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Four Campaign Pitfalls You Must Avoid

AHP Staff

Four_PitfallsAdapted from a presentation by Andrea Page, FAHP, CFRE, Executive Director, Stratford General Hospital Foundation and Michael Logue, Senior Vice President, KCI (Ketchum Canada, Inc.) at the 2018 AHP Convene Canada conference in Ottawa, ON.

A fundraising campaign is a major event in the life of a hospital or other health care organization. Whether you’re preparing for a campaign or envision one on the horizon, make sure you avoid these four pitfalls that can hamper your efforts and reduce your results.

1. Giving in to Institutional Impatience

Campaigns often sound like a great idea to everyone outside the foundation. Institutional leaders, community members, donors and staff see the vision and the campaign goal and get excited about the potential impact. Sometimes, however, they want to rush into a premature campaign launch.

A key part of campaign preparation is creating realistic expectations regarding the campaign timeline, goals and the amount of effort required. Use your campaign feasibility study to demonstrate the number of donors needed at different levels of the giving pyramid and help stakeholders understand the time it takes to cultivate major donors. Some leaders may want to start making asks right away, so it’s essential to help them understand that under-developed donor relationships often lead to short-term gains at the expense of long-term campaign success.

2. Not Engaging the Hospital CEO

Patients and the community in general have connections and affinity for your hospital, but the foundation likely does not have such high visibility and probably does not generate the same passion. Positioning the foundation as the vehicle for donors’ generosity while ceding the spotlight to the hospital will likely create the best returns. Therefore, the hospital CEO should be a visible, involved part of the campaign.

During Stratford General Hospital Foundation’s campaign, Executive Director Andrea Page made sure to create ways for the community and staff to have access to the CEO, including regular “Coffee with the CEO” sessions. These conversations and other early successes orchestrated by the foundation allowed the CEO to feel comfortable and excited about participating in the campaign.

In some cases, your CEO may not be the best person to use as the face of the campaign, particularly if he or she is controversial or non-charismatic. If this is the case for your organization, ask whether there is a particular physician lead, member of senior management or key volunteer who would be a good fit for the role. 

3. Failing to Engage Your Board and Key Volunteers

At Stratford, Page insists on 100 percent board giving prior to the public launch of any campaign. “That’s the hill I die on,” she said. “If the board isn’t dedicated, participating and engaged, how can we get the community engaged?”

First, determine whether you have a fundraising board or a governance board. If your board is expected to give or get a certain amount each year and is already experienced in fundraising, they will likely be receptive to playing a fundraising role in a campaign. However, if your board members see themselves as charged only with the governance of the foundation, you will need to plan for a little extra time to develop their expectations and prepare them for their role in the campaign.

Beyond your board, start thinking about the strength of your volunteer pipeline six to eight months before you want your campaign cabinet or other volunteer leaders to start helping with the campaign. Develop a specific strategy for recruiting influencers in your community. Well-connected, influential community leaders often have many demands on their time, so cultivating their participation early is a must.

4. Making Stewardship an Afterthought

You probably have a plan for stewardship and recognition of campaign donors. However, emphasizing pre-campaign stewardship of existing donors can be a rewarding effort.

Before launching their campaign, Stratford General Hospital Foundation conducted a stewardship mini-blitz, thanking loyal donors and building the foundation’s capacity for stewardship. The campaign was structured based on the number of years a donor had participated, with some receiving a certificate signed by the hospital CEO. One hundred percent of donors involved in this mini campaign responded with either a thank-you note or a donation.

Once the campaign is underway, make sure you have dedicated sufficient time and resources to stewardship. Developing and executing customized plans for your top 30-40 campaign donors is a simple way to ensure they feel that their significant investment in your organization is valued, helping keep them engaged as lifelong supporters.

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