

Amy Eisenstein:
So, we have seen so many organizations turn their kick-offs virtual, some work better than others, of course, but I think it has given us an opportunity to be really creative with our clients and thinking about several smaller events, how and when to announce to the media, as Andrea talked about, you may or may not have a gala with 300 people in the room, you may have a series of smaller events to sort of kick off this campaign. I just want to acknowledge that there may not be one big event, but all right. Any final thoughts before we wrap up?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Keep your eyes open for the blog post. When does it come out, Amy?

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. Tomorrow.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Tomorrow.

Amy Eisenstein:
Tomorrow, depending on when you’re listening to the podcast, it will already be out. And Andrea has outlined three different types of kick-offs. So I definitely encourage you to head over to the Capital Campaign Toolkit blog to read more about campaign kick-offs. All right. Excellent conversation today. Thank you, Andrea.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Thank you, Amy.

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