Thursday, 14 April 2016

"I wish I'd thought of that... before finishing my capital campaign"

A few weeks ago I went to the inaugural conference of the Institute of Fundraising's (relatively) new Cultural Sector Network. 180 people were there for all sizes and shapes of organisation, a diverse landscape ranging from zoos to music in the community groups, from  major national galleries through to small local museums.

Whitworth Art Gallery extension: made possible through capital fundraising

Understandably, given the preponderance of galleries and museums, capital campaigns were a feature, with great insights from Jo Beggs of Manchester Museums, who ran the Whitworth Art Gallery campaign, Alice Devitt, a consultant who ran the Lauderdale House campaign and Jim Beirne, Chief Executive of Newcastle's Theatre Live.

Interestingly, talking to folks throughout the day, people seemed less concerned with starting up campaigns than about what to do afterwards.

You've had a massive push, been successful, the building is built/renovated/transformed - now what?

Is there life after a capital campaign?

It quickly became apparent that this is a real and burning issue. There was talk of capital campaigns leaving "scorched earth" behind and of the impossibility of a small team continuing to secure funding for revenue at the same time as securing capital monies. There was real concern about what could be offered to major donors that was anywhere near as compelling.

The panel had experienced this too: "I wish I'd included funding for digitalisation projects in the capital appeal," and "I thought it would be possible to continue with revenue fundraising whilst it was going on... it wasn't." (or words to that effect).

Another key concern was finishing the damn thing off. When to go public with a capital campaign?  How to finish it off? 

The panel had some great advice on this, about "repackaging" the campaign for the final push e.g. presenting the final phase of fit out as new, different and exciting. You've done the big build - now it's time for all the bells and whistles.

Looking back, this is exactly what we did at Amnesty International UK, when did the capital campaign for the Human Rights Action Centre. The main appeal was all about a blue print for the future: building capacity for human rights education and campaigning long into the future. The final push was about "turning on the lights".

As part of the capital campaign we established what was in effect, a Patrons Programme, the Circle for Justice. This was my baby. People and organisations who gave at a particular level during the capital campaign were Founding Members of the Circle for Justice, and recognised as such within the building. But the Circle also offered the opportunity for continuity past the lifetime of the campaign - to invite new members to join and to ask existing members to re-pledge.

Christian Aid have a similar programme to help them invest in innovative projects. Members get the inside track on what happens with their investment and how it's used. It's enabled them to grow as an organisation.

The crucial thing about setting up a programme like this, is to be able to life your head from the focused deadline of the capital campaign and think and plan what that future might look like. That way, you can start to build in elements to your fundraising that hold the potential for Life After Campaign.  So:

If you're building a recognition / Patrons vehicle think about what it could look like past the lifetime of the campaign and set it up accordingly. 

When I was engaged with capital campaigns at the University of Edinburgh they were rarely just about bricks and mortar. Projects were a complex mix of buildings, research programmes, postgraduate taught programmes and even, incubation spaces. The financial sustainability of a project was built into it from the start. That's something universities do really well and something that also offers the potential for ongoing engagement.

Don't forget to horizon scan 

As one panel member said: "I wish I'd built digital into the capital campaign," - a wish that was echoed by others. Take a leaf from universities and build a  platform for your future revenue programmes into your capital campaign. Lift your head from the immediate and think about what your organisational needs will be 20, 10, 5 years into the future. Which means you should....

Include future programmes in your case for support and talk to your major donors about them before your campaign is over. 

It seems that many organisations ship in someone to run a capital campaign, or build a temporary team, and then afterwards let them go with a cheery wave. All those donor relationships, all that capacity which had been established, collapses slowly with a sigh over the next few years... until the next capital campaign, when the new team coming in finds the cold relationships positively frigid.

Gods, what a shame. There's that scorched earth I was talking about.

If you can only afford to run a capital campaign with a consultant or fixed term staff, fine. But make sure you've thought about how you're going to manage the relationships which have been established thereafter. Don't lose them. Don't ignore them. Make sure that the campaign upskills people in house to look after those relationships and make it someone's job.

Capital campaigns should be about building capacity in your organisation. That's not just equipment and buildings to put it in, it's human capital too. It's increased understanding, new relationships and networks of support.  So...

Before you complete your campaign, have a plan for how you're going to manage the relationships which have been built up thereafter. 

And make sure your donors know it too.



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