How Do You Know if You’re Ready to Launch a Campaign?

Are we ready for a campaign?

How much can we raise?

What do our donors think about our organization and the campaign vision?

Where will our lead gift come from?

These questions are the reason our team conducts feasibility studies for nonprofits.

When we embark on a feasibility study, we look at two primary areas: external feasibility (what do donors think?) and internal readiness (does the organization have what it needs to succeed?).

Campaigns are extraordinary. They are above and beyond all the work that happens day in and day out. You can have all the donor enthusiasm in the world, but if you don’t have a solid database or enough staff, then there is no foundation upon which to build a campaign.

Conversely, you can have a well-oiled machine internally with all the people, processes, and policies needed, but if the campaign vision is underwhelming or confusing to your donors and/or if your donors have not been properly cultivated and stewarded over time, the external feasibility may be a hindrance.

We recently received a call from a small nonprofit that had an idea for a campaign. They believed in the concept and wanted to test the waters externally by hiring us to lead a feasibility process. I could tell immediately during our conversation that they were not ready because they did not have the internal infrastructure needed to be successful.

Although I saw the red flags and knew this organization would not be in the position to launch a successful campaign, I shared an accessible tool from the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) that allows chief executives and board members to score the organization through a readiness assessment to determine for themselves if the organization is ready for a campaign.

The tool, part of AFP’s Ready Reference series of e-books, is called “Getting Ready for a Capital Campaign” by Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE. The assessment has 20 questions to determine readiness.

Based on your scores, your organization will fall under one of these categories:

  • 85–100: The campaign is ready to launch immediately.
  • 70–84: Some improvements are necessary.
  • 55–69: Extensive preparation is essential to the success of the campaign. Serious reorganization is needed before beginning a capital campaign.

After sharing this resource, the board member from the small nonprofit called me a week later to say, “you’re right” and “thank you.” We spared them the time and expense of a comprehensive feasibility study and gave the board a new understanding of what it takes to be ready.

We encourage all types of nonprofits — large and small, start up and sophisticated — to use the AFP tool to get a sense of where their organization stands on the continuum of readiness. The more data you have, the better informed your decisions will be — for a campaign and for your ongoing operations.

Thank you to the team at AFP for their leadership in providing such a helpful tool.

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