Why do so many fundraising campaigns fail? The reasons are many: Because organizations often are so enamored by their campaign ideas that they fail to do their research, or they ignore what the research tells them; sometimes the message or the distribution channels are wrong; sometimes the marketing doesn’t communicate the right messages to invoke action. Successful campaign launches result from an integrated process that relies heavily on research and pre-planning. Let’s review several of the critical issues that affect campaign introductions.
Market research is the key. Without the necessary information, you’re simply flying blind in a storm, headed for a crash landing. Market research is the ONLY way to obtain critical information and direction. It identifies market needs and perceptions, benefits, pricing, decision makers, distribution channels, motivations to contribute, etc. They’re all critical to the process. So ignore your “gut feeling” and follow your research results.
Are all elements of the process coordinated? Are your campaign activities on the same time schedule as your communications channels? Will the campaign be ready to roll when you announce it? Set a time frame for the rollout, and stick to it. Many campaigns need to be timed to critical points in the political and legislative cycle. Miss them, and invite failure. There are fundraising tales galore about organizations making campaign announcements and then having to re-announce when all of their materials, presentations and direct mail lag behind. The result is loss of credibility, loss of receipts, and another failure.
If the campaign is successful, do you have the resources, such as personnel, software, organizational capacity and budget to cope with success? Extended lead times for the launch of a campaign can be just as deadly as bad timing.
Test-market the campaign. Be sure you use the messages and provide the benefits donors want. Be sure you have segmented your prospect market to find those who will make a contribution at the amount being asked. Be sure the fundraising staff and volunteers are comfortable selling the campaign. You may need to test your messages and promotions as well.
Who’s going to be your campaign chair, vice chair, finance committee, etc… in other words, who’s going to sell the campaign? Can you use the same distribution channels you currently use such as newsletters, email and websites? Can you use the same PAC representatives or members of leadership? Is there sufficient potential in the campaign to convince prospects to become donors? There are significant up-front costs involved in introducing a fundraising campaign and everyone in leadership, whether in a corporation or association, will want some assurance that the investment of time and money will be recovered in increased PAC receipts and/or participation. Plan for your return on investment up front and use it as a baseline to measure the success of things like reach, response, receipts and participation.
Your fundraising organization will need to be trained. If the campaign is complex, you may need to provide face-to-face training. Or perhaps some type of multimedia program, like an online meeting will do the job. If the campaign is not that complex, the campaign literature itself may work. Again, timing is critical. Train before you announce and hit the streets, not after.
Finally, you need the promotional program to support the introduction of advertising, meetings, promotional literature, incentives, web site, seminars, and public relations. Time it all with production, training and benefits programming for donors. The campaign will simply sit on your desk without the right support materials.
These are some of the myriad issues you face in launching a fundraising campaign. Research, timing, and planning can all help increase the probability of your success.
Trey Richardson is principal of Sagac Public Affairs, a national company providing communications, research, fundraising and management solutions to hundreds of political, non-profit and corporate organizations. Sagac is the leader in the political community for strategy and implementation of candidate, committee and PAC finance operations.