Capital Campaigns in the COVID-19 Era

Mar 26, 2020 | All Posts, Capital Campaigns, From The Partners, Special Topics

By Mary Moss

First, how are you today? At moss+ross, work continues not just on campaigns, but also on strategic plans, organizational assessments, interim staffing, annual funds, and searches. We are busy helping our clients meet their missions in the COVID-19 era.

Being in a capital campaign now can be daunting, and we are hearing four questions from clients:

What CAN we do now?

What CAN’T we do now?

What SHOULD we do?

HOW do we do it?

For starters, we have been asked, “Should we shut down the campaign?” Whether you are at the beginning, middle, or end of a campaign, find a way to keep it going at whatever pace you can.   Optimism is the order of the day. Your goals are still mission critical and in some cases more urgent in the COVID-19 era.  Many, if not all, of the following suggestions can be done remotely.

At the Beginning?

  • Do not start a feasibility study now. For obvious reasons, you will not get a good response, and it is inappropriate at this point in time. Be patient, because you will have that opportunity later.
  • Rework your campaign timeline. You will not move as fast as you thought you would a month ago.
  • Work on pre-campaign materials, such as drafting your preliminary case statement. You may not be able to use it right away, but you can use this time to be thoughtful about your cause. Depending on where you are in the campaign process, you may elect to prepare the materials but hold off on final printing.
  • Identify leadership volunteers, at least internally with your staff and board. Have an idea of who should lead the effort.
  • Comb through your database and consider wealth screening to identify potential lead donors.
  • Communicate with your current and prospective donors. If they know about the upcoming campaign already, tell them how it is impacted. If not, decide if it would be appropriate to inspire vision beyond COVID-19, and send a brief message about what the board is considering for the future.

At the Middle?

  • Rework your timeline and communicate, per above. You will be moving at a slower pace.
  • Set new interim milestones toward the goals that you think are attainable. Communicate and celebrate them when they happen.
  • Stick to your meeting schedule with campaign leaders. As Mr. Rogers says, look for the helpers. You need them, and they need you.
  • Have a back-up plan for fall events by looking at dates in spring/summer 2021.
  • Practice extreme stewardship. Check in with volunteers, donors, and prospective donors.  Ask how they are doing. Many of my favorite charities have reached out personally, and we will not forget that touch. Call, text, or email, but make sure your donors hear personally from you.
  • Adjust the timing of gift or pledge payments that may be impacted by this pandemic. Let the donors tell you, and do not assume that they will have to be adjusted. Some sectors of the economy are even making money now.
  • Refresh your messaging and materials. Acknowledge the COVID-19 effect and what you are doing. All causes are affected by the pandemic, some more than others, so be sure to connect the dots to the audience.
  • Be sensitive and caring, but do not completely stop asking. Some people are still giving, and some are considering pledging large amounts, if you can be flexible on the payment schedule. Some have set aside resources for your charity. Per below, be strategic and selective in identifying the next people to ask.
  • Consider the COVID-19 circumstances writ large in all you do. Not everyone is ready now, and people are feeling shocked by what is happening. If they say come back later, mark that on your calendar. Stay in touch and listen to the donors.

At the End?

  • Implement all of the above as it pertains to you, including continuing to ask, as appropriate.
  • Set new interim mini-goals and telegraph how close you are and exactly what is needed to reach the goal. As noted above, be sensitive and caring, but do not shut down and stop asking. You are almost there!

We are humbled by the resilience and inventiveness of our nonprofit community. We send you hope during this time of crisis, and we can provide direction if you need it on campaigns or any other projects.  Click here for our previous newsletters for more practical tips on responding to the pandemic.