Before your next campaign consider the “Hidden Phase”
Posted on: January 22, 2019 at 10:23 am

By Marion Lee, CFRE

James M. Greenfield is, for me, the father of modern fundraising processes.  In 1991, Greenfield published Fund Raising: Evaluating and Managing the Fund Development Process which is a must read for anyone entering nonprofit work.  Greenfield began his career in 1962 working mostly within university and hospital systems and managed to publish at least four books on nonprofit fundraising. Most of his work is timeless and even after our 30 + years in fundraising, we often refer to his basic good sense and detailed approach.  We urge you to buy them, read them, and keep them.

In his first book, Greenfield refers to a decision-making process that is guided by what he refers to as the “CRUP test” meaning credibility, relevance, urgency and pragmatism.  Without this process, Greenfield believes that an “organization cannot defend its fundamental arguments for constructing more buildings, expanding its services, improving its quality and financing its future.” According to Greenfield, critical to the success of a capital endeavor is the staff and board’s determination to first closely examine their capital project under the CRUP test instead of diving in looking for “a quick fix, a path to glory or a way to boost their own reputations for success.”

All too true.  Currently there are three traditional phases of a capital campaign which include:

  • Feasibility Study: A Feasibility Study allows an organization to solicit input from a group of interested and potentially interested donors and community leaders.  During this phase, lead gifts, leadership and campaign strategy are identified.
  • Quiet Phase: The Quiet or non “public” phase of a campaign concentrates on securing key leadership for the campaign. This usually consists of Honorary Chairs, Working Chairs and a substantive Campaign Committee capable of reaching a broad and influential group of potential donors.  The primary role of this phase is to obtain lead individual gifts for the campaign.  
  • Public Phase: The final phase of the Capital Campaign is designed to raise the organization’s profile further through the solicitation of a significant number of small gifts from the general community.

We contend that in keeping with Greenfield there is a hidden phase to a campaign that all too often is lost in the headlong rush into the Feasibility Study or Quiet Phase.  The Hidden Phase includes the basic tenents of a CRUP test and is inclusive of good business planning. And, we are finding, that to by-pass this phase will only be regretted later as the lack of groundwork becomes costly in time and lost funding. 

The Hidden Phase 

The Hidden Phase of a campaign involves intense institutional analysis and thought on the part of both the staff and board of directors. This phase may take 9-12 months to complete and, as you will see, builds a partnership with the between board and staff so that at no time in the more traditional phases can anyone say, “Well, I have no idea how we got here or even why we decided to do this.” As a former funder, you cannot image how disconcerting is it to have a board or staff member make this statement, particularly after the organization that they serve has just submitted a request or been granted funding. Here are some of the Hidden Phase steps that should be taken prior to committing to a campaign and entering into the Feasibility Study:

  • Define a clear and concise statement of the problem using facts not feelings
  • Present the problem to the Board of Directors to gain consensus, approval to seek a solution and request Board engagement in the process
  • Assist the Board members in creating the appropriate process (committee, etc.) for them to lead and be engaged in the CRUP analysis
  • If this is a building project, conduct a space needs assessment and determine the optimum location. This is also the time to decide whether to buy and build, or to buy an existing building and renovate
  • Present the outcomes of the assessments to the Board and gain consensus and approval to move forward by engaging professionals to help find property and design or renovate a building
  • Develop architectural renderings and cost estimates 
  • Present the outcomes to the Board and gain consensus and approval
  • Analyze the organization’s financial status using the past five years so that you can create a business plan to address the potential rise in overhead at the new site and projections for increased revenue
  • Present the Board with the financial information and request that they join in determining the following:
    • Organization’s debt tolerance which will then decide:
    • Campaign soft goal
    • When to begin construction (i.e. 70% of goal in gifts and pledges)
  • Define basic investment, gift and naming policies
  • Create the materials to illustrate the project and communicate a sense of need and urgency

Greenfield says, “Readiness is everything….and readiness is leadership.”  I would like to amend his statement just to say that readiness is shared leadership between board and staff.  This kind of deliberate, thoughtful, inclusive process will benefit the organization by building positive, productive board-staff relations, sound policy, positive self-awareness and eventually, successful capital projects.