Capital Campaigns – Set Boundaries, Maintain Connections & Keep It Simple

As a writer of this blog, I have never been coy about my lack of understanding of the development side of Foundation work. Why, you might ask, am I the one writing about capital campaigns now? For one, because The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library are engaged in one. And second: because I took my continued confusion and turned it into curiosity! My colleague Diana Konopka, Senior Director of Development, at The Friends said a lot of brilliant and down-to-Earth things about our work on a capital campaign for the Saint Paul Public Library. She really broke it down for me, and now I get to share.

The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library strives to practice Community-Centric Fundraising (CCF), and this perspective will come through when working with Library Strategies on your feasibility studies and capital campaigns. According the CCF website: “We must avoid creating a sense of charity or pity among donors toward other community members and instead encourage donors to see how they and their families benefit from the work they are donating to sustain.”

This strikes at a core tenet of the way we operate – individual donor to individual donor. Do not panic about getting the big corporate donors on board first. We believe that you begin with the folks who know you best, the ones who have always been on the journey with you. Donors who believe in your mission and vision of the strength of a library being the strength of a community. You will also be able to “create a donor experience that is individual” which, in Diana’s experience, “invites giving and values all gifts.”

If you, loyal reader, are noticing something about the way Library Strategies presents itself, it might be: Wait, are we talking about relationships and community again? Yes. That strengthening of relationships one-to-one or screen-to-screen done by your gift officer or development specialist is vital. Just like the relationships forged inside the community spaces that are libraries, right? Right.

 However, this is not an entirely external process, and this is where Diana blew my mind with the mundane. It’s time to get right with yourself.

It may seem like the structure of a capital campaign is all about the relationships your organization can cultivate, but the organization’s internal readiness is just as important. To this end, conducting a feasibility study can be very beneficial. Activity ramps up quickly, and you will need a strong, clear system for receiving, acknowledging, and tracking your donations. Is your database robust enough to handle the volume of gifts? Do you have staff capacity? Have you set a clear gift acceptance policy? Feasibility will also help you right-size your campaign goals, giving you clarity of message for buy-in from the start. This process will help you maintain internal transparency and external accountability.

I think this was the greatest take-away for me: the capital campaign is as much an internal process as it is one of outreach. It happens to be aligning with The Friends’ renewal of our strategic plan, so taking this joint opportunity to really dig into both the holistic story of our organization and the nuts and bolts of what makes it a functional organization capable of supporting the library is extremely valuable. Library Strategies wants it to feel that way for your organization too – exciting, grounding, and transformational.

*Bonus content that made me think: When you build your gift acceptance policy for the campaign, be aware of boundaries you are prepared to put around gifts. For example, if there are individuals or entities who are prepared to give with the expectation that their name will appear on a building or wing from now until it is subject to archaeological debate, you have to decide if that is something the aligns with your organization’s values and have that in writing before anything begins in earnest. As a society, we are examining ideas of place, space, and “ownership.” Emblazoning a building with a donor’s name does send a message, and it should be considered with care before the campaign.

Posted in