Why Do Campaigns Work?


Everywhere I go, and I mean everywhere, I am an evangelist for the fundraising campaign structure. So why is that? Why am I so high on campaigns? Well, it's because campaigns work. And I'm here to share some universal laws of campaigns to help take the mystery out of why, exactly, they do in fact work so well.

What is more surprising to me is why so many people conduct their fundraising without a campaign. Do they like to struggle? Do they think it's too much trouble to organize and structure their effort? Maybe the truth is a little of both. Or maybe this behavior reveals a chronic fear of fundraising that holds them back from really planning, really examining what they have to work with, what relationships they have, and really asking — directly — for what they need.

At the other end of the spectrum are people who embrace the campaign but treat it like buying a lottery ticket. When these people do decide to run a campaign, say a crowd-funding campaign for a film or for a program at their nonprofit, they simply toss the basic ingredients for the campaign together like a salad and throw it out on the Interwebs, thinking the campaign will "go viral" and money will come gushing through their PayPal account and into their laps. Na. Ga. Ha. Pen.

The way to do this right is to embrace the campaign structure and then do all the heavy preparation work that is necessary to make the campaign a success. You have to do it right.

So why do campaigns work (when they are done right)? Campaigns are structured. You have a dollar goal. You have a clear purpose for why you are raising money and what the money will accomplish. That is your case. And you have urgency. You create the urgency through a deadline, and you keep the campaign concentrated in order to achieve "lift off" and build momentum.

To prepare for the campaign, you create messaging. What's this cause all about? How do you get that across succinctly? What's so compelling about that case? You need to have a hook or else people will have no reason to respond and to respond now.

Then, you create a prospect list, AKA "donor gift table." That list contains real people you have an actual relationship with. You determine how much money you want to ask each person for. And you put the people who will be easiest to ask and who can give the most at the top of your priority contact list. You add up the number of asks and that way you see that your dollar goal is achievable. Another way to say all this is "do the math."

Finally, you make it bold. You set a deadline that is in the not-too-distant future. You pick a name for the campaign. You give it a "look" that can include a logo, specific choice of colors, specific choice of fonts, etc., and you use visuals, such as a video, photos, people's faces. How will people connect with the cause? How will they identify? This is your major hook.

Finally, you have a plan for constant communication during the campaign from beginning to end. You use general communications such as emails and websites, and you use targeted communications such as personal emails directly to one person and phone calls and meetings to make direct asks for specific amounts of money.

Last, once you set the campaign in motion, you never stop "working it" until you reach your goal.

That's why campaigns work. Because they are structured. Because they are built on preparation. Because you see them through to completion through hard work and attention to detail.

I'll be going into more detail in future blog posts about all the various ways campaigns can fulfill this simple recipe for success. I'll show you some concrete examples you can use for inspiration. And then — I want you to try it yourself.

I'm organizing a free webinar on campaign fundraising in the coming months. Sign up for my email alerts on the home page of this website to be alerted.

In fundraising solidarity,

Holly Million