An interview with Marc Misiurewicz, President, Empriente Consulting, LLC by Nancy J. Snyder, CPA, Partner, The Bonadio Group
Our firm has used Empriente as a consultant over the past few years to assist with our giving strategy. Last year I interviewed Marc to get his thoughts on the latest trends in fundraising. Given the continued stress of the pandemic on our tax-exempt clients Marc and I thought it was time for a look at fundraising campaigns and things to consider before you embark on a campaign.
The last two years have created financial strain on several tax-exempt organizations across the country and many are now assessing how to enhance their fundraising activity. As part of this consideration, nonprofit leaders are asking the question, “Should we launch a fundraising campaign?” The answer to that question is not as straightforward as you might think and requires a detailed look inside your organization to find the answer.
What are the first steps for tax-exempts when deciding whether to embark on a fundraising campaign? As a starting point, there needs to be a clearly defined need. Supporting operations and staffing, which is where most nonprofits feel the greatest financial pressure, does not always resonate with donors. Although we are seeing more private Foundations and philanthropists understand the operational need by showing a willingness to provide support in these areas, it should not be a primary focus in your case for support. Expressing a need for operational support can cause many funders to question the stability of your organization and shy away from making an investment. If funding for operations and staffing is a leading need for your organization, take some time to analyze your infrastructure, sources of revenue and ensure your strategic plan provides a path to sustainability without relying solely on philanthropic revenue.
So, the organization has decided to conduct a campaign, what is next? Once you have assessed your infrastructure and determined that the correct pieces are in place, begin to develop aspirational thoughts regarding the future of your organization. Are there large capital projects and programs that become possible with philanthropic support? If so, how do these projects and programs align with your core mission and how does your organization illustrate the impact on the recipients of your services? It is critical that the mission and vision of your organization remain the North Star for any decisions made in support of a campaign. Drifting into new ventures that require philanthropic support may cause strain on the organization eventually and prove not to be sustainable. Donors/Foundations are looking to make an investment in your mission and need confidence that their investment will have a tangible impact on those you serve. That is the essence of your case for support and should be clearly defined.
Does your organization need additional resources to get the campaign off to a great start and ensure a successful outcome? Another critical component in your decision making regarding a campaign is the leadership of your organization. Executive leaders and Board members need to fully understand the work that goes into planning and executing a successful campaign while remaining realistic about the expectations. They must also be willing to actively participate in the process. A successful campaign requires full engagement with an understanding that success or failure does not fall solely on the Advancement staff in your organization. Are your leaders prepared to advocate, connect and personally give to ensure the success of the campaign? If so, this will provide a credible foundation from which you can build a powerful message to the community. It will also provide you the framework for a volunteer structure that can enhance the activity of your Advancement staff.
What data should be gathered before the “ask”? Data also plays a key role in your decision making. To develop a realistic goal for your campaign, there needs to be a thorough analysis of your donor pipeline and financial status. It is easy to define a goal based on need, however, if your pipeline does not provide you the opportunity to reach the fundraising goal, you are setting your organization up for failure. Many nonprofits need to spend time qualifying and cultivating their pipeline before they can even consider soliciting major and principal gifts in support of a campaign. Having the patience to build those relationships is critical. Asking too early, or for too much, can damage your organization’s credibility and ability to identify philanthropic revenue in the community. Aligning this work with an assessment of your organization’s financial status is also important. Sophisticated donors and Foundations will want to understand your budget, investment performance and financial stability prior to making an investment in your mission. Partnering with your CPA firm will allow you to have confidence that your audited financial statements or annual report convey a picture of strength and fiscal responsibility that will ensure donors they are making a sound investment.
Any last thoughts? The decision to embark on a fundraising campaign should not be taken lightly. The above thoughts provide a high–level overview of various components within a campaign, however there is even more work involved. Having a partner with subject matter expertise, such as the team at Empreinte Consulting, can provide you the confidence that you will make the right decisions and take the appropriate steps to plan and execute a successful fundraising campaign. Hopefully, this article has given you some points to consider before you take the leap.