Fundraising campaigns today are everywhere we look. If your charitable organization is not in one now, it surely is planning to launch one soon. And for many institutions, campaigning is now a continuous process. As a result, the traditional practice of allowing downtime in between campaigns to prevent “donor fatigue” appears to be fading necessitating the organization to maintain a constant or increasing stream of investments in fundraising talent, constituency outreach, and technology deployment in order to sustain campaign fundraising levels into the future.

Just as campaigns have increased in frequency, they have also grown in complexity and scale. Institutional needs can greatly outstrip the starry-eyed goal that is dreamed about. Three classifications of a campaign come to mind to help define what you’ll need for success:

  1. Achievable Campaign — Picking a goal tied to your known constituency’s capacity and philanthropic culture. In higher education this often relates to loyal alumni giving, in academic medicine, dependable support from grateful patients, etc. An achievable goal ensures success and a win especially for organizations just building their development functions. Here past fundraising may be more prologue and offer insight as to what to predict.
  1. Ambitious Campaign — Selecting a goal that is viewed as a reach and causes the constituency to stretch. A firm long-term vision and sense of purpose that engages volunteers and donors are needed. Trustees can expect to lead in all ways. Larger gift opportunities are frequently put in place that offer donors a chance to transform. Here past fundraising performance and conventional wisdom may help guide the campaign, but new approaches and strategies will be needed.
  1. Audacious Campaign — Determining a goal that goes beyond the comfort zone and known donor base. Here success will depend on the acquisition and permanent engagement of many new donors at high levels. Staffing talent to compete with other charities will be integral and expensive. The creative use of customized outreach and messaging will be essential. The capability to apply analytics on your donor data will be instrumental in uncovering new leads and possibilities. Here the past will not predict what is essentially a brave new world.

As your organization contemplates embarking on campaigns of increasing complexity — from achievable to audacious — the need for new talent, ways to act smarter, and mandates to achieve sustainably will be critical. Sooner or later each non-profit will need to contemplate how it will move up a rung. Will yours be ready?