For more than 100 years, the traditional fundraising campaign has been the vehicle of choice for institutions to galvanize the community and secure significant gift commitments.  From healthcare to higher education to religious institutions, traditional campaigns are bigger and more popular than ever.  Million-dollar campaigns gave way to $100 million dollar campaigns and now, multi-billion dollar fundraising campaigns are the norm.  Campaigning raises more money, creates community excitement, provides a rationale to support giving, and demonstrates what donations will accomplish.  

Sounds like a slam dunk, right?  Not so fast. Traditional campaigns undoubtedly provide tremendous benefits to those institutions that run them well.  Yet charities may focus too much on the five- to seven-year horizon of the campaign and forget to consider what happens when the campaign is over.  You’ve surpassed your goal and celebrated your success.  Now what?  If you have not planned ahead, it is likely that your post-campaign fundraising revenue will drop to pre-campaign levels.  While you funded the greatest needs of your institution, you neglected the overall health of the organization by failing to create sustainable growth.  

Consider an Alternative Campaign Approach
To mitigate the traditional post-campaign lull, alternative fundraising campaign designs are becoming more common. Some organizations never stop campaigning, taking a perpetual approach with decade-long funding initiatives and back-to-back traditional campaigns.  Others employ smaller and shorter mini-campaigns to continually target specific funding priorities, or to simply bridge between traditional efforts.  Some organizations are scrapping the traditional campaign altogether, instituting a “never” campaigning approach where targeted transformational gift solicitations are built into “business-as-usual” fundraising.  

While these campaign designs have separate benefits and risks, they all share one common element – the flexibility to pivot strategy to accommodate shifting donor desires, community needs, and institutional priorities.  Economic volatility, new legislation, evolving trends, societal interests, and institutional leadership changes are just a few of the challenges that you could face during a multi-year campaign.  Don’t get stuck in a campaign that restricts funding to a singular and rigid initiative.  Consider a single project as one of your campaign funding priorities, not the only one.  

Don’t Forget the Annual Fund
Regardless of campaign design, make sure you pay attention to your annual fund at the start.  Consider growing your annual fund as one of your campaign goals or as a parallel strategic initiative.  Focus on bringing in new donors and new dollars.  Cultivate and upgrade your smaller gifts.  Prioritize stewardship.  These gifts may take years to cultivate, but by the end of your campaign you should see an increased fundraising baseline, a softened post-campaign revenue dip, and a secure fundraising future for your organization.

Embrace Flexibility
Campaigning is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, and traditional campaigning may remain the best fit for your organization.  However, campaign timing and design should be grounded in the financial needs, strategic initiatives, and specific culture of each organization.  The key is to remain flexible to changing priorities and community needs while addressing the traditional post-campaign revenue decline.  Appropriate campaign design alongside a deliberate approach to building and sustaining relationships will ensure that your organization is in the best position to raise more money while growing sustainably.  


About the Author(s)

James Digan joined Nationwide Children's Hospital Foundation in 2013 where he currently spearheads all philanthropic efforts for the hospital. He previously led fundraising efforts at Rochester General Foundation, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, The Albany Medical Center Foundation, The Glaucoma Foundation, and the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

Greg Hagin is a managing director and partner at CCS Fundraising where he has provided campaign leadership, strategic thinking, and philanthropic advice to the nonprofit sector and social impact space for the past 14 years. Greg recently received his MBA from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.