Is Your Opera Company Ready for a Capital Campaign?
The lights are dimmed, the curtain rises and the performance begins. Or does it?
Perhaps your opera company needs a new performance hall, renovations to current facilities, or an endowment to assure future programming. If you are contemplating a campaign to fund these needs, you may need to set the stage first.
The key ingredients of any successful campaign are:
- A compelling case for support;
- A Board of Directors fully committed to the campaign;
- Excellent volunteer leadership;
- A strong infrastructure;
- A pool of qualified donors;
- A realistic goal.
The case for support is like the score of the opera; it is your story! The case tells people who your company is, what you do and why they should support this project. A compelling case must be made for the role of your opera company in the community, the fact that your performances are a valued part of the culture in your city, and how supporting the arts in your community makes it a better place for everyone to live and work. The case includes the project budget, a scale of giving needed to ensure success, and opportunities for donors to participate at various levels. The need for leadership gifts must be spelled out in the case. If you have never written a case for support, it is wise to seek counsel from a fundraising consultant or experienced professional who can help you draft your case. The case is first presented in a preliminary form during the planning study (more about this later) and then refined into a final case for support from which all your campaign material including grant proposals, brochures, video or Power Point presentation, and other materials will be prepared.
The Board is the Composer of the Opera! They give birth to the organization and guide its movement throughout the campaign. The role of the Board of Directors or Trustees cannot be stressed enough during the campaign. They will be the first ones asked to make a financial commitment to the campaign. Without 100% commitment of the Board, it will be nearly impossible to gain support from the community. The amount of the gift from each Board member is not as important as the fact that all have supported this campaign, and at a meaningful level for each Board member. Board members will also be involved in serving on the campaign cabinet and soliciting donations from others, especially leadership level gifts whenever possible.
Campaign Volunteers are the cast of the Opera; each has a role to play and must be the best caliber person to play that role! You should never have just your Board be the Campaign Cabinet. You will want to recruit about five or six Board members to serve on the Cabinet, but it is important to recruit other community leaders to serve as well. The larger your Cabinet, the wider you can spread your net in the community. A typical Campaign Cabinet will have about twenty to twenty five people. Like casting a production, the roles are in place and the auditions will help select the right person for each role. It is important to determine the divisions of your campaign first, prepare a position description for each chairperson, and then “audition” in order to recruit the best person for the job. For example, you will have a Leadership Gifts Division, a Major Gifts Division, an Organization Division (to contact clubs and groups like Rotary Club, Arts Council, etc.), a Foundation Division, a Small Business Division, a Members Division, etc. It will be crucial to get volunteers in place that can give at the level at which they will be asking others to give, and to find the right people who will have the connections needed to reach the people in the division they are chairing.
A strong infrastructure is the stage on which your campaign will perform. Included in the infrastructure are staffing,technology, a strong annual giving program and a history in the community. While the Board and Campaign Cabinet will be guiding the campaign, a staff person will be needed to support these volunteers. And a donor software system must be in place that can handle pledge payments, personalized letters and campaign reports. If you already have a strong annual giving history, it will be much easier to develop prospects for the campaign as well as recruit volunteers who have already shown their interest by supporting your opera company. And of course, if you are well known and respected in the community, it will be much easier to generate interest in and excitement about your campaign.
A pool of qualified donors is the audience, without whom none of the other prerequisites really matter, do they? The first place to look for major donors for your campaign is the list of your annual appeal donors, members, and subscribers. Those who already support your company will be the most likely to support this project. If you have a good donor software system in place, you can easily pull a list of the top 10% of your donors to start with. Also look at loyal donors and patrons, people who attend your events and contribute on a regular basis, even if not at a leadership level. Often these people have never given large donations simply because they have not been asked to do so! Screening sessions (brainstorming for prospective donors) can also help uncover a list of potential major donors.
A realistic goal is the final curtain, the last in our list of essential ingredients for a successful campaign. In most cases, a preliminary goal is established in the case for support and then tested through a planning (or feasibility) study. In a study, an outside firm will come in and first guide your company through an internal assessment to determine if all the essential ingredients are in place, and then do an external assessment of the community's willingness to support this project and this goal. A planning study is almost always recommended before launching a major campaign. No one wants to be a part of a “flop,” so you want to take the time to test your case for support, determine if there are sufficient qualified prospective donors, get community reactions to the campaign and the preliminary goal, as well as find out if there are community leaders willing to serve on the Campaign Cabinet.
The Planning Study is the dress rehearsal. If the results of the study indicate that you are ready to do a campaign, great! Let’s do it! If the study indicates that you are not ready for a campaign, the consultant will provide recommendations on what to do before opening night! Recommendations might include strengthening your Board, increasing public relations efforts, initiating a strong annual appeal, purchasing a donor software system, or hiring staff. But once all the pieces are in place, the curtain can rise on a successful campaign.
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