How do you keep a fund-raising campaign on track? By being well organized, constantly monitoring progress, and informing all campaign participants of that progress. The very reason for the pyramidal structure of a campaign committee is to simplify management. In the best of circumstances, the pyramid is constructed so that no person supervises more than five people. (To maintain this limit is why we sometimes add campaign and divisional co-chairs.)

The campaign pyramid

Managing even the largest campaigns then becomes a matter of monitoring the progress of a limited number of small hierarchical units. Team captains track the efforts of solicitors, divisional chairs make sure that captains are on top of their teams, and the campaign chair keeps tabs on the divisions. However, this system works only if information moves upward quickly.

You can’t fix a problem in a campaign unless you know there is a problem.

The best way to make sure that information is being shared is to schedule monthly progress meetings .Attendees know they will be expected to report on their area of responsibility—what has been done, who has been contacted, how much money has been raised. The monthly progress meeting gives the campaign leaders a deadline by which they need to have their houses in order.

It is unlikely that you would reconvene at these progress meetings everyone who attended the kick off meeting. The logistics are just too cumbersome. Unless the campaign leadership is an especially large group, the ideal progress meeting consists of the campaign chair, divisional chairs, team captains, the organization’s development person, and the development consultant, if one is being used. In really large campaigns or in ones where some divisions have a great many teams, it may be better to have the division chairs meet independently with their team captains rather than include so many participants in an overall meeting.

A couple of days before a meeting, team captains should submit written campaign tracking and progress reports to the division chairs. Then the day before a meeting, the division chairs consolidate those reports and turn them over to the campaign chair. Some sample reports are listed below.

Conducting The Meeting

The first item on the agenda of a progress meeting is an update from the campaign chair based on the reports she or he has received from the division chairs. This update details how much money has been raised and reports on major gifts. Next follows an assessment of the campaign’s progress—the real business of the meeting. How does the money raised stack up against what was expected from the donors? How many donors have given less than their rated level—and how much less? Which past donors expected to give to this campaign have been lost altogether? After adding the dollars raised so far to the amount projected to be received from the remaining prospects, how much money will the campaign raise? Will the goal be achieved? A written report of the foregoing should be passed out to all following the meeting.

The campaign chair’s written report on overall and divisional progress should also be sent to campaign participants who did not attend a progress meeting, including solicitors. I find that a campaign newsletter or email report is the best vehicle for distributing information for the duration of the campaign. At the very least, these communications should be published shortly after each progress meeting. Special editions are a great way to announce major gifts and events. A campaign newsletter or an email report is not the New York Times. Keep it simple, on a timely basis. A single sheet printed on two sides is fine, and the less one must scroll down an email, the better. If you have more news, adding more maybe necessary. Be sure to get these reports into the volunteers’ hands. They need to know that campaign management is on top of things and that progress is being made.

The Best Meeting “Climate”

To me, most important aspect of such campaign progress meetings is to know that substance is what really counts. Time is short. You have busy people who want to hear what is what, and not very much else. Full disclosure, just the facts, and results they can understand. Not a grim and tight lipped approach, to be sure, but they come for “business,” and that is what they should get. On the other hand, too much of a “health and happiness” atmosphere can obscure the facts of the progress (or lack), regarding how the campaign is coming along.

There are two things that you do not want to do at a progress meeting. Do not create a competitive atmosphere among divisions and among teams within a division. The campaign succeeds when every division, team, and solicitor succeeds. People should be invested in the campaign, not in their particular team or division. You should also avoid calling attention publicly to a person’s failure to perform. Remember, these are volunteers. Just as we would not shame a prospective donor for failing to meet our expectations, we should not humiliate a volunteer whose efforts have fallen short.

You want volunteers leaving a progress meeting with a clear understanding of where the campaign stands and a renewed commitment to get the job done. If the campaign is on track, getting that commitment isn’t hard. But if the money booked to date added to the unreported gifts total ends up somewhere south of the goal, then it’s time for reassessment and adjustment.

Mid-Course Corrections and Problem Solving

We track progress in a fund-raising campaign in order to identify problems in time to take corrective actions so that the goal stays within reach. If at any point in the campaign it begins to look as if the ability to achieve the goal is slipping away, then those managing the campaign must stop and take stock of the situation.

The most common problem encountered during a campaign is the failure of solicitors to gain commitments from the proven base of donors for the amounts which the rating and evaluating process ascribed totem.

Early tracking of progress is crucial. It is better to find out that results are 15 percent below estimate after 10 percent of the prospects have made their donations than after half have been solicited. Once a campaign is under way, the steps you can take to make up a projected shortfall are limited, but the earlier you take them, the greater the effect they will have.

What can you do to cover a projected shortfall and get a campaign back on track?

  1. Solicit a matching/challenge contribution to inspire and compel the gifts of others. (A matching/challenge gift would greatly assist in carrying out all of the following steps, but even without a matching/challenge gift, the following steps must be considered.)
  2. Ask trustees and campaign leadership to increase their gifts.
  3. Increase the suggested giving for prospects yet to be solicited.
  4. Identify additional prospects to be solicited.
  5. 5. Go back to selected donors who have already given and ask them to increase their gifts. (Must be done with great care: with selectivity and sensitivity.)

If it looks as if the goal is not going to be reached, go to the campaign’s strongest constituency—the organization’s trustees and the campaign’s volunteer leaders. They have a special interest in the campaign’s success, and will be making gifts, probably substantial gifts, to the campaign anyway. Ask them to up the ante.

Next, rework your ratings and evaluations for prospects yet to be solicited. Either increase the suggested gift level for all by a set percentage, or, better yet, go back and reassess them individually to a higher level. If proposal letters have been sent with a suggested giving level, that’s water over the dam. Go ahead and make the change anyway. The solicitors can explain the need for a larger gift during their presentations. In fact, this “problem” can give added impetus to their solicitations. They can take the negative of a projected shortfall and turn it into a positive argument for increased support.

The third thing you can do to offset a projected shortfall is to broaden the base of the campaign by finding new prospects. With the exception of some direct-mail campaigns, an organization rarely contacts a majority of the persons capable of giving to it. Once again, the negative of a shortfall can be turned into appositive. New prospects will be contacted and the proven donor base will be enlarged for future campaigns.

As a final recourse, comb the list of those who have already given to the campaign. Who among them has proved to be a special friend of the organization in the past? It is to those carefully selected persons that you should return with a request that they increase their gifts. The fact they have already given shows that they bought into the case for support of the campaign. Go back to them, and go over the case again, calmly explaining why it is necessary that they give more and how they are the ones who are needed to make the campaign a success. Sure, it’s embarrassing to have to go back to them, but not half as embarrassing as having to explain to them and other constituencies that you failed to raise the money needed. I’ve had to do both, and I would rather ask an organization’s supporters to increase their gifts than face them with a campaign that failed to achieve its goal.

A discrepancy between donor ratings and actual gifts received isn’t the only problem that can beset a campaign. Solicitors will typically complain that they are having trouble reaching their prospects—they’re out of town or just too busy to meet with them. That may be true, at least in some instances, but usually the “problem” is with solicitors who need to put more effort into their follow-through. Sometimes they will have slacked off a little because they don’t want to keep bugging someone. (Of course, a prospect who simply will not take a solicitor’s calls has to be written off for that campaign.) Sometimes solicitors find themselves under increased work pressure—their company is merging, the workforce is being downsized, they have a new boss. Sometimes the pressure comes from home—a new baby, buying a house, marital problems, a death in the family. And sometimes solicitors just don’t do what they have promised. When a solicitor, for whatever reason, is not bringing back answers from prospects, it is up to the team captain to solve the problem. In the end, it may be necessary for the captain to take responsibility for calling on some or all of the solicitor’s prospects.

Another omnipresent complaint from those working the front lines is that there isn’t enough publicity. You can have generated reams of publicity, and they will still feel it isn’t enough. This is a phantom complaint. Publicity just isn’t that important in most campaigns. It comes from solicitors and team captains who are not making progress. You won’t hear it from those who actually have something to report.

A Campaign Deferred is a Campaign Defeated

Then there is negative publicity. I’ve known of everything from an officer of the organization being indicted for stealing to employees going out on strike. United Way knows about the former problem, and I encountered the latter once when the Cleveland Orchestra’s musicians took to the picket lines. When something terrible happens, invariably there are people who want to stop the campaign. “Put it on hold!” is their cry. “Wait until this blows over, then restart the campaign,” they say.

Never, ever stop a campaign because of negative publicity. A campaign deferred is a campaign defeated . Volunteers will disappear. Previous donors not yet solicited will be less likely to give when the campaign is restarted. People who have already given money will be left wondering what is going to happen to their gift. Pledges will be rescinded. No matter what the negative publicity is, halting a fund-raising campaign will make it worse. The media will hop on the suspended campaign as an indication that the organization is in even deeper trouble.

The other major problems I have had come up in a campaign all involve the loss of key players. Once my entire development staff—the people recording gifts, sending out acknowledgments, and doing many other things—was wiped out by flu for nearly two weeks. Those of us who remained on our feet just worked harder, and when the others came back we played catch-up. Solicitors, team captains, division chairs, even the campaign chair can all disappear during a campaign. People quit, change jobs, and even die. Twice the chairs of large campaigns on which I was working left town permanently during their campaigns. Once we recovered nicely. The other time the campaign flagged.

Replacing solicitors is a smallish problem. Replacing team captains is a little bigger quandary, and finding new division chairs is a real headache. But a campaign that loses its chair teeters on the brink of disaster. Obviously you look for team captains to replace lost solicitors or take on the work themselves. Division chairs should be able to replace a team captain, and the campaign chair, with some assistance, can either personally handle the work of a division chair or find a stand-in. But replacing a campaign chair in the middle of a campaign is a real job, and it’s the job of an organization’s trustees. Ideally the president of the board or an influential trustee is both right for the job and ready to take it on. Barring that, perhaps a division chair could be persuaded to step up. Maybe there is somebody within the departing chair’s company who can fill the bill, or perhaps the organization’s board president will call in a big favor. Just as recruiting a campaign chair is the job of trustees, so is finding a replacement for one.

Tracking Gifts and Collecting the Money

Receiving and recording gifts is simple to do, but very often poorly done. When donors make a gift or a pledge, solicitors notify their team captain and forward the pledge card or check to the organization’s development office that day. If the deal is struck in the evening, they do it first thing the next morning. The timing and process is where the first mistakes are made. The timing is do it immediately. The process is send the paperwork to the development office. There is no need for checks and pledge cards to go anyplace other than to the organization. These are official documents and should be collected in one central location as soon as they are signed. No solicitor should ever hold a check or pledge card while waiting for others to come in. Stamps and envelopes are relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of the bad will created by a lost or slowly processed check or pledge card.

Once the paperwork reaches the organization, checks and pledges should be recorded, checks deposited, and acknowledgments sent to donors that day, or at the very latest the next. Held checks too easily become misplaced checks.

You want to avoid having any donor call to tell you the check hasn’t shown up in their bank statement and have them wondering whether you received it. Quick acknowledgment shows that the gift is appreciated and the organization efficient. That acknowledgment need be nothing more than a preprinted card or a form letterform the chair of the campaign. However, in this age of the computer, what could be easier than a personalized form letter from the campaign chair on his business letterhead, that of the organization, or special campaign stationery?

The acknowledgment letter brings closure to the solicitation process. It records the outcome of the solicitation, and it announces any follow-up yet to come on the part of the organization. A copy of the acknowledgment letter should be forwarded to the appropriate solicitor and team captain to let them know that the organization can account for the paperwork and checks.

Announcing Results and Saying Thank You

The campaign’s over and the goal has been achieved—life is good.

Issue a press release and a final newsletter thanking campaign leadership, volunteer solicitors, and the donors. Single out people who should be commended, and praise the campaign chair. I like to host a thank-you function or functions for my volunteers. The format should be in tune with the organization and the community—a cocktail party, picnic, or open house, for example. (Don’t forget to seek underwriting for this event.) If appropriate, have a function for large donors.

The campaign’s over and the goal has not been achieved—life has been better.

This has happened to me more times than I like to admit. Goals and resources do not always match, campaigns do develop insurmountable problems, and sometimes you just can’t pull it off. Fund-raisers have to be prepared for the occasional failure. However, bear in mind that a campaign can come up short of its goal and still have demonstrated a lot of accomplishment. You may still be able to say congratulations to volunteers and donors. The money raised may be an all-time high for the organization’s annual fund. More donors than ever before may have given. The campaign may have come within 10percent of a goal we knew to be very ambitious. It is the rare campaign in which you cannot find a positive accomplishment to call to the attention of volunteers, donors, and the public.

So issue a press release and a final newsletter or email announcement thanking campaign leadership, volunteer solicitors, and the donors. Single out people who should be commended, and praise the campaign chair. Thank-you functions are still appropriate. Donors still need to be told how much they are valued and appreciated. With the people who worked on the campaign, you need to be practical and honest about the disappointment, but don’t let words of regret, frustration, and unhappiness get to the ears of those who gave. If you become preoccupied with the shortfall and forget about all the good things that happened, you do a disservice to those who worked a campaign and to those who gave to it. They should never be left to think their efforts or gifts were a waste.

Campaign Assessment and Review

The campaign is finished. The thank-yous have been said and the money counted. However, before closing the book on a campaign for good, you should take one last look at it. The days immediately following a campaign are the time to analyze what went wrong and what went right, which fixes worked and which didn’t.

You should assess and review every fund-raising campaign, and you should make a record of what you find.

Evaluation is the final procedure in a well-organized fund-raising campaign, and the report you write based on that evaluation is the organized record of the knowledge you acquired. File that report and it will be a database for you to draw on. Hindsight is 20/20. Turn it into foresight for the next campaign.

All the participants in a campaign should be asked to evaluate their area of responsibility and the volunteers with whom they worked. You want to determine what the campaign did well and not so well, which expectations were realistic and which werenʼt, which tools worked and which didn’t, and who performed well and who didnʼt. Solicitors, team captains, division chairs, and campaign chairs should each make their own evaluation, but no evaluation is more important than that of the staff members charged with designing, organizing, and running campaigns. They, after all, are the ones who are going to have to manage the next campaign, so it is from their perspective that we will look at the evaluation process.

The First Rule in Evaluating a Campaign Is Don’t Wait

The farther away you get from a campaign, the less you and others will remember, and every day you delay your evaluation is a brick in the wall of inertia over which you must climb to start the process. Begin your revaluation the day after the close of the campaign.

Let’s start with the things you want to learn. What you wish to know about a campaign that can help with the next one can be determined by a campaign assessment and review for what was accomplished and what was learned.

The Key to Running a Good Campaign

In a word, organization. If all pre-kickoff activities were well conceived and executed, then the campaign in all likelihood will succeed, if its management and implementation are well organized. Good organization gives a campaign the means to maneuver around the tough spots and work through problems. It allows the campaign leadership to deal with the process of raising money rather than the process of managing a fund-raising campaign.

Good organization maximizes resources. Disorganization stretches resources to their breaking point. Good organization communicates and instills confidence in volunteers. Disorganization leaves workers out on a limb and gives them an excuse for not following through. Good organization is invisible to donors. Disorganization is the first thing they see. Good organization ensures that a campaign runs according to plan. Disorganization makes the time seem too short and the goal too high. Win or lose, good organization leaves a reward of knowledge. Win or lose, disorganization leaves a residue of confusion.