SHOULD YOU CONSIDER A RESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN?
For many years, major fundraising directed by outside counsel was done primarily through residential campaigns, i.e., intensive programs during which an outside fundraising consultant took up “residence” in an organization and worked full-time for months, or years, to raise money on behalf of the organization. Such campaigns were popular, largely because they promised “instant” gratification and fast results by raising as much money as possible in the shortest possible time.
As fundraising grew in sophistication and those engaged in the discipline learned more about the psychology of charitable giving, people came to realize that residential campaigns were not beneficial; in fact, they violated many of the basic principles of good fundraising. Countless nonprofit organizations learned only too late that the price of “instant” gratification was often long-term damage to the organization and its relationships with donors.
Following is a survey of basic fundraising principles that are often compromised in residential campaigns:
Successful fundraising must grow out of the core mission, vision, and values of an organization. Proper fundraising is never just about money. It is rather about engaging people in the mission of the charitable organization and inviting them to become stakeholders in the organization’s future. This is typically done through a financial contribution, but sacrificial giving is invariably an expression of the relationship between the donor and the charity, not merely a response to need. In a proper philanthropic relationship, each gift leads to the next gift, as the relationship between the charity and the donor is nurtured over time. Residential fundraising is by its nature an external agent foreign to the organization’s culture. Instead of being positioned at the missional center of the organization, the residential program is basically grafted onto the side of the organization, where it functions as a kind of placenta, infusing protein until it is no longer needed and is then sloughed off at the end of the campaign. The residential campaign structure is superimposed over the organization’s infrastructure, rather than developed as an integral part of the culture. In a proper consulting relationship, the fundraising professional becomes an adjunct member of the organization’s community, absorbing the mission and culture of the institution, and helping its board, staff, and volunteers to articulate a compelling vision that will attract maximum support. The result is a campaign done by the organization, rather than for it or to it. The benefits of such a campaign will be felt for many years.
Inclusiveness inspires participation. In the integrated campaign model used by Douglas Himes Associates, inclusiveness begins with the selection of the Steering Committee, which, with guidance and support from the consultant(s), crafts the case for support and oversees the feasibility study that tests the case with representatives of the institution’s constituencies and publics. The results of such a study typically offer not only very clear indications of how the organization should proceed, but also widespread cultivation of support for the campaign. Because the principal objective of a residential campaign is to raise as much money as possible in the shortest possible time, inclusive-ness is often of secondary concern.
Proper cultivation yields generous giving. One of the great oracles in the early years of professional fundraising, Harold (Si) Seymour , said: “You can’t make a good pickle just by squirting vinegar on a cucumber; it has to soak awhile.” Cultivation is a process of “soaking” in which donors absorb the excitement and urgency of the vision supported by the campaign and then express their ownership of the vision through their financial participation. The most successful fundraising campaigns are those in which the major donors feel that they have had a role in shaping the vision for the campaign and are therefore responsible to ensure that the vision is achieved. One of the axioms of major gifts fundraising is: “The larger the gift, the longer the cultivation.” Because of the time pressure of residential campaigns, there is seldom time for proper cultivation. It is the donor, not the charity, who determines the cultivation time needed; and most donors express far more generosity if they can develop a sense of ownership and feel that they are stakeholders in a charitable vision, rather than targets in a fundraising blitz.
A bountiful harvest consists of more than low-hanging fruit. In their compulsion to get the most money in the least amount of time, residential campaigns typically dash through the donor “orchard,” picking mostly low-hanging fruit and leaving to wither the fruit higher up on the trees. Such campaigns usually fall far short of their potential and often leave donors to the organization feeling violated rather than invested, and the infrastructure of the organization in shambles. A proper fundraising campaign enables each tree (donor) to contribute as much of its fruit as possible. This not only produces a more bountiful harvest, but also encourages the production of more fruit in the form of future gifts.
Charitable giving is not a rational process. It is simply counterintuitive to give away what we work hard to get. It is thus not surprising that the decision to make a charitable gift is not a rational decision; it is an emotional decision that is then rationalized. Most nonprofit organizations approach our firm with the question: “How can we get the money we need?” Our response is typically in the form of a different question: “How would the world be different tomorrow, if you weren’t here?” The first question will be answered conclusively, once the charity has answered the second question in compelling ways that inspire donor investment. Donors want to be part of causes larger than themselves that are consistent with their value systems, not simply respond to nonprofit neediness. In exchange for their gift, they want to know that they are making a difference in the world, not simply meeting a fundraising goal. No one ever bought a Buick just because General Motors needed the money. Residential campaigns tend to focus on the needs of the organization for money, rather than the needs of the world that are being met through support of the organization’s mission. This reduces fundraising to a cerebral response to need, rather than an emotional investment in the betterment of humankind.
While many fundraising professionals and savvy nonprofit organizations have long since abandoned the residential campaign as short-sighted and ultimately counterproductive, there remain organizations lured by the prospects for quick money and “instant” gratification. Such organizations tend to view their donors as sources of cash, rather than partners in mission. Charities that understand fundraising within its proper context of development know that they will receive far greater support—financial and otherwise—by engaging their donors in meaningful, long-term relationships that foster giving as an expression of stakeholdership in a charitable vision for mission, rather than a response to a panicked plea for money. A properly positioned campaign can be mounted almost as quickly as a residential campaign, but the results will likely be greater in the short term and more beneficial in the long term. Good donor relations will ensure that strong support for the organization will extend far beyond the successful conclusion of the campaign.