Nonprofits growing their money over time
Campaigns Published Date, 2022

Billion-Dollar Campaigns: 5 Things Nonprofits Should Keep In Mind

Created By: Stephen K. Orr
October 4, 2022

As I have written before, philanthropy is a financial investment. That is, the nonprofit world doesn’t revolve in a vacuum. It reflects what’s generally going on in the world around us, and organizations shouldn’t be afraid to let their fundraising follow the contours of finance. Keeping these axioms in mind, we shouldn’t be surprised when we see so many institutions—especially universities and hospitals—launching billion-dollar campaigns. We’ve been watching this trend at Orr Group, and at last count, we found more than 30 billion-dollar campaigns in the higher education sector alone. Here are a few recommendations for nonprofits considering such a bold undertaking.

1. The concentration of wealth creates opportunities. Nonprofits should lean into the fact that there are more billionaires today than ever before, and almost all of them are making charitable gifts. They are also using charity to reduce income and estate taxes. They view philanthropy through an investment lens, and when they write a big check, they want to see a big impact. This expectation is compelling organizations to think more ambitiously and strategically. There is a strong desire to effect long-term shifts in the health, wealth, or well-being of entire populations. Rescuing a species and reversing climate disasters are on top of many donors’ lists. Is your case for support sufficiently ambitious and attractive?

>>> One Goal, Many Benefits: How To Maximize The Impact Of Your Campaign Beyond Fundraising

2. Put it in writing. The central document of a billion-dollar campaign (give or take a few hundred million) is the case statement, which paints a vivid picture of the transformation made possible by a mega-gift. It isn’t just a retread of your reason for existence. It’s an aspirational, inspirational manifesto, a prospectus with just enough detail to show how funds will be allocated but also enough flexibility to accommodate the perspectives of the board champions who will be twisting the arms of their personal and professional networks. The case for support drives conversations with donors throughout the all-important quiet phase of a campaign. During this period, the executive team collaborates with board leadership to sketch a bold vision. It should encompass people and programs as well as brick and mortar. You might decide this is the time to launch an endowment. While commonly associated with educational institutions, endowments can be created for any mission-driven organization seeking long-term sustainability.

>>> Read a case study of our collaboration with the Arthritis Foundation

3. Start quietly. Billion-dollar campaigns are newsworthy, but they don’t start with a press conference or a light touch like a tweet. Not every ambitious plan works out, and after testing your case statement with key donors, you might decide to remain in a “readiness period” while your senior staff, advisors, and board develop what it takes to see a campaign through. Make sure you have a majority of the total amount committed before you go public with the campaign. The conversations you have during the quiet phase are intended to build partnerships and alliances around key initiatives that require funding. When Orr Group works with a client, we assemble a pyramid of support to visualize the philanthropic composition necessary to realize a vision. Billion-dollar campaigns require lead gifts in the 8- and 9-figure range. These gifts normally take months, even years to close. Work the top of the pyramid successfully, and the rest will fall into place. Planned giving is an essential component of these large-scale campaigns, and in our judgment should be embraced enthusiastically by the organization.

4. Staff these complex transactions. As new “financially engineered” opportunities emerge, the makeup of a large development office should also shift. Planned giving officers used to be an afterthought, but now they play an increasingly central role in building philanthropic “deals” that might include instruments such as life insurance policies and charitable remainder trusts. Ramping up a campaign, your organization may want to reinforce or even grow your planned giving departments, making sure every team member has the expertise necessary to ensure a smooth working relationship between your organization, the donor’s financial advisors, and/or family estate attorneys.

>>> Has Planned Giving Made It Into Your Nonprofit Organization’s 2022 Development Strategy?

5. Bigger campaigns take more time. We’re seeing longer horizons for bigger deals. A campaign used to run for two or three years; today’s large-scale campaigns may take 7-10 years to execute successfully. We recommend comprehensive campaigns, which include annual giving and major gifts with multi-year commitments as well as planned gifts. Longer campaigns are larger campaigns—and those gaudy numbers (the kind with nine zeroes at the end) might motivate donors and board members to recognize the scope of your ambitions and to respond with more support than ever.

Have a unique vision for change that needs a unique plan to make it a reality? Get in touch with Orr Group today to understand how we can launch your organization toward new horizons through a campaign.

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