Our friend, Gail Perry, and her colleagues have suggested that you should eliminate the public phase of your capital campaign.
Quick Recap: Quiet Phase and Public Phase
Capital campaigns have traditionally been structured to raise the bulk of the money in the “quiet phase”, during which you solicit the largest gifts. And when you’ve raised 60 or 70 or even 80% of your goal that way, you celebrate your success, announce the campaign publicly and raise the remaining money through broad base fundraising strategies.
Gail and her team have taken the stance that campaigns don’t need public phases. They believe that the final public phase of a campaign is too time consuming and costly. Their position is that it is not only possible, but better to ditch the public phase of your campaign and raise all the money from large donors.
Gail knows that this idea is controversial — “almost heresy” as she put it. She has invited responses, and here is mine.
A Short Personal Note
Before I go on, you should know that Gail Perry and I are long-time friends. I have tremendous regard for her work and her smart thinking on most fundraising issues. She’s a wonderful leader in the field and even though I disagree with her about this particular issue, I continue to be a big fan of Gail and her work.
That said, I strongly disagree with her about skipping the public phase of capital campaigns. Let me further explain.
The Public Phase of Your Campaign is More Important Now than Ever
Gail rightly says that you CAN get to goal without a public phase of your campaign. She reminds us that raising money through large gifts is far more cost effective than all broad base fundraising initiatives.
She reminds us that the public phase of a campaign is a huge amount of work, gobbling both staff time and resources. All those events and direct mail and social media and digital media and low-level personal asks take enormous amounts of time and effort.
On the face of it, the public phase is a foolish undertaking when you can just ask for a few more large gifts and reach your campaign goal more easily.
But just because you CAN get to your goal by focusing only on large gifts doesn’t mean that you SHOULD.
Efficiency Isn’t the Only Thing at Stake in a Capital Campaign
We believe that your capital campaign should be about more than the money you raise. You have an opportunity to use your campaign to broaden your base, expand your constituency, and involve everyone in being part of your success.
If you sew up your campaign without inviting your broad constituency to participate, you are perpetuating the old-fashioned and outdated idea that nonprofits are organized by the rich to help the poor.
Today, with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) very much on the minds of many in the nonprofit world, our campaigns must double down on the importance of including people from all social classes in the fundraising process.
Donor centric fundraising at the top levels continues to be important to capital campaigns, but the community centric fundraising of the public phase has become all the more important.
Don’t Miss the Opportunity to Make Your Campaign Inclusive
The public phase of your campaign provides important opportunities to expand your reach and embrace your entire community by inviting them to be part of the success of your campaign.
Don’t miss that opportunity. Invite as many people as possible — from all walks of life — to be part of your success story. Use your public phase to:
- diversify your fundraising
- create fundraising equity
- become more inclusive
We can’t afford to go backwards on the important work that is happening across the country to make our nonprofits more diverse, more equitable and more inclusive.
Remember: Campaign Goals Extend Beyond Raising Money
Skipping the public phase of your campaign hinges its success on people with money. But if you expand the goals of your public phase to embrace your larger, diverse community, you’ll bring a wide range of people into the fundraising conversation and the eventual success of your campaign.
Broader Campaign Goals Are Strengthened by the Public Phase
As you plan your campaign, you should consider campaign goals that are broader than the dollars you want to raise. A well-planned campaign can help you:
- Strengthen your development processes and practices
- Increase the number of people who include you in their estate plans
- Diversify your fundraising
- Ramp up the awareness of your organization in diverse communities
- Build donor relationships for future fundraising
- Engage future potential board members
Yes, your campaign can do all of that. But without a healthy public phase, you’ll be passing up or watering down many of these important opportunities.
5 Key Reasons to Have a Robust Public Phase
A robust public phase of your campaign will have very real practical consequences:
- You will be able to involve volunteers who didn’t feel equipped to help during the quiet phase of your campaign.
- You can begin to democratize the fundraising process by giving people of color and people of limited means a place at the table.
- You can spread ownership of your success far beyond a small group of wealthy people to your stakeholders.
- You can celebrate gifts of every size.
- You can build the base of your annual support.
During the public phase, you actively invite smaller gifts. In this phase, everyone is important — not just people with lots of resources. And because the public phase starts when the campaign is close to its goal, those small gifts are significant in proportion to the amount of money that has yet to be raised.
The Public Phase Invites the Best of Both Worlds
Capital campaigns provide an opportunity to combine two very powerful fundraising processes — raising money through large gifts from wealthy people with grass roots fundraising that empowers a broad base of donors.
Instead of advocating for dropping the public phase and further narrowing our approach to fundraising, we should remember that money isn’t everything. The best capital campaign practices can raise money in large gifts from wealthy people AND involve people whose smaller gifts are also powerfully important.
Bottom Line: Double Down on the Public Phase of Your Campaign!
When you consider the arguments made throughout this post, I think you’ll agree that it actually makes good sense to double down on the public phase of your campaign.
Use your capital campaign’s public phase to make your organization more equitable and celebrate the contributions of those remarkable small-dollar donors whose gifts represent a true commitment to your cause. The public phase provides the perfect opportunity to make sure all your donors are given the chance to play a role in your campaign. And that’s a great way to reinforce lasting and equitable donor relationships.