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It’s the Outcomes

I have been spending the last few days in Southern California, accompanying my daughter, Cameron, on a new student weekend at Occidental College, where she intends to enroll in the fall. OXY is a beautiful place, a lovely campus and just the kind of college I was hoping Cameron would choose. And needless to say, for a competitive swimmer, the thought of swimming (and sunning) outdoors year-round must be extremely attractive. If I was heading off to college these days, I’m not sure Galesburg, Illinois would be on my list of top locations to spend four years!

When we arrived at Occidental, we noted that there was a special celebration going on. It was Founder’s Day, the 125th anniversary of the College’s founding. There was a carnival, complete with Ferris Wheel (note the connection to Galesburg, where Mr. Ferris was born). At the newly completed Occidental Alumni Center, a group of influential alumni were gathering for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The campus looked great (notwithstanding the construction projects that are currently underway) and there was a clear sense of pride in all that has been accomplished over the first 125 years of the College’s history.

Institutional history is a point of pride for most organizations, as it should be. But as a fundraising consultant, I tend to want to focus on futures more than pasts. Yes, it is important to highlight accomplishments and to articulate important milestones in an institution’s history. The keys to successful major gift fundraising, however, are future outcomes, not past accomplishments.

We regularly meet with clients who are contemplating major fundraising campaigns. One of the first things that I want to know is for what purposes they are thinking of undertaking such a campaign. In my opinion, no organization should ever plan a campaign just because they need more money. I’m afraid that is just not a good enough rationale to undertake a major fundraising effort. The reasons to engage key volunteers and prospects, to overwork your fundraising staff, to re-calibrate the responsibilities of your organization’s senior management team must be more compelling than that. And those reasons must revolve around OUTCOMES.

Donors want to invest in outcomes. They want to know how their commitment will make a difference. And experience suggests that the largest prospects tend to need the most information about outcomes. As those engaging in the fundraising campaign, it is our responsibility to accurately articulate just what the outcomes of a particular fundraising effort will be.

As you begin to plan for a major campaign, focus considerable attention on the outcomes being considered. A college with which I worked a number of years ago wanted to build a new science facility. The old one was out of date, dark, the roof leaked, it was inadequate. But the rationale to build a new facility (and raise $50 million) was more about what could be accomplished in that new building, not what was lacking in the old one. What new programs could be initiated? What additional research might be possible? How would students and faculty benefit from working in the new facility?  In other words, what are the outcomes?

Build your campaign rational around outcomes. Experience suggests that by doing so, you are positioning your effort to attract major prospects. And let’s face it, those major prospects are what will undoubtedly make your campaign a success.

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