It is often said that campaigns are meant to be a marathon, not a sprint. However, it is easy to get lost in the big picture or stuck in the weeds of daily tasks that suddenly make campaign goals seem too daunting or too visionary. It’s important to remember that campaign success is not only about funds raised, but also about the ongoing accomplishments that keep a development team feeling positive about the direction forward. Celebrating small wins in fundraising is important for building momentum, instilling confidence, and establishing a successful path forward to realize big picture goals.

Achieving this kind of incremental success cannot be overlooked or understated. When managing a campaign, there will always be a moment when you face adversity, whether experiencing a setback or feeling trapped with your back against the wall. This is especially true for those whose campaigns have stalled, when you feel like you’ve exhausted all options, and things are just not going as you had hoped. In times like this, it’s important to remember that a small win can be something as simple as completing a productive weekly meeting with your executive director or identifying a new prospect to discover. Acknowledging and celebrating these small yet mighty tasks not only start your campaign off on a strong foot, but also keep you moving forward with cadence.  

Whether you’re looking to boost activity or pivot in strategy, there are things you can do right away to ensure your campaign keeps moving forward.

Three Ways to Achieve Small Wins

1.Rally the Troops: Instilling Internal Confidence 

Building a sense of ownership, trust, and empowerment among organizational leaders around campaign priorities is an important accomplishment to celebrate at the outset of and throughout a campaign. Knowing that your people support institutional campaign efforts inspires greater confidence among campaign leaders and volunteers who are driving activity forward every day.

Rallying the troops around a collective sense of “we” must be an ongoing effort to ensure overall campaign success. These important individuals are your key insiders that will help you achieve larger fundraising goals. Instilling internal confidence among your troops can be accomplished in the following ways.

  • Be transparent and communicate often. Your people want to know what’s going on. They want to support the institution and leaders they work for. However, these individuals can only do so if they are aware of what is going on at all levels. Host monthly update meetings with staff, send newsletters or other forms of consistent communication about campaign progress and success, and create opportunities to discuss challenges and frustrations so lines of communication are always open around the positive and negative. This will establish trust and confidence in-house which will be necessary for larger wins down the road. Transparency and communication open the door to internal advocates and ambassadors for your campaign that will build greater momentum for campaign success.
  • Look inward and create structure on your team. Internal leaders and staff often want to help in any way they can. Creating and assigning roles for each person will create a sense of “we” behind a shared goal, which becomes a much larger win for the organization as whole. Communicate these roles clearly with your team so that everyone knows exactly what part they play and feels a sense of ownership.
  • Highlight accomplishments at the next staff meeting. As leaders and staff complete tasks, publicly acknowledging their good work to advance campaign efforts will open the door for more people to get involved and allow everyone an opportunity to celebrate small wins together. Celebrating small successes is key to creating a winning culture and can help create an energized and excited team even during the hardest times of a campaign.

2.Maximize Effort: Updating the Pipeline

Campaigns are not just about hitting goal, but also about building and maintaining relationships with donors. While nonprofit organizations often focus on a specific targeted list of campaign prospects when seeking significant funds, a campaign is also an opportunity to clean up the pipeline and identify new individuals who share a commitment to an organization’s mission.

By reviewing and updating your prospect pool, you give your people confidence in knowing that they are spending time wisely on the right donors. Updates may involve removing a prospect who has been unresponsive for a few weeks and pivoting to toward a different prospect who yields greater potential support. Another update may involve moving a prospect from the discovery stage to the cultivation stage following an introductory meeting. Especially when a campaign is stalled, any update to the pipeline is a great way to get the ball rolling again.

Each new prospect is a new opportunity to increase donations, set both staff and donor sights higher, and engage a broader community that may include the next generation of leaders. Once a prospect is in the pipeline, celebrate every move throughout the donor engagement process as a small win toward greater success. After a long week of research, finding a new prospective donor who has the ability and affinity to give, as well as access to your organization, is an outstanding win to celebrate. Identifying a new major gift prospect is exciting and can help reinvigorate leaders and restore confidence among current donors.

3.Prepare: Setting Yourself Up for a Major Win

Organizations often celebrate a completed solicitation visit because it means they are one step closer to a potential gift. While this is an exciting moment in any campaign, the hard work that goes into the preparation required to conduct a successful solicitation visit often goes unacknowledged.

Asking for a transformative gift is not a one-step process. The solicitor(s) must be prepared to present the case, verbalize a request, and handle responses in a personal manner. The first solicitation requires the most preparation. The process to ensure that each solicitor, who may not always be a professional fundraiser, feels confident in their ability to conduct the meeting involves several tasks, which include (but are not limited to):

  • Material development and review
  • Strategy meetings
  • Learning and training sessions

As you walk through the materials and strategy for a solicitation meeting, acknowledge each completed task as an accomplishment and share your progress with other leaders and volunteers. Keep everyone in the know about how much has been accomplished leading up to the first big request. That way, when a gift comes through, everyone can celebrate it together.

Each completed task is an incremental step toward greater success. As a campaign manager, you will notice and want to point out to your team that your leaders become more and more prepared for and confident when conducting solicitations over time, which yields higher returns on requests. This is an example of how incremental success can lead to small wins throughout a campaign.  

Getting Started Today

 The three ways to achieve small wins outlined above work in tandem with one another to achieve incremental success. When planning a campaign or restructuring a fundraising approach, it’s important to set activity benchmarks in addition to your big goals. Working these small wins into your campaign are important strategies for building momentum, establishing trust, and charting a path forward for boosting activity and realizing big picture goals.

It may help to ask yourself: What does tomorrow look like, and next week? What do I have to look forward to tomorrow, or what will we accomplish next week? How can we build on next week’s win?

When answering these questions, keep in mind that incremental accomplishments illuminate progress and demonstrates success. This helps to motivate everyone involved to drive campaign activity and sets your people up to produce results.  Be purposeful about what you communicate. You can position anything as a small win to your leadership and major donors. It helps to create a strong perception of progress, which leads to greater success.

CCS Fundraising is a strategic consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page.

About the Author

Since joining CCS, Juliet Gore has worked with clients in a variety of nonprofit sectors in both the Northeast and Central US regions, including higher and secondary education, healthcare, faith-based, and human services. She specializes in major gift strategy development, feasibility studies and organizational assessments, campaign planning and management, leadership and volunteer engagement, research, and data analytics.