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A Campaign Deferred Is A Campaign Defeated

by Tony Poderis

Continued from Part 1 of the article.

Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind

When something terrible happens, invariably there are people who want to stop the campaign. "Put it on hold!" is their cry. "Wait until this passes by, then restart the campaign," they say. But they do not realize that an extended break in the habit of giving to them on the part of their donors could result in those donors shifting their support to other organizations. When you defer a campaign, have a hiatus in your fund-raising efforts, it can be awfully hard to turn the machine back on. Other non-profit organizations won't have waited. They'll have solicited your donors. Those donors will have the money earmarked for you available but it might not be there when you get around to asking for it. Taking a break in fund-raising can be the same as giving your donors away.

Selling A Worthy Organization Short

One year, I was consulting with a large community and family services organization on a major capital campaign. We had strong leadership in the person of an outstanding and extremely capable chairman. He recruited a solicitation committee of 26 people of influence and affluence in the county. We had five prospect rating and evaluation sessions that yielded about 110 prime prospects capable of giving at least $25,000. Of these, we felt 27 could give $100,000 or more. The goal was well within reach. The brochure was published, and the kickoff was scheduled for a date in late in October of 2001.

A few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, the campaign chairman on his own decided to scrap the plan and instead to ask each of the twenty-six members of the solicitation team to select one name from the $100,000-prospect-base and seek individual and personal meetings with them to conduct a survey to see how they felt about giving to the campaign. The campaign chairman believed that they, for the most part, had given to the 9/11 charities, and that their investment portfolios had suffered as well from the market plunge following the attacks. He felt that as a result the prospects should not be solicited at that time for the local campaign. He expected his informal survey to prove him right.

I protested long and hard. I told the campaign chairman that prospects capable of giving $100,000 were obviously individuals capable of giving much more and that they should not be denied the opportunity to give to this cause as well. Plus, he had no way of knowing, which if any, of his prospects actually gave to the 9/11 charities or how much they gave.

This honorable and good campaign chairman would not listen. He went ahead with his survey. But many of those asked to carry out the interviews failed to do so. Those who did, interviewed the high-level prospects in a non-scientific manner. The survey was out of context with the impending campaign. It was ludicrous in its concept and execution, prompting negative responses by its very nature. The campaign chairman, knowingly or unknowingly, had set up a mechanism that would at the very least reinforce his fears. It did, and the campaign was doomed.

In April, 2002, the director of development for the organization, who had been as dismayed as I by the failure to carryout the campaign, phoned to report that a meeting had been convened to resurrect the committee to see how they could pick up the pieces and go forward. Much to the campaign chairman's credit, he opened the meeting to attempt to revive what he had quashed in October with the words, "I goofed, and I'm sorry." The feeling was sincere and deeply meant as an apology. It was said about as honestly and with as much class as possible. Nonetheless, the damage had been done.

Months had passed. The needed money had been unavailable. Facilities that were to have been renovated and new ones that were to have been built were not. Many hundreds of people in need who would have been served were not. A strong campaign committee had been left to disintegrate. Prospects who were expecting to be solicited weren't. Months had passed, and everything needed to be reenergized. A truly painful and unnecessary process lay ahead.

Never, ever stop a campaign because of external reasons beyond your control. A campaign deferred, is a campaign defeated. Volunteers will disappear. Previous donors not yet solicited will be less likely to give when the campaign is restarted. People who have already given money will be left wondering what is going to happen to their gift. Pledges will be rescinded. No matter what, halting a fund-raising campaign will make it worse. The media might even hop on the suspended campaign as an indication that the organization is in trouble.

Believe That There Is No Bottom To The Philanthropic Well

I believe there is yet another, and perhaps even more important reason for non-profits to continue their fund-raising efforts within their community without regard to the possibility that local donors may have recently given to national organizations engaged in support and rescue work during a time of a crisis brought on by a disaster.

An organization that holds back its solicitation efforts under such conditions may very well be doing a disservice to its donors and prospects. A national disaster is an extraordinary event. The gifts people make aid those impacted are extra ordinary gifts. They are gifts made above and beyond normal, ordinary charitable donations.

Give your donors the credit they deserve. They realize the extraordinary nature of the gifts they make during a national disaster. They also realize that they need to continue to support those organizations at home that have relied on their past generosity and must rely on their future generosity. When called upon, people open their hearts wider. They find the resources to support national and local needs.

If there is one thing I have learned over many years in the non-profit fund-raising profession, it is to never take it upon myself to determine what donors will or will not do. That's their privilege. We simply present the options to them. They choose and, in my experience, choose well.

NOW Is The Best Time To Fund-Raise

Considering the realities and the gravity of the fund-raising climate at a time of any disaster---national or local---non-profits might find themselves wondering, "When is the best time to get on with fund-raising for our own community organizations during this crisis?" The answer is: Now!

Even in the face of a national disaster, go and raise money. Do the good things you do. You can count on people rising to your expectations. But should you shrink from your resolve, and have no, or low, expectations, you will receive accordingly. It's your decision to make.


About the Author: Tony Poderis was for 20 years to 1993 Director of Development for The Cleveland Orchestra and its Summer Home, Blossom Music Center. He was responsible for Cleveland's largest annual institutional fund-raising campaign. Since 1993, Tony has been a fund-raising consultant serving all non-profit institutions' needs to develop and to maximize their potential to raise Annual, Endowment, Capital, and Sponsorship & Underwriting funds.

Tony's experiences have won him a wide audience. At many hundreds of seminars and workshops in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Mexico over the course of his 30 years in fund-raising, he has addressed every facet of raising contributed income for social service, medical, educational, religious, and cultural institutions. He is a fund-raising Speaker/Specialist consultant to the United States Information Agency and the Mexican Government.

Tony is the author of a 115 page book on fund-raising published by FundAmerica Press titled "It's a Great Day to Fund-Raise!" In this publication, he has condensed his nearly three decades of fund-raising experience to provide a concise step-by-step guide to help all volunteers and professionals be as successful as possible as they carry out their fund-raising responsibilities for their respective non-profit institutions.

Visit his web site at for more information about his book and lots of other great fundraising advice.

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