Big drives in works

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After a brief lull in planning for new capital campaigns, a dozen Charlotte-area nonprofits are braving the gloomy economy and have launched or are gearing up for drives to raise an estimated $450 million to $475 million over the next four to five years.

“People still have the needs and are feeling the pressure to move ahead,” says Charles Page, senior vice president of community building for United Way of Central Carolinas and coordinator of the Charlotte Capital Campaign Planning Board.

The volunteer board, which schedules and helps plan campaigns, will hold a conference Oct. 10 to help nonprofits sharpen their campaign skills.

Preparing for a campaign requires identifying needs, setting a realistic goal, involving leaders, cultivating donors and developing a communications strategy, say conference speakers.

“Planning is key,” as are patience and focusing an organization’s leaders on funding needs and campaign plans, says Lauren Batten, president of fundraising firm Vandever Batten.

“It’s a more challenging environment, period, for these nonprofits, and so there are many more distractions,” she says. “And when you enter a campaign mode, it is critical that the top leadership of the organization – the staff and board – makes the campaign a top priority.”

Batten, whose firm helped 15 clients raise more than $60 million in the past 18 months, says eroding confidence in the economy has prompted donors to make smaller gifts or extend pledge payments over longer periods.

Nonprofits are offering new options for donors, such as planned or deferred gifts, that can delay the payoff, and soliciting multi-year gifts to annual drives, she says, creating competition for their own capital campaigns.

However immediate its needs, she says, a nonprofit must cultivate donors and assess their interest before a campaign.

“In this town, many decisions are made by the leadership of the organization, rather than what the donor population says is reasonable,” she says. “And the institution is so anxious to get on with the fundraising that it’s not willing to spend the three to four months to do the planning.”

Effective campaigns also require a communications strategy that focuses on fundraising and integrates it into news about the organization, say communications officials at UNC-Charlotte, which has raised $75 million in a $100 million campaign launched in January.

“A lot of times, potential donors say they never hear from you until you begin the fundraising cycle,” says Tony Hoppa, associate vice chancellor for university relations. “Communication is an ongoing responsibility, year in, year out, to keep all of our constituents apprised of the good things that are happening here and how vital their support is year-round, whether we’re in a campaign or not.”

Michael Marsicano, CEO of the Foundation for the Carolinas, says effective fundraising strengthens the community by connecting donors to one another and to causes they care about.

“When nonprofits build community,” he says, “the money flows.”

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