Campaign Totality: The Four Predictive Indicators for Fundraising Success

By Rob Bull Apr 05, 2024

On the verge of what is anticipated to be our continent’s most widely viewed eclipse, the buzz about “totality” inspired me to consider the power of alignment. As the moon lines up precisely between the Earth and the sun there will be a unique moment in time when a confluence of factors functions together to create something special.

This is precisely what we do when we leverage the science of fundraising.

We look to optimize four key areas—what we call the Predictive Indicators for Success—to drive “campaign totality.” After more than 30 years in the fundraising business, we know that to achieve campaign success, an organization must have these four elements working together in harmony.

Case for Support
The Case for Support provides organizations the opportunity to translate their strategic plan and current needs into a bold vision and strong case for philanthropic support. In other words, you need a good reason to raise money. Every organization has its own story, and potential donors need to hear about its history, growth, impact on the people it serves, vision for the future, and value to the community.

There’s considerable competition for support. To be successful an organization must make it easy for prospective donors to say yes. The Case must be compelling, urgent, unique, and worthy. Donors have a need to give so it is important to show how their gift will make a difference.

Most organizations underestimate the challenge of creating a winning Case for Support. Consider these key elements when crafting yours:

  • What is your story? Show you are a valued organization and provide proof points that you make a difference.
  • What is the vision? Be clear about what you are striving to become. The case should be the result of a thoughtful planning process to define goals and objectives.
  • What societal issues are you addressing? Explain how you will make an impact on the problem. Focus on opportunities versus needs.
  • Why are you the best organization to address these issues? Set yourself apart by showing how your specific background, history, and constituencies uniquely position your organization to make an impact.
  • How are these goals going to be accomplished? Describe your plan using words and numbers to show how you will achieve your vision and the investment it will take to make it happen.
  • What is the impact on constituents? Define ideal outcomes and how you will measure success. Demonstrate that you do what you promise to do.
  • What are donors being asked to do? Provide a clear fundraising goal and call to action. Be direct and be bold.

With these elements you’ll strengthen your staff and volunteers’ ability to tell your story and connect, engage, and inspire potential donors.

Philanthropic Potential
Is there enough philanthropic potential to reach the goal? The success of a campaign depends on securing donations of specified amounts that add up to the goal. Prospects are individuals, corporations and foundations that have an interest in a nonprofit organization’s work. They give in proportion to their ability to give, the size of the goal and the gifts of others.

Determining the potential within a constituency may require several steps, including reviewing current prospect and donor lists, conducting confidential interviews during a planning or feasibility study, or implementing a wealth screening.

These steps help answer a series of critical questions about campaign potential, such as: Are there enough prospects—if they respond to the campaign—to make it successful? Will those prospects provide the number and size of gifts necessary? How well do we know those prospects? How can we help our prospects understand the worthiness of our vision and the importance of their contributions? The answers to these questions become the foundation of a campaign strategy.

Identifying the potential for any fundraising initiative is important, but an organization doesn’t need to know exactly where every dollar will come from before kicking off an ambitious campaign. However, progress in relation to the goal must be accurately tracked every step of the way. To do this, we use a Gifts Chart.

Here’s what you need to know about using Gifts Charts:

  • One size doesn’t fit all. Gifts charts vary based on the size and duration of a campaign, and even the subsector served by the nonprofit.
  • For a campaign in which multi-year commitments will be solicited in a timeframe that allows plenty of opportunity for identifying, qualifying and cultivating new prospects, a gifts chart will be aspirational—reflecting the size and number of commitments needed based on an ideal model that breaks down the goal by percentage:
    • Top Gift—20-25% of Goal
    • Top 10 Gifts—50-60% of Goal
    • Remaining Gifts—40-50% of Goal
  • For an annual campaign in which the timeframe for building a pipeline of new donors is much shorter, the Gifts Chart focuses on current and recent donors who have high potential to repeat or increase their annual giving and prospects who were recently cultivated for the current year.
  • To map out a path to “winning the campaign on paper” list three prospects for each needed gift. For an organization with an established donor base, we apply a 3:1 ratio—three names for each needed gift.
  • Prospects who don’t give at the level projected will likely “trickle down,” making commitments at a lower level. While this would imply that a ratio of less than 3:1 may work for some of the lower gift levels, we don’t recommend adjustment. The trickle-down effect serves as a built-in safety net and having more prospects than necessary at any giving level will better position your organization for success.

Dedicated Leaders
A successful campaign requires sufficient skilled and engaged fundraising volunteers and staff to inspire participation. The best volunteers set the philanthropic tone and provide access to people who can invest in an organization. They make an effort to understand and internalize the Case for Support; they prioritize the work they do on behalf of a campaign; they give access to their personal network and relationships; they make a gift that is a true reflection of their ability and interest; and—most important—they are there to solicit a gift when the time is right. Finding the right volunteers can be challenging, but it’s worth the effort. They’re the key to maximizing donations within a constituency.

With your volunteers, take as strategic an approach as you do with your staff. Allow them to be true partners and assess their skill sets so that they align with the role assigned. When a volunteer feels like his or her time and resources have been put to good use and accomplished a goal, the likelihood of another “yes” increases when their support is needed in the future.

Best practices for developing—and keeping—committed volunteer leaders include:

  • Formulate short-term task forces versus long-term committees.
  • Develop and communicate a clear role for leadership positions; draft job descriptions if beneficial.
  • Provide specific responsibilities for each volunteer that take into account the individual’s reach and skill set.
  • Plan for realistic goals that can be achieved in the timeframe outlined.
  • Incorporate short-term benchmarks and accomplishments.

Strategic Resource Investment
Conducting a campaign isn’t “business as usual.” A campaign, by definition, has a significant
fundraising goal that must be met within a defined timeframe, that will support urgent
objectives, and that will help the organization realize its vision. To this end, organizations must have the resources to create an environment for campaign success.

Philanthropy can and should be a significant revenue source for any worthy nonprofit, but it takes money to raise money. If an organization can make an investment in fundraising, it will pay big dividends. For leaders of many nonprofits, it’s difficult to divert funds from programs to an administrative function. If they have an earned revenue stream, they might carve out a budget for fundraising, but for organizations that rely on philanthropic support, limited fundraising income makes this type of investment impossible. What’s the solution? First, an organization must secure resources that can be invested in fundraising. Second, allocating more resources for fundraising must bring a significant return on that investment.

Determining how much and how to invest in development isn’t easy. To do this well, it’s important to understand the philanthropic potential of an organization. While this can be difficult, a time-limited campaign creates a unique opportunity to explore fundraising potential and align resources to maximize it. As with other aspects of campaign planning and implementation, the Gifts Chart is a critical tool in making strategic investments in fundraising. Here are some examples:

  • An important data point from the Gifts Chart is the number of gifts needed for campaign success. When a 3:1 ratio is applied, the approximate number of prospects that must be solicited in a campaign will result. Armed with that information, address these questions:
    • Do we have the manpower (staff and volunteer) to effectively manage those prospects? The answer to this question can guide resource investment decisions.
    • How do we effectively share the case for supporting our campaign with all those prospects? The answer to this question guides investments in communication materials, events, and travel for in-person meetings.
  • When a fundraising team goes through the exercise of “winning the campaign on paper”— which should be done often during the campaign—it will reveal gaps between the number of prospects identified and the number needed for success. Filling these gaps requires building the prospect pipeline by identifying and qualifying new prospects. Understanding the size of those gaps can guide decisions on resource investment, the use of demographic screening tools, and staff needed to utilize those tools well.

Aligning these four elements to support a fundraising effort, will position an organization for “campaign totality”—that special moment when everything is working together optimally. Like the solar eclipse, there will likely be obstacles that arise (at least according to rampant weather news about “major cloud coverage” on eclipse day). When challenges arise, use Compass’ framework of the Four Predictive Indicators for Success to refocus your work.

For a more in-depth overview, contact us for a copy of The Spirit of Philanthropy: Fundraising for a Better World written by Compass founder Frank Pisch and let us know how we can help.