As your nonprofit grows, your development team needs to consider the types of campaigns that you should conduct in order to further your mission.

At some point, your organization will need to launch a capital campaign. A capital campaign is a long-term fundraising endeavor designed to raise money for a massive purchase for your nonprofit, like the construction or expansion of buildings, purchases of land, or investments in equipment.

Capital campaigns raise more money than any other fundraising campaign will, and they also last longer—anywhere between a year and five years! They require the cooperation and support of all of your nonprofit’s stakeholders, as well as the community at large.

To ensure your nonprofit’s success, you need a smart and careful strategy. While every nonprofit is different, and will have different ideas for conducting their capital campaign, there are some best practices that fit every organization’s needs.

The 5 best tips for building and conducting a capital campaign are:

  1. Conduct a thorough planning phase.
  2. Set an achievable timeline for your campaign.
  3. Learn from your past fundraising outcomes.
  4. Engage in capacity-building activities.
  5. Measure comprehensive success metrics.

When your nonprofit follows these smart strategies to build your capital campaign, you can increase your fundraising capacity and achieve your goals. If you’re ready to learn more, let’s get started!

1. Conduct a thorough planning phase.

With a campaign as extensive as a capital campaign, you need to be sure that you’ve properly prepared. Preparation is key, because without a solid map of the campaign, your team risks going off-track and losing focus.

To maintain focus and keep your eye on the prize during your next capital campaign, you should keep in mind the following measures of success:

  • Your nonprofit’s fundraising capacity.
  • The support of your board, stakeholders, and community.
  • The internal readiness of your team.

However, it can be difficult for someone who is part of the team to objectively analyze the capabilities of the team. That’s why some nonprofits decide to bring on a capital campaign consultant during their planning period.

A capital campaign consultant will help your organization conduct a campaign planning and feasibility study. A feasibility study will give your nonprofit a clearer view of organizational strengths and weaknesses, as well as the climate in which you’ll conduct a capital campaign.

During a campaign planning and feasibility study, a team member or the consultant will interview key stakeholders such as board members, top executives, prominent community members, and more to determine the feasibility of your campaign.

The results of the study will help your organization better prepare for your campaign. You may find that you have to conduct more capacity building exercises (which we’ll discuss in more detail later), or postpone your campaign until your community is ready.

The outcome of your study should set the goals for your capital campaign! If you determine that your organization and surrounding community is prepared to take on this endeavor, your study should help you set your fundraising goal and timeline.

Remember, you don’t have to think in concrete quantities. Instead of saying, “I want to have a capital campaign to raise $X amount for Y cause,” you’ll be able to say, “We have the capacity and resources to raise $X for Y.”

2. Set an achievable timeline for your campaign.

One of the things that your campaign planning and feasibility study will help you determine is an appropriate and achievable timeline for your capital campaign. Too short of a timeline, and you’ll fall short of your goals. Too long of a timeline, and your supporters might lose sight of your end goal.

Your deadline for your campaign shouldn’t be arbitrary! It should be based on your goal, your pool of supporters, and your team. Giving yourself enough time to be successful is crucial for a capital campaign.

Using your past deadlines as a guideline for the future is especially helpful. How long were your previous campaigns? How much money did they raise?

However, even if you do reach your deadline and you haven’t quite hit your fundraising goal yet, don’t despair! There’s no reason that you can’t continue your fundraising campaign. It’ll give you the opportunity to try new fundraising strategies to get you over the finish line.

One of the best parts about a capital campaign is how long they go; they can run anywhere between one year and three years, or even longer! That gives you time to readjust your strategy as you see fit.

Different areas of your strategy that may require or encourage adaptation are:

  • Your major giving funnel: over time, you can see where supporters drop out and re-engage them appropriately.
  • Your communication methods: you’ll have enough time to determine which methods of communication are most effective, and then double down.
  • Your contributor retention strategy: If you see givers distancing themselves from your organization or ignoring your follow-ups, you’ll be able to determine the issue and rectify it.

Once you’ve decided on your timeline for your capital campaign, it’s time to use your previous campaign success to optimize your strategy.

3. Learn from your past fundraising outcomes.

A capital campaign requires that you and your team make a plethora of fundraising decisions. You have to ask yourself about your marketing collateral, supporter community and prospect research, and fundraising strategies overall.

In order to make these decisions more effectively, analyze the successes and weaknesses of your previous fundraising campaigns to determine how to move forward in the future. Of each of your comparable campaigns, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did we achieve our fundraising goals in a timely manner?
  • What percentages of our supporters were new ones versus returning ones?
  • Which method of communication had the best return on investment?

These are only a few of the many questions you should use as a tool of investigation, but they’re a good jumping-off point! In order to learn from your past fundraising outcomes, you have to isolate the variables of each decision and determine how you can either use or avoid that in your upcoming capital campaign.

You might already have a lot of this data, but don’t know how to use it efficiently. Check out what’s already in your supporter management software to see if you know more about your community than you think!

By using a combination of tried-and-true strategies and innovative new techniques, you can optimize your fundraising and communication strategies and engage your community better than ever.

4. Engage in capacity-building exercises.

No matter if your nonprofit is at the top of its game or if you need to reevaluate some choices, your team should invest time and resources into capacity building. Capacity building may be something that you do after your fundraising feasibility study, or during your campaign, but either way it is a crucial part of strengthening your nonprofit.

Capacity building is an investment into the ongoing success and development of your nonprofit. It may seem counterintuitive to spend money that you’ve raised for your projects on your organization’s operational costs, but it really saves you time and money down the road.

Capacity building activities include things like:

  • Investing in new fundraising software.
  • Strengthening your communication strategy.
  • Improving volunteer or supporter retention rates.
  • Creating a succession plan for board members and executives.
  • Investing in team member education and development.

A capital campaign could be seen as a type of capacity building: by conducting such a fundraising endeavor and using the funds to improve your nonprofit’s ability to live out its mission, your organization ensures its ongoing success.

However, to maintain the stamina and momentum of a capital campaign, your team must be prepared. Engaging in capacity-building exercises is the best way to prepare your team and your community for the length of a capital campaign.

5.  Measure comprehensive success metrics.

You’re already aware of how important clean and understandable data is: it’s crucial to the future of your organization that your team be able to quantitatively analyze the success of your fundraising campaigns.

Success, however, is not only measured by reaching your fundraising goal by the end of your timeline. Level of success can be gauged through a whole host of factors, such as:

  • Supporter retention rate.
  • Volunteer retention rate.
  • Sign-ups to your membership program or societies.
  • Direct mail, email, or phone call response rates.
  • Major giver conversion rates.
  • Supporter satisfaction.

Your organization may have other data points that are just as important, so consider what constitutes a success for your own team. Were you able to raise more money than a previous campaign? Did you increase awareness levels within your community?

Instead of just relying on fundraising stats to determine how successful your campaign was, break down your fundraising goal into smaller variables that explain more about the campaign.

Plus, if you track and organize your data now, you’ll be able to use it in the future as a starting point for other campaigns. Reporting and analysis are crucial to the success of your fundraising strategies.

Measuring success metrics may be the last step in your capital campaign, but it’s just as important as the planning process. For more ideas about different trackable metrics, check out this guide from Re:Charity on the topic.

Building a successful capital campaign can be an arduous process for anyone, but with these 5 smart tips, your nonprofit will be well on its way to achieving its fundraising goals.

For more help with those goals, or with anything else that might come up during a fundraising drive, consider checking out this guide from Averill Fundraising Solutions to hiring the perfect fundraising consultant for your next campaign!

Bob Happy
Bob Happy brings nearly 35 years of experience providing expert leadership and direction to clients across the not-for-profit sector to his current role as President of Averill Solutions. Before forming Averill Solutions, Bob served as the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the nation’s largest fundraising firm. He has mentored hundreds of professional fundraising practitioners and many have joined him at Averill Fundraising Solutions.