The Privilege of the Pre-Campaign Study

At KMA we’re just beginning a new pre-campaign planning study. We will advise our client about their likelihood of success in a capital campaign. We produce a campaign plan. We make recommendations about structure and budget. And we give direction about how they should address whatever findings emerge from the study, so the project can be a success.

Wow! It just shouts “excitement,” doesn’t it? Or, maybe not. I concede that it may lack glamour, and the name -- “Pre-Campaign Planning Study” – won’t get anyone’s adrenaline flowing.

But it gets me going. Because it’s one of the privileges of this work.

For one thing, a study is often our introduction to a great client. Many of our best long-term relationships have started with the awkward conversation over how many interviews, and who arranges them and what documents we need, and prices and details of contracts and so on.

These early conversations are different than during short-term assignments, because the organization considering a major campaign knows they are undertaking one of the biggest challenges in fundraising. When questioning us about how we conduct a study, clients are also auditioning us as candidates for consulting through the entire campaign. The level of angst is often higher, because more is at stake.

So passing the test among candidate companies and being selected gives you instant momentum in collaboration. Carried through to the conclusion of a campaign, we are likely to emerge with new long-term colleagues.

Then too the study requires great openness within the organization. We are given access to plans, records, staff and volunteers, and invited to ask any question relevant to possible success in a campaign.

Everything from public perception and reputation, to the state of the database and the capacity of staff is on the table. So as we work through our menu of discovery, we experience my favourite side effect of consulting – seeing from the inside how organizations work and what makes them tick. I’m fascinated by the actual workings of our clients.

The great privilege however is conversation. I think this is our 30th campaign study. Between the three of us in KMA we have probably conducted 1,500 formal interviews during such studies, in every province. Generally study interviews are confidential – we report what the collective thinking is and the range of differences but not in a way that individuals can be identified.

We talk to staff, volunteers, board members and, especially, donors and potential donors.  And people often are startlingly candid when they believe the process is confidential. (For some reason my partner Ron regularly finds himself with an interviewee who wants to roam far beyond the boundary of what is comfortable or appropriate. There’s something about Ron that makes people confide, for example, about their medical issues, family struggles, or private doubts about life.)

Our bread-and-butter questions are about how people see our client, dynamics in the community, and whether or not they will support the client’s project.  That’s why we get hired.   

Yet we learn much more than simply the information we’re paid to elicit and analyze.  Hearing people discuss what they support financially and why often leads to some profound conversation about what they value. We are often allowed in on their hopes for family and why they love their community. We discuss what motivates them as citizens and community members, and what is satisfying to them as donors. 

Over and over again, I leave the interview feeling personally enriched.  And that’s the height of privilege, to be lifted up as an individual because a client and their supporters have chosen to confide in you. 

So a new study? More digging, more days away from home, more meetings and documents and lists, more billing for expenses and invoicing for fees? Bring it on. Because beyond the clutter, it’s all privilege.

- Larry Matthews