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Planning essential for campaign giving

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Rosie Molinary

Financial aid has long been a cornerstone of many college and university fundraising campaigns.

Davidson College in central North Carolina is no different.

When the board of trustees approved a policy to eliminate loans from financial-aid packages beginning in August 2007, the college anticipated an annual price tag of at least $3.5 million to fund financial aid for up to 40 percent of its 1,700 students.

Another $70 million would be required to endow the program permanently.

With that challenge, and other priorities emerging in the college’s current strategic assessment, an impending campaign seems likely.

“Each of the last campaigns, and the one that I see in our future, comes following a strategic assessment of some kind,” says Eileen Keeley, the school’s vice president of college relations.  “This provides direction for the college.”

The purpose is to look ahead to the future to make sure the college isn’t missing future opportunities because it’s focused only on what is happening today.

“We figure out where our strengths are and where the places are that we need to work harder or smarter to offer more opportunities in particular areas and build consensus on them so we have a unified vision going forward,” Keely says.

She has been at Davidson for two campaigns already.

“A Quiet Resolve,” which had a goal of $150 million, ended in 1995 with $160 million collected for various priorities including professorships, scholarships, a sports facility and the international program.

“Let Learning Be Cherished” ended in 2005 after raising over $270 million, topping the goal of $250 million, to fund scholarships, buildings, faculty support, and athletic facilities among other things.

This summer, Keely envisions launching the next campaign’s “quiet” phase, a two-year period during which the campaign and development staff concentrate on building leadership and funding before officially launching a five-year public campaign.

The goal for the next campaign could range from $400 million to $500 million, Keeley says, to fund priorities that she says could include the no-loan initiative, scholarships, faculty salaries and building renovations.

This approach of a quiet period before the public launch of a campaign is a tool that Keeley recommends to other nonprofits.

“You can make sure your community is informed and buys into what the priorities are,” she says.  “You also need to make sure you have strong leadership and that your board or trustees are bought in.”

Keeley emphasizes that a nonprofit should secure not only the board’s buy-in, but also board members’ financial support before launching a campaign.

From there, organizations should assess their donor bases through direct conversations that reveal whether or not support exists for a campaign.

The quiet period of a campaign also can allow a nonprofit to work with consultants, if they so choose, to devise an effective plan.

“I feel counsel is critical in helping establish structure,” she says.

That includes “assessing volunteers and your staffing needs and making sure that you have a good idea of your prospect pool before announcing your goal.”

Though campaigns should be executed with caution, they ultimately can give a community the motivation to achieve a significant benchmark.

“Campaigns provide focus to fundraising efforts,” says Keeley.  “They raise the level of visibility and create energy.”

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