The Long Raise
I’ve been chairing a $40 million capital campaign for NYC’s CS4All effort to bring computer science education to every school and every student in the nation’s largest school district.
We are just into year four of the ten-year CS4All effort and we are also into year four of the capital campaign.
The good news is I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Depending on whether you count “soft circles” or not, I think we have about $10 million left to raise.
We started out with a bang, announcing $11.5mm in contributions, including those of my wife and me, at the start of the effort.
Year one went well, with another roughly eight million raised.
Year two was a struggle and year three started out similarly. We made some changes to our team and strategy and message and the second half of year three was much better and we are entering year four with great momentum.
I have learned a lot about running a capital campaign or any sort of large and long fundraising effort and I thought I would share some of the big lessons:
1/ You have to be patient. It is a marathon, not a sprint. No matter how much you want it to go quickly, it won’t.
2/ Cultivation is the name of the game. You have to work the top prospects slowly and carefully and patiently. Most eventually come through but you need to invest a lot of time and effort without any certainty of closure. I found this particularly hard as I always want to be investing my time where it is going to pay off.
3/ You need people around you who are experienced fundraisers. There is an art AND a science to qualifying, presenting, and following up that the best people in the fundraising business understand and bring to their work. Without that, you are going to flounder.
4/ Communicating and engaging your donors is critical. I thought a donor would write one check and be done. It turns out many donors like to start small and grow their committment over time as they see progress and get comfortable with the effort.
It turns out that raising a big sum of money is like a lot of other things in business and life. Slow and steady is a virtue, great people make all of the difference, your best prospects are the people you have already closed, and frequent communication fixes a lot of problems.
I think all of these lessons I have learned in the last three years are applicable to raising capital for your business. Fundraising is a process not a campaign and it needs to be part of a CEO’s daily cadence and calendar.
You are never not raising money when you are running a company or any sort of business endeavor that requires capital, which is basically everything.