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Make every day a campaign day

By Aly Sterling, founder and president of Aly Sterling Philanthropy

Top 10 reasons why a “campaign mentality” will boost your overall fundraising program

campaign mentality (kamˈpān menˈtalədē) – noun A constant mindset and approach to fundraising that includes heightened communication, focused goals, intentional donor cultivation, powerful case stories and active board engagement fueled by a sense of urgency and purpose.

…In other words, acting like you are always in a campaign, even when you are not.

But wait, you might ask, our organization hasn’t completed a capital campaign or endowment campaign before. And we aren’t planning on one anytime soon. How does this apply to us?

Because you don’t have to be in a campaign to glean the benefits!

If you’ve been involved with a campaign, you know the palpable energy and decisive focus associated that is exciting and motivating. At its core, all it takes is assembling a group of committed people around one goal with a start and a finish.

It’s amazing what can be accomplished and how the residual benefits are felt for months and years to come.

Then why do we get to the finish line of our campaigns and lose our momentum and energy?

For many organizations it’s because our development teams are running on fumes. If we are lucky, we might have a one dedicated full or part-time employee who is singularly responsible for everything. They may produce the newsletter, write the grants, enter the data, manage fundraising events and, if there’s any time left, run the donor stewardship program.

I’m exhausted just typing that that laundry list of responsibilities!

“I know that I should be spending more time with our current donors, engaging them in the same fashion we did when they made their first gift. But as a one-person shop, it keeps getting pushed to the bottom of my list.”

– Development director

When a campaign wraps up, it shouldn’t surprise us that the task of keeping volunteers and donors actively engaged in the mission and impact of their gifts falls far down the list of things to do.

After all, everything with a deadline gets attention (think newsletter, grants, events) and anything that doesn’t (donor cultivation, stewardship) gets moved to tomorrow’s to-do list. And moved again. And again…you get my point.

Specifically, a “campaign mentality” has the following characteristics:

  • Heightened communication
  • Focused goals
  • Clear leadership
  • Donor cultivation
  • Powerful case stories
  • Accountability
  • Active board engagement

…all with a sense of urgency and purpose!

You might ask, why would adopting this “campaign mentality” be worthwhile? Is the pain really worth the gain? (Especially in addition to everything else I have on my plate right now?)

Our firm has become a fierce advocate of its worthiness. We believe the act of moving from a mindset of scarcity to one of plenty never fails to deliver.

And so, with a marching band’s drum roll, I share with you what we’ve learned from decades of experience working with all kinds of nonprofit organizations.

ASP’s Top 10 Reasons You Should be in Campaign Mode, Every Single Day

You will have a clear and tangible reason to fundraise.

Who doesn’t like a solid reason to give? One that has a clear “why” and charitable investment attached? Despite our best efforts, very few donors want to give to overhead. So package your programs and mission differently, in a way that shows the donor exactly what $100 or $1,000 or $10,000 will accomplish. Then bake in the manpower to get it done.

You will get to hone your message, stories and relevance.

There’s no better time to involve your staff in sharing their client stories and successes. It’s hard to motivate this to happen when there isn’t a clear reason, which is why creating a year-round environment that recognizes and rewards (sometimes literally) submissions of stories and success must be a priority.

You and your team will feel energized with a sense of urgency and purpose.

Research and personal experience tell us that when we create an authentic sense of urgency and need, people respond in kind. Support for your mission should know no season. Look to create micro-giving opportunities every quarter at a minimum, and then demonstrate the caliber of change that occurs with donor investment. Watch the giving continue…

You will gain NEW donors, NEW volunteers and NEW board members.

When we ask people to join our efforts and give them roles and responsibilities that are clear and realistic, together, we create success. Success builds confidence and loyalty, so people will continue to say “yes” when you ask because they know your organization has a proven track record and you will be respectful of their time and talent.

You will set the bar even higher.

While you might have had a few successful campaigns in the past to brag about, what’s next? What is your BHAG, your blue sky, your “what if” vision to get others excited about? In today’s competitive fundraising landscape, if we aren’t stretching and constantly inviting others into our realm of possibilities, we might as well be inviting our donors to dream elsewhere.

You will attract and retain (and possibly expand) staff differently.

Simple fact: If you can prove you can routinely raise more money, year-after-year, campaign-after-campaign, with a solid model like this, you can justify more staff to help you continue to replicate it. It’s no different than our for-profit friends. #takesmoneytomakemoney

You won’t take your current funding resources for granted.

You know this better than anyone else. In the realm of nonprofit funding, nothing is guaranteed. But we can count on unstable government support! That is why advancing and expanding your private fundraising efforts simply can’t wait.

You will be reminded that your mission impacts and engages the entire community.

For organization that would like to expand its donor base – this is how you do it! Segment your programs and services to align them with like-minded, external affinity groups (local, regional and national). Speak their language and seek to engage with them in a custom way. It’s all very possible, but you can’t catch a marlin using walleye bait.

You will get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

While this is one of the hardest pills to swallow, it is the most worthwhile. When we set clear goals, create a start and finish, and ask someone (your development committee or an ad hoc volunteer group perhaps) to hold us accountable, we will see our confidence and sense of self soar. Left to our own devices, however, most of us will avoid setting up those meetings and lunches or following up on pending asks and volunteers gone rogue. That is, until we are have a “buck stops here” moment and are forced to do it. At which point we often see it’s not so bad and we’re actually pretty darn good at it. That’s because we’re doing something we’re passionate about: connecting a need with someone who cares.

That magical mission moment occurs: You turn away one less person.

In the end, there are no short cuts, no magic wands, no outsourcing of creating genuine joy and excitement about being part of something bigger than us. It’s just one ask, one person at a time.

If I can leave you with anything, it’s this: You can integrate a little campaign magic into your on-going, day-to-day, initiatives.

Ask your development committee or a select group of dedicated volunteers to help where your resources are scarce. Determine what other activities you can (and should) give up in order to get it done.

While your fundraising program will certainly benefit, the people and purpose you serve will be the real winners.

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