Campaign Giving Options: Quality Beats Quantity

A recent article in the The Chronicle of Philanthropy has spurred a lot of discussion among the principals here at Convergent.

The article cites a study by Szu-chi Huang, assistant professor of marketing at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, in which she suggests that “as charities seek to wrap up a fundraising drive, they would be wise to offer donors one way to give rather than lots of options…”

None of our principals disagreed in theory with the ultimate conclusion that fewer options can lead to less confusion among donors (who we refer to as investors).  However, the discussions focused on a shared belief that the report paints a far too simplistic picture of the strategies involved in managing a major capital campaign.

Convergent principals have more than 70 years of combined capital campaign management experience, and offer the following commentary on this study.

Understanding what’s important

“In my experience, the number of options that a nonprofit offers during a fundraising campaign is not the determining factor for success,” says Andy Coe.  “Potential investors are more interested in the volunteers leading the fundraising effort, the organization’s value proposition, the benefit to the constituents/community that they serve, and the sustainability of the plan that they are proposing.”

Tom Ralser, who has also authored two widely acclaimed books about non-profit fundraising, concurs that the number of options has much less bearing on a campaign’s success than other larger factors.

“I cannot be more emphatic in my view that it’s not the number of options, it’s the options themselves,” says Ralser.  “Some will have inherently more value than others, and it is imperative to the success of the campaign that those with the most value are those offered.

The opposite approach

Mark Bergethon takes the discussion a bit further and believes that Ms. Huang’s study has it backwards.

“I agree that limiting options is the way to go, but disagree with the assertion that it’s better to provide more options at the outset of a campaign and then to only limit them at the end,” says Bergethon.  “We have found far greater success by strategically approaching larger prospects—the ones typically pursued early in a campaign–with a specific individually targeted ask amount, and making a strong case for investing at that level.  The only time we might consider offering a range of options to choose from is actually toward the end of a campaign when we’re seeking to broaden the base of support with a large number of smaller commitments.”

ROI for donors

Above all else, this study is yet another example of how Convergent’s approach runs counter to long-held beliefs about capital campaign management, as stated by Bob Johnson.

“While this study takes a more philosophical view, Convergent campaigns are far more focused on return on investment for investors,” says Johnson.  “Tangible outcomes, whether they are children being born healthy, at risk youth graduating, or workers securing new or better jobs, provide a far more compelling case for key stakeholders, and our history of successful campaigns backs this up greater than anything else.”