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March 24, 2016

Funding Big Ambitions (That Aren’t Buildings): Where Crowdfunding and Capital Campaigns Meet

Capital campaigns work. They work because there is a specific need, a timeline, and momentum.

Crowdfunding has many of the same attributes. The donor knows what their money is going for and they know that it’s not going to happen without their help within a certain timeframe.

While these two sets of initiatives normally operate at different ends of the fundraising spectrum, both motivate donors in ways that aren’t seen in other kinds of fundraising. Let’s face it – the clear, bold, ambitious ask inspires donors more than most annual giving asks for operating dollars.

So, how do you incorporate the energy of the capital campaign and crowdfunding into their other kinds of fundraising?

Just as universities and other brick-and-mortar institutions are constantly running campaigns to improve their facilities, your nonprofit can create a series of ambitious campaigns to launch big, dream initiatives that will create change.

I can hear what you’re thinking: You’ve got to raise those annual giving dollars.

Agree! And I’m not suggesting that you stop doing that.

But just as capital campaigns at universities run along side annual giving campaigns and crowdfunding initiatives burst in and out at the same time as many organizations raise operating dollars, so too can your organization create campaigns around special initiatives or program challenges and continue your annual fundraising efforts.

A special initiative campaign doesn’t need to have the expensive structure of a capital campaign, or the know-how to launch a tech-savvy crowdfunding initiative.

What a special initiative campaign does need is ambition. It needs dreams.

Does your organization have something BIG it wants to accomplish in the next few years and struggling for the funds to make it happen?

If so, a special initiative campaign could be your next move.

A special initiatives campaign should harness the assets (and challenges) of a capital campaign and it’s classic structure:

  • Inspirational case for support: In order to raise money for a special initiative, your organization has to have a vision of what it wants to do to that can be clearly communicated in a case for support. This isn’t about business as usual. This is something extraordinary that your organization sees as a way to make a leap forward. (If you want to know more about creating a case for support, check out this classic blog Ann wrote with a couple of samples).
  • Committee of volunteers: The old saying, “people give to people” is more true today than ever. Activating some of your biggest supporters and prospects behind a special initiative campaign can not only energize their giving, but will motivate and engage others.
  • Variety of ways to give: Capital campaigns encourage donors to make pledges over time for gifts that take their unique circumstances into account. This kind of flexibility is the ultimate expression of donor centric and should be part of any fundraising effort.
  • The Double ask: The best run capital campaigns never leave annual giving behind. Donors are asked to pledge for their special gift as well as to pledge their annual giving support.

A special initiatives campaign should also take some of its cues from the growing world of crowdfunding:

  • Timeline and urgency: Crowdfunding initiatives don’t live that long. They recognize that creating urgency is critical for the campaign to thrive. While your special initiative campaign might have a longer life than most crowdfunding initiatives, this sense of need “right now” is key.
  • Viral and engaging: Most capital campaigns concentrate on the very top of the giving pyramid. But a special initiative campaign could work to integrate and activate the entire donor database through a creative, thorough communications plan. We’re not talking ice bucket challenge here. But we are talking about allowing people to participate in the campaign by inviting friends and doing their own form of fundraising for it.
  • Compelling: The use of images and videos is key to crowdfunding and in order to really bring inspiration to your special initiatives campaign, it needs to be brought to life visually.

What will this do for your fundraising? Quite a lot. Over and over again we’ve seen capital campaigns catapult an organization into bigger and better major gifts fundraising. A special initiative campaign can do the same.

In the next three posts, I’ll be exploring the how, what, and why of special initiative campaigns. If you’d like to hear more, tune in. If you have ideas for me to cover on this subject, I’d love to hear them. You know where to find me!

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