Updated: Nov 25, 2021
Capital campaigns are critical to raising money outside your normal annual operating budget. Funds raised through capital campaigns are used for big-ticket expenses such as a new station, building renovations, or apparatus purchases. It is vital to the success of the campaign that they are well planned and executed. A shotgun approach to raising a large amount of money will not pay out in the end. The first mistake generally made is having the thought process of “capital campaigns are all about asking people for money”. While asking for money is the ultimate goal, a capital campaign is more about relationship building and educating others about your department and its mission.
In order to be successful in raising capital funds, it is important to have a feasibility study conducted prior to launching your campaign. A feasibility study is vital for many reasons, including providing the necessary framework for a successful campaign. Feasibility studies offer the department the ability to learn about what they do not already know. Departments can no longer operate in a vacuum if they want to be successful. Feasibility studies are most successful when completed by a third party rather than someone within the department. This allows for a more transparent and honest process. So what exactly does a feasibility study look like?
· Sells the Story: During the process, the main mission is to sell the story of the department. In the volunteer fire service, we tend to be a humble group of people when it comes to telling our story. We do not want to appear as if we are bragging or boasting what we set out to do. Yet it is very important to educate your community on what your department does for them. A feasibility study eliminates the awkwardness by allowing a third party to sell your story for you.
· Case Statement: The study will highlight a case statement (a problem that needs to be resolved) for your department. For example, your department is operating in a station that was built in the 1950s and it continues to fall apart around you, hindering your department’s ability to provide emergency services to the community. The case statement is crafted in a way to touch on the prospect's (donors) emotions while also relaying relevant and factual issues.
· Donor Cultivation: The feasibility study gets people excited about your project. It inspires people, businesses, community groups, foundations, and elected to officials support your project. This may be via direct financial support, in-kind donations, or opening other doors that will allow your project to succeed.
· Understanding Community Support: The page of the report that everyone jumps to immediately is the “total community support” or the amount of money in the community that is projected to be available to support the capital project. In addition, a thorough feasibility study works to understand competing projects in the area. When it comes down to financial contributions, there is only so much money to go around. Understanding competing projects, timelines, and commitments will set your project up for success.
· Building and Expanding the Department's Network: All too often in the volunteer fire service, we navigate through problems and opportunities alone. Guess what?! We do not have to, nor should we. So many resourceful and helpful people outside of your department are willing to help; you just have to let them. Feasibility studies work to engage people outside of your department to serve as ambassadors and project advocates. You will develop relationships that you never had before. These relationships will prove to be worthwhile well beyond your capital project. The study also allows an opportunity to learn about your “non-supporters”. The study will dig into any conflicts that arise and work to resolve them in order to re-engage that person or business and put them back into the supporter column. Again- you do not know what you do not know. The problem could have developed from prior leadership and you never had an opportunity to rebuild the bridge.
· Campaign Leadership: A successful capital campaign not only has a feasibility study but it also has a committee to execute the campaign. This committee should include prominent and influential members of the community that serve in various roles- including leadership roles. In doing this, it gives a greater standing and level of respect to your project. It shows to your community that you are serious about collaborating and working outside the box. Having the right community members on the committee will open doors for you that otherwise could not be opened.
What will the report tell you? Once the study is completed, all of the information is compiled in a comprehensive report. This becomes your framework for a successful campaign. So what should you expect?
· Available funding (Grants, foundations, pledges, loans, direct payments)
· Areas of opportunities to improve organizational structure and or performance
· Campaign leadership
· A chart of gifts (pledges and opportunities to make your goal)
· Project feedback
· Marketing strategy
· Project timeline
· Strategic plan
You will find that not everything provided in the report is what you wanted to hear. If donors are willing to provide a significant amount of financial support to your department, you need to be prepared to hear some difficult truths. It is up to you whether you act on those issues and show your community whether you value their feedback or whether you did this just to make a good showing. The latter option will not lead to a successful campaign.
Is your department looking to launch a capital campaign and need assistance? Contact us today by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 443-271-3846.