The Perfect Capital Campaign Metaphor

The Perfect Capital Campaign Metaphor

We’ve discovered the perfect metaphor for a capital campaign. Ready for it? 

Rowing a boat on a windy day through rough water.

Picture it done well. Standing on the shore of Lake Michigan, it’s a windy day and the lake is choppy. You see a young man in a small row boat on the water. His back his to the shore and he diligently pushes the oars through the water, digging deep with every pass. The rhythm of his movements is powerful and purposeful. He makes progress with every stroke and with time, hard work and maximum effort, he finds the shore.

Picture it done poorly. Standing on the same shore on the same day. Another young man is out on the water, but he struggles to understand how to operate his boat. Afraid to take his eyes off the shore, he begins by pulling the oars instead of pushing them, splashing in vain. Noticing the other rower, he positions himself correctly and pushes, but his oars are skimming the surface and aren’t hitting the water at the same time. He keeps looking over his shoulder to see where he’s going, breaking his rhythm. At the mercy of wind and waves, he makes little progress and is soon very discouraged.

 Have you been in either of these boats?

 Here’s why we think a windy day on the water is the perfect metaphor for capital campaigns:

  • Vision: An effective rower can’t see where she is going; she is facing away from her destination so she can focus on rowing. The same is true for the nonprofit leader. She cannot see where she’s going, especially if she has no or limited capital campaign experience. A teammate to trust, someone who has done it many times before and can keep eyes ahead, will keep the rower and the nonprofit leader on course.

  • Perspective: The rower eventually begins to tire, just like the nonprofit leader can during a capital campaign. Both need encouragement from someone who can empathize with them and inspire them. 

  • Technique: The rower needs to use the right muscles (back, shoulder, leg) just as the nonprofit leader needs to use the right processes (identify, educate, cultivate). Both the rower and the nonprofit leader can improve their performance with help from experienced professionals.

Are you ready to jump into the boat of a capital campaign? Find an experienced teammate in your capital campaign consultant to help with the vision, perspective and technique, and start rowing.


Kevin Wallace is president of CampaignCounsel.org, specializing in capital campaign planning and management. Kevin has 20 years of fundraising experience, conducting more than 70 campaign planning studies and capital campaigns around the country that have raised more than $175 million. Reach him at kevin@campaigncounsel.org or visit www.campaigncounsel.org

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