We discussed how fundraisers can stay realistically positive, communicate and steward donors, and be leaders during this time, but how can they plan capital campaigns or ask for planned gifts now?
Dean emeritus of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and long-time fundraiser Dr. Gene Tempel shares his expertise on capital campaigns. Then, practitioners and scholars from the school share insights for engaging prospective planned giving donors.
Capital Campaigns – Do we start one? Do we pause an ongoing campaign, or do we continue moving forward?
By Dr. Gene Tempel
By all means, if you are in the planning phase of a capital campaign, continue your planning! Examine your test for readiness. Deal with organization weaknesses. Just don’t determine your start date!
With the current pandemic and associated economic downturn, we are in uncharted waters. We have been through economic downturns before, and we have research and experience to guide us. In addition, we have been through national tragedies like 9/11. But we have never been through a pandemic and downturn like these at the same time.
September 11, 2001 gives us some guidance. Many organizations found that their donors needed about two months to process the tragedy and reconnect to their previous giving priorities. The organizations with most success after 9/11 had strong major gift programs in place. So capital campaigns in the major gift phase of a campaign (after gifts to the nucleus fund have been secured) might suspend or postpone their solicitation for a few months past the pandemic.
Even though solicitation will happen later, now is the time to reach out to current and prospective major gift donors to let them know you’re thinking about them and share plans for the campaign.
Campaigns near the end of securing gifts might consider what steps to take next. Research shows, borne out of the experience of the Great Recession, that donors making smaller gifts are among the first to stop giving. That might cause a campaign to stall. This is the time for the campaign steering committee and the board to consider alternative strategies.
This is also the time for organizations to review options. If a facility is planned, can construction be delayed? If construction has begun, can it continue, and how will the organization fund it until the campaign is completed? (Then there is the issue of having construction completed before the funds are in hand.)
Nonprofits need to listen carefully to donors. Some donors may need to suspend their pledges for a year or more and work out an extended pledge period. Some donors may have been planning to make gifts from appreciated assets or stock options. They may ask about the possibility of postponing their gifts to a time when their assets recover from the downturn.
Our relationships during the campaign adjustments have two essential aspects: 1) Expressing empathy to donors and prospects, as well as all our constituents, and 2) Explaining all decisions that the organization makes, answering questions, telling the truth. This is a time to build trust.
Planned Giving – how do we talk to people about planned giving when so many people have died?
Phil Purcell, adjunct faculty member at The Fund Raising School, explained that nonprofits should not assume that potential planned giving donors will not consider a gift at this time.
“Let them make the decision,” he said. “They will understand that the people you serve will continue to need assistance, so continue to talk to, and potentially, ask these potential donors about planned giving in a respectful manner.”
Tempel advises nonprofits to take a targeted, tailored approach with planned giving: “Even if your donors can’t give right now, they can plan a significant gift in the future.”
Dr. Una Osili, associate dean for research and international programs, agrees.
“Donors may not be able to make an annual gift, but they could be interested in a planned gift,” Osili says. “In other words, they have assets that they can use in the future, even if they aren’t able to give now.
“There was a great deal of interest in planned giving during the Great Recession, so don’t be afraid to talk with your long-time, regular donors and see if they would be interested in making a planned gift now.”