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Capital Campaigns: 6 Pro Tips for Expert Nonprofits

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If your nonprofit needs to complete a building or renovation project, then you’ve likely settled on a capital campaign to get the job done.

A capital campaign is an effective strategy for raising the millions of dollars necessary to complete large projects. However, due to their complexity and the sheer amount of funds that need to be raised, they can span multiple years and strain an organization’s internal operations.

Nonprofits must be prepared if they want to succeed and maximize their campaigns.

These pro tips are tailored to nonprofits who want to ensure that the chances of their campaign’s success are as high as possible:

  1. Conduct a feasibility study
  2. Hire a capital campaign consultant
  3. Determine your fundraising strategy
  4. Excite organizational and community leaders
  5. Develop your case for support
  6. Build your communications plan

With these tips, your nonprofit can do more than host a successful campaign. You can also build sustainable practices that will lead to future success for your fundraising efforts.

1. Conduct a feasibility study

Conduct a Feasibility Study

A feasibility study is an essential aspect of pre-campaign planning.

A feasibility study will determine whether a capital campaign is in your organization’s best interest. Additionally, the results are fundamental to the campaign’s execution.

Why?

A feasibility study seeks to elicit the perceptions of key stakeholders. Stakeholders can include anyone from board members and major donors to leaders in community foundations.

Through targeted interviews, a third-party representative will ask these invaluable leaders for their thoughts and opinions.

Typically, the interviewer will tackle these questions:

  • How does the interviewee view the organization’s reputation and the proposed project?
  • Is there a need for the campaign?
  • Is the timing for the campaign ideal? Are there any competitors that may draw attention away from the campaign?
  • Would they be willing to donate?
  • Would they be willing to take on a leadership position? Who would they recommend for a leadership position?

With the answers to these questions, an organization can build the groundwork for their campaign. The results of your feasibility study will determine the logistics of your campaign, such as your fundraising goal and leadership team. These details, in turn, will direct the course of your campaign.

Plus, a feasibility study is a chance to generate early excitement for the project. Interviewees may be thrilled to have their voices heard — which can motivate them to give during the quiet phase of your campaign.

Feasibility studies are usually conducted by fundraising consultants so as to avoid a conflict of interest. You wouldn’t, for instance, want interviewees to over-promise their commitment to the project to avoid disappointing you or miss key challenges in your report due to excitement.

A third-party representative with no ties to your organization is more likely to receive candid responses and generate unbiased reports.

That said, the fundraising consultant who conducts your feasibility study does not have to be hired for the duration of the campaign. Let’s discuss hiring outside assistance in more detail in the next point.

Ultimately, a feasibility study will determine key logistics of your capital campaign and help you cultivate enthusiasm for your project.

2. Hire outside assistance

Hire outside assistance

Because capital campaigns are such complicated endeavors, many organizations opt to hire a capital campaign consultant.

Capital campaign consultants are experts who can assist you with general campaign management as well as specific challenges that arise during the course of the project. The value of an extra pair of hands and a fresh set of eyes cannot be understated.

Plus, a capital campaign consultant can assist with strengthening your internal operations so the campaign is poised to succeed. The solutions they bring to the table can provide long-term stability to your organization, building a stronger foundation to support fundraising across all of your efforts, not just those pertinent to your capital campaign.

To find a capital campaign consultant, your organization can:

  • Choose the consultant who conducted the feasibility study. If this consultant works well with your organization and delivers on their promises, you can extend their contract.
     
  • Reach out to trusted peers. Look to other organizations in your network who’ve used consultants to conduct successful campaigns. Ask them for their recommendations.
     
  • Research consultants through professional and community databases. Though search results can be overwhelming, nonprofits can look through tons of qualified advisors to find the perfect match.

The most important aspect of your search will be choosing a consultant who best suits your needs. Once you’ve constructed a list of your top choices, look for client testimonials and ask for references.

A consultant’s past work should give you insight into how they operate in practice.

According to this DonorSearch guide to capital campaigns,

“Before committing to any consultant, it’s highly advised that you get a feel for their track record and an accurate understanding of what you can expect to see during your own campaign.”

Think of your capital campaign consultant as a partner who should work well with your organization. The better your working relationship, the more easily your consultant can help you implement practices that will benefit your nonprofit in the future.

Ultimately, hiring a capital campaign consultant can provide you with the support and expertise you need to conduct a successful campaign.

3. Excite your board and leadership

Excite your board and leadership

Your board is the key to a successful capital campaign — or for that matter, any campaign at all.

You’re probably already aware of this fact, but we will state it plainly: Nonprofits cannot conduct capital campaigns without full board support.

After all, your board will be funding the campaign. Perhaps more importantly, your board is an essential aspect of your nonprofit’s performance. A board that’s, well, on board with your project can offer their expertise and insight to help guide the course of your campaign.

That’s why it’s vital that you gain board support on the front-end of the process. But don’t just gain their approval — excite them.

Help them envision the campaign’s success. Make it clear how the capital campaign will ultimately further your mission.

While your board is vital to your campaign, you shouldn’t limit your enthusiasm to them. Other key players like major donors and high-level volunteers should receive the same treatment.

Your feasibility study is a great tool to start generating this early excitement. When supporters are asked to envision themselves as contributors, they often feel eager to play their part.

Ultimately, exciting your board and leadership early can lead to important donations and invaluable support for your campaign.

4. Determine your fundraising strategy

Determine your fundraising strategy

One of the most important steps you’ll need to take is outlining how you’ll raise money for your capital campaign.

Based on the information gleaned from your feasibility study and the advice from your consultant, you can develop a fundraising strategy tailored to your constituents.

More specifically, you’ll need to specify:

  • Your fundraising goal. The fundraising goal will be an amount that your organization can reasonably raise. Obviously, you can’t conduct a capital campaign without a goal to work toward.
     
  • How funds will be used. Your feasibility study can provide important feedback about the intent and execution of your project. Use this information to create a detailed plan for how the funds raised will be dispersed to accomplish various aspects of the project.
     
  • A gift range chart. A gift range chart breaks out your fundraising goal into more manageable donations. Specifically, a gift range chart is a guide that shows the gift sizes you’ll need (and have the potential) to receive from a specific number of donors (ex: you may need two $1 million donations, five $500,000 donations, etc.).
     
  • Your campaign budget. Just as important as your fundraising strategy is a clear budget that outlines your expenses. From consultant fees to communications costs, your budget will be your guide for implementing each phase of your campaign without ending up “in the red.”

A fundraising goal is fairly straightforward. The breakdown of how the funds will be used will require consultation with experts (for building projects, you’ll need to speak with construction firms about possible routes to completion).

As for the gift range chart, you can use both your interviews and your donor data to construct each giving level. If you have donor management software, it should be simple to determine the average gift sizes of your donors. Likewise, feasibility study interviews should reveal most of the donors who will play a major role in fundraising.

Once you’ve developed this key information, it’s important to present it in a report before you move forward with the quiet phase of the campaign. This report should be shared with your board and other organizational leaders who will play pivotal roles in the campaign.

Ultimately, your fundraising strategy will depend on the information you collect from key interviewees and your donor data.

5. Develop your case for support

Develop your case for support

Your case for support, or case statement, is your justification for running the capital campaign.

Why should donors support you? Why does your organization exist?

These questions are imperative to gaining support during both the quiet and public phase of the campaign. After all, donors want to put their dollars toward causes that matter and in the hands of competent organizations who can accomplish their goals.

Specifically, your case for support should be a branded document that details:

  • Your organization’s mission, story and impacts
  • The challenges to your mission
  • The need for and purpose of the project
  • The solutions and benefits offered by the project (i.e. what the project will accomplish)
  • Specific project details (fundraising goal, project components, timeline, etc.)
  • Call to action (how to give, contact information)
  • Renderings of the project, if applicable
  • Great images representing your work and testimonials to your work

The key is to convey your nonprofit’s effectiveness and vision concisely and persuasively so that constituents trust that their donations are going to a worthwhile cause.

Ultimately, your case for support will encourage donors to donate to your capital campaign.

6. Build your communications strategy

Build your communications strategy

Because a capital campaign is divided into two distinct phases (a.k.a the quiet and public phases), it’s important to craft a communications strategy that will appeal to each group of donors.

Since the quiet phase will focus on major donors, communications will need to be as tailored as possible. High-impact donations will likely require in-person meetings between prospects and frontline fundraisers.

Personal phone calls to schedule meetings are common, as are handwritten thank you notes sent after meetings (regardless of whether or not the donor has given).

In contrast, the public phase will require widely-accessible communications. Nonprofits should consider creating a dedicated capital campaign website or crowdfunding page to centralize donations for this specific project.

To reach out to donors, email and traditional mail are popular choices. The most effective strategy for reaching your donors will depend on who your donors are and which channels they most prefer.

In addition to these general communications, it’s important for organizations to think about fundraising opportunities present in their communities. For example, community grants or challenge grants can greatly aid in a capital campaign’s fundraising efforts — but only if nonprofits reach out to the suppliers.

In this case, it’s important to strategize for writing grant proposals or engaging in corporate philanthropy.

Ultimately, a communications plan should target specific groups of donors and make the most of available resources, such as as grants.

Capital campaigns are high-risk, high-reward. With the right guidance (and these pro tips!), your organization can charge toward a successful campaign.


Image of Jenny Goldberg

JENNY GOLDBERG is an experienced fundraiser, talented speaker and respected advisor with a diverse background in development and media/public relations. At Aly Sterling Philanthropy, Jenny is focused on leading and building a strong advisor team and helping her clients improve fundraising strategies, donor relations, gift cultivation and overall team effectiveness. Read more.

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