“What are we paying you for?” I still remember those words from a board member early in my career as a Development Director. He couldn’t understand why I included consulting fees in my campaign budget. This board member felt that running a campaign should be part of my job responsibilities, so he questioned why we should budget for an outside consultant.
I have worked on capital campaigns for over thirty years with campaign goals ranging from one million to one billion dollars! For almost 20 of those years, I led the development efforts in private Christian schools. My takeaway is this: I would never go into a campaign without using an outside consultant.
Let me give you five reasons why.
An Outside Perspective
Before college, I managed the kitchen staff of a large restaurant. One of the owners would visit the restaurant once a month, spend time observing how the staff performed, and analyze how the food was prepared and delivered. Inevitably, he had suggestions that improved our process and made us more efficient. My kitchen staff and I would kick ourselves for not having seen this on our own, but because of workload and set routines, we would often miss ways to improve. The owner called it the “Man from Mars” approach because he came with an outside perspective.
When it comes to capital campaigns, an outside consultant can usually see things in your development program that you might miss because you’re too close to a project. When I served as a Development Director at one school, we worked for months to design a new middle school building. We hired a consultant to conduct the Feasibility Study and after the study, she recommended we turn the current high school building into the middle school and then run a campaign to build a new high school building. It was a brilliant idea that led to the most successful capital campaign ever conducted at that school!
For months we had been so deeply involved with the details of designing a new middle school building, we failed to consider other options. An experienced consultant will bring that outside perspective to your campaign.
Every school is unique, but certain systems work better than others when it comes to raising money. Consultants have learned what works and what doesn’t work. In the end, they can save you time. More importantly, they discover what reservations your donors might have.
This is why I strongly recommend hiring an outside consultant to conduct a Feasibility Study before moving forward with any capital campaign. Jesus lays out this principle in Luke, chapter 14.
“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’” (28-30, NLT)
A Feasibility Study not only measures the potential capacity of your supporters, but also gauges general attitudes that donors and parents have toward the school, staff, leadership, and the projects being considered. A Feasibility Study conducted by DickersonBakker includes a section on organizational readiness where we evaluate the effectiveness of the current development program and include recommendations on ways to improve.
Credibility with Donors
When a school hires a consultant, it tells your supporters that you are serious about the campaign and that you value their feedback.
A Feasibility Study will survey donors and parents to understand what they like about the school and areas where they feel improvement is needed. Participants tend to be very honest in these surveys since they are anonymous, and they feel free to explain their concerns. Understanding what excites the donors helps a school know what will motivate them to support the campaign. By contrast, understanding what makes them hesitant will give you time to address those concerns before launching a campaign.
Finally, allowing donors to give you feedback builds trust and confidence in the school’s leadership. When donors and parents feel they’ve been heard, they are more likely to be supportive of the campaign.
Hiring the right consultant will bring the same core values that you and your school hold as a Christ-centered school. Having worked as a Development Director, I understand the demands of the job and that those demands do not go away once you launch a capital campaign.
A consultant will be your coach, work with you to create a campaign plan, make assignments, and manage the campaign to keep everyone on track and the campaign moving forward. A consultant will also guide you on how to manage your volunteers.
Overall, a good consultant will give you suggestions on ways to improve your entire development program, creating a culture of philanthropy within your school community. What you learn and implement during a capital campaign will benefit your entire development program for the future. At DickersonBakker, we have found that overall donations to a school will increase after the completion of a well-run capital campaign.
The Benefits of Experience
When you hire a consultant from DickersonBakker, you get the benefits of a large, experienced firm. Our consultants work in teams to get feedback and suggestions about specific situations that may arise during a campaign. Through DickersonBakker, our clients also have access to other services led by teams of experts in wealth assessment, fund development, grant research, Impact Messaging, and executive searches to name a few.
So, why include a consultant in your next capital campaign budget? Because a consultant can save you time, bring a perspective you might not see, and most importantly, teach you how to build a solid, biblical culture of giving in your school that will result in lasting benefits.
Is there a capital campaign in your school’s future? We can help you achieve success. Contact us today to see how our team of capital campaign consultants can help you reach your goals.