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Avoid the Endless Campaign Saga

Endless Campaigns & Engines

Is Your Campaign Doable, Fundable, and Finishable?

Imagine fundraising for 20 years for the same unfinished project!

That’s exactly the case with a vintage locomotive steam engine my husband and I saw recently during a tour of one of America’s few shops still outfitted with a trained crew and equipment to carry out such work.

In a nonchalant voice, our knowledgeable young guide casually waved his hand over the side of the massive, silent engine and said, “This one’s been here 20 years. There’s a group raising money to restore it, and whenever they get some cash, they send it down here, and we do a little work on it.”

He kept talking, but I heard little else for the next few minutes. I was stuck on “twenty years…and still not finished.”

Imagine how the donors must feel, I thought. Imagine the impossible stewardship conversations. Imagine the once devoted volunteer fundraisers. Even they must be teetering on hopelessness, wondering, “Will the engine ever run again?”

You can avoid such a saga by asking yourself several questions before you launch your campaign. You can ensure your project is doable, fundable, and finishable!

1. Is the total cost of this project in line with our past fundraising experience? Most of us are familiar with campaigns based on hope-filled projections rather than steel gray facts buried in data or in past directors’ memories.

2. Can we afford to operate – to run this old engine – once we get it up and going? Compare your organization to like institutions with similar demographics. Do you have a solid business plan?

3. Does our board of directors, employed leadership team, and major donors agree that a true need exists? If yes, then you can develop a compelling campaign. I mean, isn’t that what a case is all about anyway? Agreeing that a problem can be solved if donors fund your vision.

If no, your case will lack clarity and identifiable outcomes. Fundraising may start strong, but it’s difficult to maintain when you lack critical mass – which flows from consensus at the top.

4. What does the pledge period need to be for us to make our goal? Consider the economy, past campaigns, organizational visibility, and competition from other organizations’ campaigns. Likely, you’ll land between 24 months and five years.

Impressions are Lasting
We left the shop and hurried to our seats for a nostalgic ride past Amish farms viewed from the open air coach of a beautifully restored train.

My husband, an engineer, typically would have talked about the impressive machinery we saw in the massive, steel-filled shop. Instead, he slid onto the red leather bench and said, “Well, that was crazy. Twenty years they’ve been working on that one engine.”

Did I mention…
Also during the tour, our guide pointed out a small locomotive. “This is also being restored by a group up in New York,” he said. “It’s too expensive to actually get it running on the tracks, so we’re going to modify it. They’ll display it at shows across the country on a cart with wheels.”

This leads to your final question:
5. Is our organization’s fundraising goal “finishable”? If not, modify your plans. When your mission truly is to meet a community need, pragmatic choices must be made.

Want a professional perspective on your project? Contact Phoenicia.

Watch a sample of her work here!

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