It’s 5:30 pm and your campaign chair has called the cabinet meeting to order.

The prospect list comes out. The gift chart goes up on the projector. Strategies are rehashed. Eyes glaze over.

It’s a familiar story in any capital campaign. After an initial rush of excitement, the cycle of research, cultivation receptions, briefings, and solicitations can start to feel taxing.

Is it any wonder that we find ourselves tempted by the siren song of “strategy sessions?” Strategy is fun. Tactics are tedious.

Unfortunately, this cabinet has strategized themselves into a corner. No progress has been made on top prospects for months. No one has come up with new, creative answers since the last strategy session. Frustration is building.

In times like these, it’s time to deploy a simple yet effective tactic: The Next Real Action Meeting.

Next Real Actions move campaigns. They are tangible, not theoretical. They happen on a timeline you control, not at some point in the theoretical future.

Statements like “I will email Bob tonight to follow up on the dates for his briefing” and “I will call John tomorrow morning to remind him to follow up with Judy about our gift request” pass muster.

Statements like “He said he would call me back in the fall” or “I think we’ll have a chance to go to coffee this summer” fail the test.

A Next Real Action Meeting looks like this:

  • Starting at the top of your gift table, review every potential donor, one name at a time.
  • When you say a name, identify the Next Real Action you will take with a donor.
  • Write the Next Real Action down. Clarify who is will complete the action, and by when.
  • Move on to the next name. Repeat the process.

CCS recently facilitated a Next Real Action Meeting with a client who was mid-campaign and wanted to boost their confidence and their activity level. During the list review, we came across a couple who had been asked for a major gift several weeks prior. The donors hadn’t made a decision by the date promised, and the school’s leadership was discouraged. No one could agree on how to proceed.

Enter the magic of the Next Real Action Meeting. The group identified the most immediate action they could take that was within their control: An email from the Head of School to their Honorary Campaign Co-Chair.

The Honorary Co-Chair is the school’s primary connection to the donor and had arranged the meeting. In their email exchange, the Chair assured the Head of School that it would be appropriate for her to proactively follow up. One day later, the donors committed to a $250,000 gift.

Once a Next Real Action is identified, the group moves on to the next donor. To conduct an effective Next Real Action Meeting, you must trust the strategy sessions that came before and have a low tolerance for speculation. Litanies of objections and caveats must be avoided.

There’s a time for strategy, and a time for action. Try to keep your campaign biased toward the latter.

About the Author

During Sarah Krasin's six years at CCS, she has directed projects with goals ranging from $4 million to $100 million for diverse clients in the education, religious, and cultural sectors. Prior to joining CCS, Sarah managed and consulted for more than 20 political fundraising programs in the Midwest and California. Sarah was born and raised in Wisconsin and remains a devoted Green Bay Packers fan. She currently lives in Sacramento, CA with her husband and their dog, Rambo.