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Pay it forward: advice for launching and administering a capital campaign.

A STATE-OF-THE-ART HEADQUARTERS BUILDING, INCREASED reserve funds, or premier research programs. It all comes down to money and how apt your association is at raising the funds needed to spearhead these kinds of initiatives. An increasing source of funding is the association capital campaign. Not just for foundations any more, capital campaigns are providing associations with a much-needed source of nondues revenue. And organizations of all staff and membership sizes have raised millions of dollars to fund projects, from supporting operations to awarding scholarships.

If they did it, certainly your association can, too. Right? Maybe not. Fundraising experts caution that launching and administering capital campaigns may look easier than it actually is.

Plan for the payout

When it comes to capital campaigns, there is definitely something to be said for having a plan of action in place. "Many associations will leap into a capital campaign without being fully prepared. They have no fundraising staff and have not identified a donor base," says Paulette V. Maehara, CAE, president and CEO of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Alexandria, Virginia. "You have to have a specific structure in place to be successful. Capital campaigns are a great opportunity to raise awareness of an organization and obtain more resources without using member dues, but you should always conduct a feasibility study first so you understand your marketplace."

William B. Hanrahan, CEO of the Community Counselling Service, New York City, couldn't agree more. CCS has conducted feasibility studies for more than 100 associations and similar organizations in the past 10 years. "Capital campaigns give associations a great mechanism for raising money to support their goals and missions," he says. "But you have to do your homework. A campaign is going to either succeed or fail in the beginning." So the planning phase of a campaign is critical. "Campaigns begin with an idea from the CEO or the board," says Hanrahan. "Then you have to develop a case--a rationale for the need and use for the money." The CEO should be very much involved in developing the case because it is the CEO who must tell the association's story and communicate why the funds are needed.

Then, you are ready to talk to potential donors and test your campaign goal. "You'll need to survey the potential for raising money at specific levels using a gift table that lists different dollar amounts," Hanrahan advises. "Doing so will help you determine where you fall in the potential donor's--individual or corporate--spectrum of giving."

Along with surveying potential donors, he offers these rules of thumb for planning successful campaigns:

* Make a full commitment. If you are not ready to get behind the campaign 100 percent, keep working on the background research until you feel comfortable moving forward.

* Understand the motivation for giving. For most associations, donors are giving in support of the profession. They do not view themselves as supporting a capital campaign or foundation per se; that's just the vehicle for supporting the vision of the organization.

* Raise money in a positive environment. The emphasis should always be on the positive outcomes for the association. Avoid launching a save-the-association campaign.

* Don't kid yourself. Be reasonable and realistic about how much money you can actually raise.

* Recruit key people early in the process. Capital campaigns can help associations attract new volunteer leaders or better engage their current ones.

Consider the CEO's role

Once a campaign is officially launched, the chief staff executive's full participation is synonymous with the campaign's success. Members and other potential donors must feel that the CEO is fully behind the campaign. "The campaign has to represent the CEO's vision," says Hanrahan. "It's his or her reputation that's on the line." The CEO also must be highly visible throughout the campaign so that it maintains its momentum. "Members look to the association's leadership for direction," says Karen Ribler of KJR Consulting, LLC, Washington, D.C. "If they feel that you are not fully behind such a large endeavor, they will not invest in it."

Most associations will need to prepare for the fact that the campaign will take up a significant amount of the CEO's time. "When we get hired, I tell the CEO and his or her board that it's their campaign. They have do it," says Hanrahan. "This is not something that you can delegate to someone else to do." Your association must have the internal resources to get the job done while the CEO's focus is directed to fundraising for the campaign.

This dynamic differs from that of the fundraising required to fund an association's related foundation--a situation in which the board takes the lead. (If your association is considering launching a foundation rather than an in-house capital campaign, see "How to See Through Launching a (c)(3)" in the March 2005 issue of ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT.) "Typically donors want to see the CEO," says Maehara of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. "They want to assess that person's competency to carry out the vision of the organization."

Launching a capital campaign may also require CEOs to step outside their comfort zones. "Most CEOs need some coaching before they start visiting donors," says Hanrahan. "Fundraising is not necessarily what they are used to doing, but once they understand how to go about it, they're great to work with." Most fundraising consultants will concede that no one likes hearing "no." At the same time, peer-to-peer fundraising is usually the most successful method for raising money in a capital campaign. "It's a good idea to pair the CEO with the board chair, a volunteer, or a fundraising staff member if the CEO or volunteer is uncomfortable asking for money," says Maehara. "They can support one another during the process."

Get the board involved

Identifying and pursuing donors is the cornerstone of capital campaigns. However, the most important caveat in working with donors is that you can't ask someone else to give if you haven't given yourself. In some instances, associations have difficulty reinforcing this point with their board members.

"The board needs to be giving and getting money. It's critical that the board support the campaign with 100 percent participation," says Maehara. "You need to make sure that board members understand that they have to support the organization financially. Many association boards weren't built with this in mind, and some members may have to leave during the course of the campaign."

Full participation from board members (and other donors) will not be a problem if you've done a good job of developing your case and are able to articulate it. "Don't assume that everyone wants to give," says Ribler of KJR Consulting. "And don't think that everyone understands the minutia of the association's decision to launch a capital campaign. Sometimes we forget to romance our givers by articulating a vision that they can relate to and feel good about. For example, the association is not just building a headquarters building or renovating the office, it is raising dollars to provide a working environment reflective of the membership to ensure its ability to carry out its mission in alignment with its members' priorities."

Follow the leaders

If you're prepared to undertake all of the steps outlined so far, perhaps your association is ready to launch a capital campaign. ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT asked three association CEOs to discuss their experiences with launching their organizations' capital campaigns. While all of these associations are 501(c)(3) organizations, anyone can use their lessons learned as a guide for building a campaign.

Taking Small Steps

Campaign launch date: March 2003

Campaign goal: $200,000

Funds raised to date: $44,700

OUR ORGANIZATION--THE AMERICAN Society for Pharmacy Law, Springfield, Illinois--was struggling from year to year, existing on dues and conference revenues until one of our board members suggested that we launch a capital campaign. The Next Steps Campaign was announced at our 2003 annual meeting in New Orleans. It is a three-year campaign designed to help the association take the next step as a national organization by raising funds to maintain and improve existing services as well as to develop new ones. The funds raised will be allocated to four major strategic areas: operations, resources, scholarships, and programming. Since the launch, 10 percent of our members have given and pledged contributions totaling approximately $50,000.


We are a small association with 400 members who are pharmacists, attorneys, and students of pharmacy law, and running the campaign has been an interesting process for us. Our main goal was to get ourselves on solid financial ground and work within our annual operating budget of $125,000; we've achieved this. At the same time, the campaign has helped us raise awareness of the association and pharmacy law. We've found that once you are out there making yourself more visible, members participate more in other programs as well. Our members are more engaged and involved than they were prior to the campaign.

We've had 100 percent financial participation in the campaign by our eight-member board, whose gifts ranged from $300 to $10,000. Board participation is, of course, important, since you have to give before you can ask others to give.

Our next step is to do more reaching out to members--and potential members. We know that our members are committed to the organization, and we believe that they will give because they want the organization to succeed. The whole process has just been amazing. We've had a major financial turnaround. Here are some of the lessons we've learned along the way:

Don't think small. Small associations can launch effective capital campaigns, and they have to dream big. The hardest thing for my members to realize was that people would step up to the plate and give if we asked them to.

Ask for the money. We have received $1,000 and $5,000 pledges from members. You never know what resources are in your membership until you ask. On the other hand, be realistic. Break your contribution amounts into bites that make it easy for people to say yes.

Build a structure for giving. The work doesn't end when you get the pledges. You have to send your contributors pledge reminders and remain in ongoing communication with them.

Acknowledge contributors as much as possible. We communicate about the campaign and our contributors in our newsletter, on our Web site, and at conferences. We also send a progress report to all members once a year. When we receive a contribution from a member, we may even send an e-mail message to the membership so that everyone is aware of how active members are in the campaign.

My primary role throughout this process has been to set benchmarks and be the cheerleader for the campaign. Of course, the hardest part is asking for the contributions, but peer-to-peer solicitation works the best. When we first began the campaign, the $200,000 seemed like $2 million to us, but we feel it's achievable if we continue working as a team.


Pamela J. Tolson, CAE, is executive director of the American Society for Pharmacy Law, which is one of the associations managed by Management Resource Specialists, Inc., Springfield, Illinois. E-mail:

Breaking Ground

Campaign launch date: 2001

Campaign goal: $10 million

Funds raised to date: $4 million

AT THE ASSOCIATION OF BLACK Cardiologists, we believe that good health is the cornerstone of good communities. Particularly in the African-American community, we need the elders--the grandparents--to help us solve problems and carry on the legacy and culture of the community. Our campaign goal is to build a physical place where people will come to interact with one another and to learn about and participate in the good health practices that will help ensure the longevity of our community elders--those most at risk for early death from cardiovascular disease. The Association of Black Cardiologists' International Library, Research, and Conference Center will fulfill this vision.

We currently own a smaller building, which houses our staff of 24. But we have run out of space, and our projected growth in the next 10 years justifies this campaign. I believe that we need bricks and mortar to accomplish anything. Last year we broke ground for the new building, which will house a library, a fitness center, and research facilities. With the construction of the new building, our offices will be located in the center of the community as a recognizable landmark to residents and visitors to the Atlanta area.

There are only 500 black cardiologists in the country, so we do not have a large pool of members to draw from for donations. But so far we've raised $2 million from the membership and from corporate donors, and another $2 million from a major donor, for a total of $4 million toward our goal. Fortunately, our board of directors has been supportive and active in fundraising.


Initially, the board was concerned about overextending the organization's resources. They wanted to be sure that we weren't getting distracted from our ongoing programs. While running the campaign is time consuming, we have not made any reductions in programming or services to members. Certainly, risks are involved with any capital project, but I believe that providence rewards the bold. Our team is working hard to achieve our goals and make the new building a reality. If your association is considering a capital campaign, I offer these suggestions:

Involve the staff and the board of directors in planning the campaign. We did not work with an outside consultant to develop our capital campaign. The board and the staff worked together to generate ideas for the goals and action plan. We developed our campaign by brainstorming together. And this is an ongoing process as we continue to build the campaign. We are constantly receiving and trying new initiatives.

Be visible during the campaign. Personal contact with the CEO stimulates an increase in donations. You have to be able to concentrate on the light at the end of the tunnel and continue to motivate everyone else involved in the campaign.

Get help when you need it. We wasted time and energy because we were not sophisticated about the nuts and bolts of a building project. We worked with three different architects before we finally approved a design for the building. In retrospect, we should have hired a professional to manage that portion of the project.

Despite some setbacks, we have broken even in terms of the time lost during the design phase. We are continuing to work toward our goal. We are confident in the ultimate success of this campaign. The whole process has been a daunting one for the board, but stress motivates us into action.


B. Waine Kong is CEO of the Association of Black Cardiologists, Inc., Atlanta. E-mail:

Leading the Way

Campaign launch date: December 2002

Campaign goal: $3 million

Funds raised to date: $2.9 million

THE IDEA FOR OUR CAPITAL CAMPAIGN, The Leadership Campaign, was born shortly after the Diabetes Association of Greater Cleveland commemorated 45 years of service to the community. (For a detailed description of the launch of this campaign, see "Building Up to a Capital Campaign" in the April 2002 issue of ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT.) The chairman of our board expressed concern that with diabetes on the rise, we would need to significantly increase revenues to meet the needs of people with diabetes and increase our visibility.

Before launching the campaign, we conducted a community needs assessment and an environmental scan to identify the key issues that we wanted to address through the campaign. The information gathered from focus groups and surveys informed our decision to focus on increasing education for children with diabetes and those at risk for diabetes, expanding management and public education initiatives, and increasing our involvement in local diabetes research. We felt that we had a good case to support our campaign. Then we conducted a feasibility study to determine if we would be able to raise the amounts needed to address these issues.

Prior to making the The Leadership Campaign public, it was critical that we have the full support of our board. Some board members were philosophically opposed to the giving of financial donations to the association. Some of the physicians on our board, and other professionals, felt that their extensive volunteer time and pro bono assistance were sufficient contributions to the organization. Though we did not care about the amount of individual board member gifts, we did insist on 100 percent board participation. A few of our board members made the initial gifts and then recruited their fellow members to do the same. Unfortunately, we lost three board members in this process, but we learned an important lesson about making sure that future board members completely understand our expectation that they give financial gifts.


Working on the campaign was a great learning opportunity for me in general, and we learned some specific lessons:

Don't go with your first choice. We got off to a slow start because we had concerns that the goals set in our first feasibility study were unrealistic. My intuition told me that the numbers were too high. A local consultant did the first study, and we ended up having to do another one. Make sure you interview more than one person and carefully check credentials before deciding upon a consultant to assist with your campaign.

Get educated about fundraising. My board chair advised me to take a crash course in capital campaigns. I attended a four-day, hands-on course at The Fundraising School at Indiana University. It gave me the tools to understand the hierarchy of fundraising activities. There's definitely a science to it.

Learn the art of delegation. I had to devote time to the campaign every day. Some days it took up 50 percent of my time. As a result, operations management was removed from my plate. We promoted internally and gave staff members additional responsibilities, reducing the number of people reporting directly to me.

The lessons that I learned during the campaign will serve me well as I transition to the next phase of my career. (I'm retiring this year.) The biggest frustration for me during the campaign was people not being up front about saying "no." They would not return my calls or messages. The most exciting part of the campaign was receiving pledges. It made me feel wonderful that people were so generous. Fulfilling the goal of a capital campaign is a tremendous responsibility, but we made it through.


Harriet L. Fader, CAE, is president and CEO of the Diabetes Association of Greater Cleveland. E-mail:

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Author:Motley, Apryl
Publication:Association Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2005
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