Think Before You Jump

Capital Campaigns Call for Serious Advance Planning

Is there a big expenditure on the horizon for your nonprofit? For instance, is there a need in your organization’s future for a new building or major renovation of your current headquarters? The funds necessary for expensive projects generally aren’t generated from everyday, routine income sources. A capital campaign may be what your organization needs to raise these funds, depending on the objective.

Planning it out

It isn’t easy to commit to a capital campaign. The concern that people will be reluctant to donate in an uncertain economy can cause hesitation to solicit more funds. However, when dedicated individuals within your organization embrace this opportunity for expansion and growth, the time to plan has begun.

It’s not surprising that a huge endeavor to raise money for a new building, costly equipment or to grow an endowment, is referred to as a “campaign.” Like a series of military operations designed to produce a desired result, a capital campaign consists of efforts aimed at a specific outcome. And, like a military campaign, a capital campaign calls for precise strategic planning and skilled execution.

The campaign might be three or more years in duration. Funds are generally raised through direct mail, e-mail, direct solicitations, special events, as well as other more traditional and creative methods. (See the sidebar “Lining up the Manpower for Your Capital Campaign.”)

Finding a Leader

An effective and successful campaign needs a leader to direct the “troops” into battle. Current and past board members, and even people in the greater community, are excellent sources to find qualified individuals. Ideally, the leader should be someone with a strong fundraising track record, and who is familiar with the organization’s geographic area and local issues. Furthermore, the leader will be someone that’s fully committed and dedicated to the campaign’s cause, and who has the ability to motivate others.

Targeting Donors

To make sure the organization’s employees and volunteers are concentrating their efforts on the most promising donors, begin by targeting a large group to solicit for contributions. This group should be derived from past donors, local business owners, current board members, volunteers and other likely sources. The next step is to narrow that list to those who can potentially give the largest gifts and speak to them first. Secure the large donations before pursuing amounts under $1,000.

Since most people feel uncomfortable asking other people for money, team members should be trained how to relate the organization’s story to solicit funds.

Creating Consistent Messages

The organization’s key constituents must be on the same page regarding the vision for the campaign and the strategies for achieving it. The overall goal can be divided into smaller objectives that can be celebrated when achieving them. Report gifts on a regular basis, track the progress made toward reaching each goal, and measure the effectiveness of the campaign’s activities.

Use great care when crafting the campaign’s message. A professional fundraiser with capital campaign experience can be useful in this area. Potential donors must view your organization as capable and strong, but also as the same group that they have supported over the years. Additionally, rather than focusing on what the donation’s effect will have on your non-profit, show potential donors the impact it will have on the community at large.

Choosing the Launch Time

Conventional fundraising wisdom suggests that the campaign shouldn’t go public until a significant amount of “lead gifts” from large donors have been secured. The recommended percentage varies with organizations usually waiting until receiving between 50% and 60% of their total fundraising goal prior to announcing the campaign. Publicly recognize your donors as the campaign progresses.

Three Years or More

Capital campaigns can stretch over a period of three years or more. Ensuring that your capital campaign strategy can survive the long haul will greatly increase the odds that the goal will be reached.

Sidebar: Lining up the Manpower for Your Capital Campaign

Capital campaigns rely on volunteers to play a vital role. Choose campaign volunteers from your current and past board members, project leaders and general pool of volunteers. Prepare to draw volunteers from your organization’s staff, as it is not realistic to expect the volunteers will do all the work.

There may be a need to hire additional staff such as a professional fundraiser and administrative personnel. Look for a mix of abilities and personal characteristics among your volunteers, board members, staff and new hires. Be sure to include high energy individuals that possess strong people skills.

© 2015


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