What’s in a Capital Campaign?
by Cathy Kits, SCSBC Development Director ◊
Many schools in our SCSBC community are engaging in or considering capital campaigns in the near future. A campaign is one of the most effective ways to raise support for a specific fundraising effort such as a school renovation or a new school building. It can also be transformative, accelerating support for schools and impacting lives for generations to come. This article is built around the responses to questions I submitted to some of our schools who have recently completed or are in the midst of capital campaigns.
My hope is that we can all learn from the paths these schools have walked on their campaign journeys, that their experiences will both inspire and instruct other schools contemplating capital campaigns. Interestingly, their responses highlight that while there are best practices for implementing a campaign, we must leave room in our planning for the diversity that exists in our communities.
What was the big “why” of your school’s building project?
Not surprisingly, the “why” for most of the schools focused around the need to grow student capacity and expand programs. On a deeper level they are committed to the creation of inspiring learning spaces that fit with their vision for student engagement, and lend themselves to different models of learning. The physical structure of the building can assist students to develop skills in communication and critical thinking, and provide increased opportunities to create, lead and serve. One of the schools also expressed the hope that in supporting the building project their families are committing not only to an improved space for their own children, but to giving the gift of Christian education to future students.
What were your most effective campaign strategies?
Ultimately, planning and strategy set the tone for a successful campaign. For most schools, the cornerstones of their campaigns were a combination of a thorough feasibility process, good advice, a comprehensive plan, frequent communication, and personal visits with prospective donors. Another included hosting community evenings to share the campaign story, and finding creative ways to engage the business community. Looking ahead, one school is hoping that the trust built with parents and other donors over the past years and how they have been telling their stories will help them in their next campaign.
Where did God show up in unexpected ways?
God always shows up. One school spoke of the widow’s mite donors, as well as those who gave in honour of a community member or a child long since graduated, stating that it is deeply humbling to serve an organization so beloved and supported by such a vast network of people. One pointed to the grace shown by people who, while frustrated with some aspects of the school, showed their support through significant giving. Another was amazed at the number of volunteers who faithfully made many campaign visits. And yet another spoke of a board member whose leadership giving led to a strong financial and morale boost at the start of the campaign. Also mentioned, was a board member who came aboard at just the right time to help secure financing when the school was faced with unexpected timeline challenges and cost increases.
What would you do differently?
Every school brings a unique perspective to this question based on their own experiences. For instance, one would not pursue corporate gifts without an existing relationship with the owner of the business. Another would form a strategy to engage the business community from the start, not the end of the campaign. Others mentioned the need to be more strategic in building donor relationships ahead of time, setting the stage early and initiating the campaign prior to breaking ground, better preparing cost projections and revenues necessary to execute the entire plan, and taking more time to train and develop the campaign team.
What is the one most important piece of advice you would give other schools?
A successful campaign is predicated not just on the project itself but on the health of your school: ensure that you have done the work at classroom level. If there are substantial holes in teaching and learning, work on those first before asking for your community’s financial support. Beyond that, listen to your community and don’t assume anything – about what’s possible, about people’s ability to give, about the future. Value the contribution from all donors and applaud the real acts of faithful giving because every gift is significant. Acknowledging this sets us apart as Christians who honour all of God’s image bearers whom He has brought into our school communities. And finally, meet and pray regularly as a campaign leadership team and be intentional in encouraging each other.
“When you do something for the first time, it’s easy to find all kinds of reasons why you shouldn’t do it. What you have prayed and given to God in faith, don’t dig up in doubt.” ~ Elizabeth Elliot
Contributing schools: Abbotsford Christian School, Surrey Christian School, Vancouver Christian School, White Rock Christian Academy
Your School’s Effective Capital Campaign
Here are questions to guide your steps as you craft a capital campaign that complements your school’s unique culture.
- What situations are you seeking to address and why? Who will be affected and how is this important?
- How will you assess your school’s ability to achieve a successful campaign?
- What will be the costs of the campaign? Account for this as you determine your fundraising goal. Trust is built here, for now and into the future.
- What significant change do you want the campaign to achieve?
- What are your desired campaign outcomes and goals?
- What are your milestones, those key steps toward achieving your outcomes? Events that celebrate milestones can be momentum builders.
- What types of activities will you engage in?
- Are you making assumptions? What worked before, or even what you prefer doing, may not be the best for this campaign.
- What is your staff’s capacity to run a campaign? What are the existing skill sets and where are the gaps?
- Who else do you need to lead the campaign?
- What is the key message you want to communicate?
- Who are the audiences you need to reach?
- What is your communications plan to reach your target audiences?
- How will you ensure you connect often with donors?
- Have you established a plan-do-review cycle?
- How will you monitor and evaluate the campaign?
- Are you prepared to revise your strategy as you respond to changes?
- How will you report donations and pledges?
- Are you demonstrating and communicating impact using a combination of storytelling and evaluation in strategic and systematic ways?