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Who is Our Stanley?

Who is Our Stanley? 

By Jennifer Furla, Executive Vice President Midwest Region

“So, who’s our ‘Stanley?’” the man asked. The question came during a Campaign Readiness Assessment SM for a local church in the Midwest.  More than 40 members of various church ministries were gathered in the Fellowship Hall between services that morning for a focus group testing support for a major renovation campaign.

The question was the member’s answer to my question to the group: Who should be invited to be part of the leadership of a campaign for the church, and who must be involved for the campaign to succeed? 

Stanley, it turned out, was a member of the man’s former church in suburban Chicago. They had conducted a campaign years before, and in the feasibility study Stanley expressed deep reservations about the campaign. As the story unfolded, the man explained that he had been a member of the church’s governing board and that Stanley had made his reservations clear in speaking with the church leadership, as well. After some time (and some work on the part of the church leadership to listen to Stanley’s concerns and address them in appropriate fashion), Stanley called the man to announce that the campaign was moving forward and that Stanley had accepted the church’s request to lead the effort! The campaign moved forward successfully, reaching its goal.

The story of Stanley offers two lessons:

First, it underscores the importance of taking the time do the important work of conducting a Readiness Assessment – or fundraising feasibility study – before you dedicate the time and resources to launching a capital, endowment or major gifts campaign.

Second, it offers an interesting look at where you might find your campaign leadership and how, through patient cultivation, you have the opportunity to turn doubters into believers and supporters of your cause. 

Stories like Stanley’s are not unusual in the campaign realm.

A prospective major donor may signal questions or concerns about your project, your campaign organization, or timing.

An important institutional funder may offer that the project scope or definition needs refining before they would bring support with a gift, or may decide to offer a gift in the form of a challenge

Any number of Readiness Assessment participants may speak of what they believe are essential prerequisites before a successful campaign is launched.

None of these cautions should serve as stopping points for your campaign, if you are willing to listen to the advice and address it in your campaign pre-planning.

I recently had the privilege of helping to guide a successful campaign for a homeless youth shelter where a principal funder signaled reservations about the organization’s ability to “get the job done” and made a lead gift on the condition that it be a challenge – and tightened our timeline for completing the campaign. We immediately set to work revising the campaign plan, looking at how we could leverage support to complete the project on the revised timeline, and successfully concluded the campaign, with two additional challenge grants, nearly three months ahead of the original campaign plan.

Properly conducted, a Campaign or Community Readiness Assessment SM  should help uncover your potential supporters’ questions and concerns at the earliest stages of campaign consideration. The process includes an examination of the strength and image of your organization, the worthiness of your project and the willingness of a broad spectrum of your constituency to support it with pledges over time, your ability to achieve your goal with the proper planning, the availability of leadership, the availability of top potential gifts, and the proper timing for a campaign.

A Readiness Assessment SM Report, then, should not only report findings and observations in these six key areas, but should also serve as a road map – or action plan – to capitalize on your strengths going into a campaign and to address any key deficiencies before you start to fundraise.

Followed by critical time and attention to patient cultivation of top potential donors and leadership in these earliest stages, this serves as a solid foundation for a successful campaign.

As you are considering a capital, endowment or major gifts campaign, take time to consider what will be the responses in these six key areas. Consider your image, and your capacity to support a campaign internally. Consider what you need to do to cultivate and bring along those who will become your top potential donors. Who will be your Stanley? The answers may surprise you.  And, if you listen and heed their words, you’ll be one step further toward conducting a successful campaign.

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