AHP Connect Articles

AHP Connect delivers updates on industry news and research, educational and professional opportunities, best practices and other articles related to health care philanthropy.

Ready for a Campaign? Hold up a Mirror!

Mendal Bouknight
Published:  05/31/2023
A clean shaven man looks into a small hand mirror

Holding up a mirror and looking into it is the first step when approaching a campaign. That is the way Sarah Batts describes what she did one year into her role as Senior Vice President and Executive Director of the Foundation for Shepherd Center in Atlanta.

Everything pointed to a pending campaign, but Sarah realized she had to first look internally. Where were the strengths and weaknesses in the major gift portfolios and in the day-to-day operational effectiveness across the entire team? Was Shepherd truly ready for a campaign?

Readiness is the often-overlooked phase of a campaign. Whether the campaign is in the billions of dollars, or it is a campaign that is specific and targeted, honestly assessing, internally, your organization’s readiness is essential.

Historically, there have been three phases of campaigns—the planning phase, the quiet phase, and the public phase.

My experience over five decades has convinced me that before you can begin to plan, you have to take a good, hard, honest look internally to determine your readiness. You use the readiness phase to put in place what may have been put aside or overlooked.

WHY a Readiness Phase?

According to experienced professional and consultant, Robert Di Vito, at the first mention of a campaign, “the tendency is to look externally to identify potential donors when the organization should first look internally.”

“Quite possibly, leadership may need to step up and act where it has not in the past,” Di Vito stated.

Some of the questions you may need to answer are the following:

  • Is there a system in place for tracking donors with disciplined moves management?
  • Is there a key person in operations who is good and capable? Does that person need enhanced coaching in their role?
  • Does your stewardship with major donors need to be more structured?
  • Is there a strong compelling case to have a campaign?
  • What, if any, internal structural changes need to be made?  

HOW Shepherd Center Held Up the Mirror

In 2018, Sarah Batts found herself in the early conversations with leadership and management about a campaign that appeared to be in the range of $150 million.

“My immediate response is, we are nowhere near ready for an initiative of this magnitude,” Sarah confided. “We had a core team in both our operations and our fundraising, but we needed greater structure operationally and more focused energy with our major gifts work.

Plus, we had a tendency for special event fundraising. “While good for the brand, we needed to be honest about where to direct our resources and energy for the magnitude of a campaign,” Sarah said.

Sarah also knew she needed more time with the organization’s new Chief Executive Officer and their Board of Directors aligning their compelling case, their priorities, and their need to invest more in development to even begin the process. Luckily, there were also important conversations and plans for Shepherd Center already in the works by leadership. As those conversations matured, there would clearly be excitement and a compelling case for philanthropy to elevate Shepherd.

Sarah successfully got support to invest in a readiness assessment that focused not just on operations, but also developing the remarkable talent in house. Robert Di Vito was retained to bring his expertise in operations and systems, and I was retained to focus on the work of major gifts and the team of major gift officers. With Sarah, we also helped her build her case for greater investment in development because of the anticipated campaign.

Over the course of a year, we collectively supported Sarah, her team, and leadership into a position that better prepared them for what was to become a campaign for an expanded campus footprint. This included expansion of inpatient and outpatient access; doubling the size of family housing which is so critical for patients and families; and an investment in expanded advanced rehabilitation facilities.

It was then Sarah retained Marts & Lundy to lend support on campaign infrastructure needs and conduct a feasibility study. This proved to be effective as in the readiness phase, Shepherd had learned much about key prospects and some who were not originally on their radar. It made the feasibility work more focused and productive.

Then COVID hit and Sarah and Shepherd Center had to pivot in a clever way. The feasibility study showed the community encouraged Shepherd to embrace being a “national treasure” in its mission and ensure even greater inpatient bed capacity.

The case for support was revamped around this theme. And instead of a traditional donor pyramid, Sarah built an algorithm that would work best for Shepherd, its established base of benefactors, and its opportunity to expand beyond for even greater engagement with new relationships.

“We stayed true to our culture and sold a vision for what Shepherd could be. Marketing played a crucial role in shaping this message,” Batts added. “And the staff—we brought them in on strategic conversations and into the rooms with our campaign committee and leadership where they could have a voice and make a difference.”

And with every win there was celebration with all involved. Batts smiled as she added, “We celebrated often.”

Fast forward to September 2022, Shepherd Center announced the public launch of “Pursuing Possible: The Campaign for Shepherd Center” with a goal of $350 million. When announced, Shepherd had in place $320 million toward that goal. And as of the date of this article, they are at $341 million.

Click on this link from September 2022 announcing Shepherd’s campaign: Shepherd Center Launches Campaign to Expand Access

The Readiness Essentials:

There are three essentials to the Readiness Phase.

  1. Hold up the mirror. Look internally first before looking externally. Be honest with yourself.
  2. Answer the question, “Are we ready to handle the intensity that comes with the campaign journey?”
  3. Build the roadmap that moves from readiness to planning and feasibility that leads to a quiet phase and into a successful public phase and campaign celebration when you reach your goal.

Readiness goes for whatever you consider a campaign. Whether it is one the size and scope of Shepherd Center’s campaign. Or, if you are considering a structured effort for a service line, a program area, a new or renovated space, you should always hold up the mirror and look internally.

To learn more about Shepherd’s journey, contact Sarah Batts at sarah@shepherd.org.

And for more information about readiness for a campaign, please contact me at bouknightmendal@gmail.com

NEWS  /07/14/21
Why simply achieve your campaign goal when you can structure them to be an immediate and lasting force multiplier for your community and your mission?
NEWS  /08/16/18
These four campaign pitfalls can hamper your efforts and reduce your results.

Meet The Author

Mendal Bouknight headshot
Mendal Bouknight
Coach and Mentor to Boards, CDO's, MGOs

Share This

facebook-icon twitter-icon linkedin-icon