Now Is Not the Time to Suspend Capital Campaigns

By Dr. Ron Harris
(Originally published as an article within ECCU’s former e-publication, Ministry Banking Today.)

In recent months I’ve come across three ministries that were thinking about suspending their capital campaign plans due to the current condition of the economy. In each case, the common denominator was fear of the future. Yet it is often the fear—not the economy—that significantly restricts the opportunity for growth which naturally accompanies market turmoil.

Consider these four reasons why now is the time to proceed aggressively with plans for capital campaigns and not hold back until the economy improves.

The message of hope must be delivered to audiences regardless of economic conditions. Most ministries operate as beacons of light in the midst of all circumstances, not just favorable ones. Capital campaigns are the ideal time to cast your message of inspiration. Delivered with compelling flesh-and-blood urgency, this message can reenergize a struggling donor base and provide a basis for renewed giving—not only to counter the financial impact of the current crisis but to sustain the organization far into the future.

During difficult economic times, the most pressing needs emerge. Non-profits are severely restricted from realizing their vision without a continuous infusion of money. These needs will be there tomorrow as surely as they are here today. To delay means to fall further and further behind in meeting essential needs. Today is the day to deal with the financial needs of your ministry, not when they become even more overwhelming. These needs are best expressed and addressed when everyone in the organization—from the president or pastor to the board chair to staff to recipients of services to hard-pressed donors and friends—feels the pain of not being able to achieve the organization’s noble ambitions.

All campaigns begin with an analysis of the likelihood of success. If done properly, a feasibility study will uncover areas that need to be improved before launching a campaign. These corrections can take 6 to 12 months to complete, depending on the severity of the deficiency. Delaying the gathering of this essential information and implementing needed changes places your ministry at a significant disadvantage. If your ministry begins campaign planning now, you will be considerably ahead of those who are retrenching. Competitively, you’ll be in the marketplace with thoughtful, well-conceived campaigns when others are just beginning to plan.

If your ministry has suffered a significant downturn in contributions, its stability has undoubtedly been affected. It takes time to stabilize a troubled non-profit and get it growing again. A consistently nurtured donor pool is essential to this process. For example, it is unrealistic to approach an unfamiliar or vaguely familiar donor and immediately expect a large gift. It takes time to build a relationship with a major donor. After that first conversation, there are follow-up visits before presentation of a formal proposal. Then the donor deliberates before deciding whether to come on board.

This complex process is energized by the early goals and objectives laid down in the planning stages of a fundraising campaign. If everyone knows that in year two of a campaign’s five-year timeline, we will need 50 donors who can give a mid five-figure gift, all of the organization’s assets are motivated to achieve this goal. I know of no other activity that so clearly motivates an organization as careful planning in the early stages of a major fundraising campaign.

This article was adapted from the white paper Now Is Not the Time to Suspend Capital Campaigns by Dr. Ron Harris.

Dr. Harris is formerly the senior vice president for Capital Resource Development and vice president of Development at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is now the president of Ron Harris & Associates, a consulting firm focusing on fundraising, board development, mentoring of executive officers, and major-gift officer training.

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