Getting to the Finish Line: Ground Breakings and Grand Openings

Amy Schiffman
February 1, 2018

The last 12 weeks have been devoted to capital campaign development, and we are finally crossing the finish line! I have covered everything from case development to prospect identification to quiet phase solicitation and recognition. Now we’re at the point when we can discuss opportunities for public celebration. First – let’s define terms.

A ground breaking is, as its name suggests, a celebration that typically occurs when a nonprofit is ready to put a shovel in the ground (or “break ground”) on a new facility or begin a major renovation. This tends to occur only when the organization has reached at least 80% of its fundraising goal. The reason for this benchmark is that leadership should be quite confident that the project will in fact be successful before they begin construction, renovation, and/or the outlay of significant financial resources. This is also the reason why we launch the community (or public) phase of the campaign only after reaching this (80- 90%) milestone, and until then we remain in the silent, or quiet phase of fundraising.

A ground breaking is a wonderful means by which to launch the community phase of a campaign because it is exciting, inclusive, celebratory and gives the campaign the momentum it may need to successfully reach the campaign goal. After all, by the 80% mark the committee may feel “tired”, the lead donors tapped out, the staff exhausted. And yet a ground breaking may revitalize the campaign by marking the launch of its community phase and allows the organization to (finally) announce to the public:

  • how far the organization has come
  • the short distance it still has to go
  • opportunities to get involved – both as a volunteer and a donor
  • the lead donors to the campaign

Ground breakings often involve the local (or national) press, speaking opportunities for public figures, and yes, a photo with a shovel going into the ground. Campaign leadership often speak at this event and educate the public on the impact this campaign, and the associated facility, will have on the community. You might offer your donors and local community an opportunity to look at plans for the renovated or new facility and announce the program by which community gifts (typically at the lower end of the pyramid) might be made. These might include paver and brick campaigns, handprints, and other creative means by which to recognize and include community phase donors. Don’t forget to recognize your leadership gifts at this event as well.

Grand openings, on the other hand, signify the end of the campaign and offer a public celebration for all. They are wonderful opportunities to thank, and even offer speaking roles to, lead donors or funders. Oftentimes a donor recognition wall, and/or individual donor recognition plaques, are unveiled at a grand opening, so be sure these are complete (or at least in formation) by the time of your event because donors may expect to see their gifts recognized by this time.

Grand openings allow the donor (and expanded) community to get a sense of where their dollars went, and it can be both rewarding and exciting for donors to experience a tangible return on their investment. As with a ground breaking, elected officials might be asked to speak about the value the organization brings to the community, and board leadership might publicly recognize lead donors. Both might be involved in a public ribbon cutting ceremony and you should consider asking a client, student, patient or user of your services to speak about their (perhaps future) experience in the facility. This allows attendees to experience first-hand the impact their gift has made.

Campaigns are hard work! So don’t forget to celebrate. And thank. And thank again. Both ground breakings and grand openings are perfect opportunities for celebration and appreciation.

Thanks for joining me on this 13-part journey toward capital campaign success. Feel free to check out earlier episodes in this series for more information on the steps leading up to your grand opening celebration.