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When what has always worked stops working (or no longer works like it use to) you start to see innovation. I was reminded of that when I saw an article from Inside Higher Ed about Beloit College foregoing the usual 5-7 year comprehensive campaign. Instead they are are going to have a “modular” or “project based” campaign where the focus will be one or two projects over a short period of time.

“Administrators hope the approach will set them apart from other institutions, motivate faster giving, and excite donors who can see a quick turnaround on their investments. In total, administrators believe the new approach will raise as much money, if not more, for the college than a traditional model.”

I think they are onto something. Surveys have shown donors are tired of long, drawn-out campaigns which are followed all too soon by yet another campaign. One of Beloit’s donors said, “You can see evidence of what you’ve done and that it’s helping the institution advance, as opposed to the longer-term thing.”

This approach also encourages segmentation driven by interests rather than wealth. This will create deeper affinity as donors feel their unique giving interests are being acknowledged and respected. Another benefit will be full funding for projects and programs that might have been lost within a comprehensive campaign. Every fundraiser knows that hidden behind every “successful” campaign are unfunded areas that never received the attention given to the new stadium, science building, scholarships or other more attractive (and let’s face it – easier to raise money for) aspects of the campaigns.

The article points out this is actually not a new idea. In fact, this is how money was raised before the advent of mega-campaigns. Is it time to take another look? Leaders in the field commented they don’t think so, but they also said it might be the best answer for Beloit.

My feeling is the comprehensive mega-campaign can still be effective for the bigger organizations and institutions with the brand, staff, prospect pool, and financial resources to raise money across a broad spectrum of projects and programs over a long period of time. Fundraisers involved in these campaigns need to be sensitive to the growing demand from donors to not just listen, but respect what they are saying.

For the rest of the fundraising community I believe a more focused approach will yield better results both in the short and long terms.

Let’s all give Beloit our thanks for blazing a new campaign trail (or is it rediscovering an old one?). It’s not easy going against conventional wisdom, but it is that pioneering spirit which helps all of us move forward.

What do you think of this approach, and would you consider it at your organization or institution? What are the obstacles you face in terms of changing your fundraising plans?

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