When you’re a nonprofit, the word foundation conjures up those lovely masses of capital and assets to which you can apply for funding.
But the word foundation has its roots in old French – to found, to lay the bottom of something.
And before you conduct a capital campaign, you need your own foundation. A good solid grounding that becomes the base of the campaign signals to those other kinds of foundations that you’re going to use their money wisely.
The first pillar of that foundation is Mission, and we talked about that last time. Next up is Governance.
Do you have strong lay leadership? Is it balanced among work, wealth and wisdom? Are your leaders strong and energetic, even inspirational? Do they have any other fundraising experience? Are they well connected and cover a diverse cross-section of your potential audience? Do they already function well with your staff and with each other?
If you can answer “yes” to each of these questions, then you have a better chance at a great campaign. In particular, the composition of your board can either help or hinder your success.
The old adage was that each member of a board of directors should have at least two of the three “W”s – Work, Wealth, or Wisdom. That’s not enough. Before you even contemplate a special campaign, your entire board should be balanced among those three, or you could end up with 18 people who have Work and Wisdom – and not a single one having Wealth.
Just as important is a broad-based board. On an insular board, everyone knows the same people. That doesn’t help the cause if you plan to ask for broad-based community support. Special campaigns rely heavily on personal appeals, and prospective donors are more likely to give generously if they know that people they already respect espouse the mission.
Finally, does your board play well with others? I mean, do they work well together on board research, planning and decisionmaking? Do they work well with the staff? Are they cordial and productive? Special campaigns put a lot of stress on an organization, and boards that already have a hard time working together can break apart when faced with the pressures of personal solicitations and quick turnarounds. A board that likes each other and can work well together is a key success factor.
Governance means having a board that will actually govern, not sit and take pot-shots at committee and staff reports. If you have good governance, then you have another pillar laid in the foundation of a special campaign. In the late 15th century, “foundation” came to mean “solid base of a structure.” Mission and Governance are two pillars of the foundation of a successful special campaign. Next, infrastructure.
By Susan Detwiler