Planning a Capital Campaign: The Essential First Steps

A capital campaign is a targeted fundraising effort designed to raise funds for a specific project. They’re often used to support building projects or construction — efforts that require multiple years and millions of dollars to complete.

As such, capital campaigns can be immense projects that are quite overwhelming to the uninitiated.

Creating a solid plan for your capital campaign can greatly increase your chances of success!

We’re going to cover the most vital steps to planning your campaign:

      1. Determine your needs and goals
      2. Build your team and excite your board
      3. Conduct a feasibility study
      4. Write your case for support
      5. Develop a gift range chart
      6. Determine your budget
      7. Craft a communications plan

Are you ready to learn more?

1. Determine your needs and goals

Before you start planning a capital campaign, it’s important that you’re absolutely sure a capital campaign is what’s needed to accomplish your goal.

What will your campaign fund? You should have a clear vision of success — a new building, for example — and a reasonable understanding of the relevant costs and labor that the project will require.

After all, capital campaigns are expensive, long-term projects. Choosing to embark on a capital campaign can be highly rewarding, but the decision should be made with care.

To conduct a capital campaign, you’ll need infrastructure and tools as well as a solid campaign plan. Your nonprofit need not be perfect, but you should have a solid understanding of your strengths and weaknesses so that you can fill in any gaps.

Ask yourself the following questions to determine your campaign readiness:

      • Do you have a fundraising strategic plan?
      • Do you have strong leadership from your administration and board?
      • Do you hold your paid fundraising staff accountable to financial goals?
      • Do you understand your nonprofit’s past ROI on campaigns and events?
      • Do you have a solid understanding of your target demographics?
      • Can your nonprofit support increased operating expenses?

If you’re struggling to answer some of these questions, don’t fret.

You can address some of these problems during the course of a campaign. But if you find that you can’t answer any of these questions with a “yes,” you may need to rethink your campaign or hire outside assistance.

2. Build your team and excite your board

There are many roles that will need to be filled to helm a successful campaign.

Specifically, you’ll need a:

      • Campaign chair. Your campaign chair will oversee the capital campaign committees and act as a liaison between your organization and the community.
      • Planning committee. Your planning committee should consist of about 10 to 15 members, including staff and volunteers, who will work together to plan the campaign.
      • Steering committee. The steering committee helps run the campaign after it’s launched. They will be in charge of making sure that everything runs smoothly.

You don’t need to fill these roles immediately, but you do need existing leaders who areready and willing to take on these roles (with enthusiasm, of course).

One of the more important considerations during the early planning stages is whether or not you’ll need to hire a capital campaign consultant.

A consultant is an expert who partners with your organization and supports your campaign with specific services as well as general assistance. If your organization needs a lot of preparation, or if you need to strengthen your internal operations before the campaign, a consultant can help with those problems, too.

While a capital campaign consultant can lead you toward a path for success, you’ll need approval from key organizational leaders before you can hire a consultant, or for that matter, run a campaign in the first place.

Your board and development committee must fully support your project as well as the fundraising campaign (and any decision to hire outside assistance). They will, after all, participate in and fund the endeavor, and they may need to rearrange budget priorities to accommodate added expenses.

Don’t just seek their support — excite your board. Let them envision the campaign’s success. Clue them into potential challenges and solutions, and keep them involved in the early conversations.

3. Conduct a feasibility study

A feasibility study is an important aspect of the early planning phases. This study determines whether or not a capital campaign is viable for your organization.

Here’s how it works: an objective third-party interviews key stakeholders and focus groups about their perceptions of your organization and the project in question.

The information gleaned from a feasibility study can steer the course of your campaign and help you refine your goals.

Plus, these studies stir up early support and awareness from potential donors who will contribute to the quiet phase of your campaign.

Feasibility studies are often conducted by capital campaign consultants because donors are more likely to be candid with someone they’ve never met.

Feasibility studies should be purchased “a la carte” from consulting firms. You’ll want to see the results of your study before you embark on a capital campaign (after all, it may not be viable).

If your organization determines that a capital campaign is the right choice, your organization is under no obligation to hire the same firm or consultant to conduct its campaign, though you can, of course, choose to work with the consultant further.

Regardless, a feasibility study should seek to answer the following questions:

      • Do we have a large enough donor base to support our goal?
      • Does the project make sense to our key stakeholders?
      • How much should we expect to raise?
      • Is now the right time to host a capital campaign?
      • What questions and concerns do potential donors have about the project?
      • Who are our major gift prospects?

Running a capital campaign without conducting a feasibility study is like shooting an arrow at a target while blindfolded. Feasibility studies provide clarity and insight from your most influential contributors.

4. Write your case for support

A case for support, or case statement, shows potential donors why your capital campaign is important and what your goal will achieve.

Additionally, the case for support is the key resource that staff and volunteers will use when soliciting contributions. It provides the details of your campaign in writing, which can show potential donors that the project is legitimate and well-reasoned.

Your case for support should compel donors to give.

To do so, your statement should include the following information:

      • Your organization’s background. Let donors know more about your organization, its mission, and its impact. You want to show them that your organization is reputable and that their donations will be put toward causes that matter.
      • How the capital campaign will further your cause. Explain how the capital campaign will ultimately enable your nonprofit’s mission. How will a new building (or whatever it is you’re trying to achieve) empower your nonprofit to help people in need?
      • Details about the fundraising campaign. Share the campaign goal and budget, and explain how funds will be used. Be as specific as possible; donors appreciate transparency.

In addition to these basic considerations, use the results of your feasibility study to inform your case for support. You may, for example, want to address the most common or pressing questions asked during the study to show donors that you’ve taken their feedback seriously.

Depending on the size of your organization, you may want to present your case for support in a branded brochure. Brochures are convenient, visually exciting ways to present your case.

If you are creating a brochure, consider hiring a professional photographer if you haven’t already. When words aren’t enough, high-quality, impactful photos can fill in the gaps and connect donors immediately to your cause.

5. Develop a gift range chart

Your feasibility results will be used for another important aspect of your capital campaign: developing a gift range chart.

A gift range chart breaks down your overall goal into smaller, more manageable donations. Gift range charts can be used to show your board how you will realistically achieve your capital campaign’s goal.

Even moreso, your fundraising team can use the chart to determine how many prospects to reach out to and how much to ask of each prospect.

Since capital campaigns rely on a few major contributions and many smaller donations, your chart should have a few large gifts that make up 10-20% of your entire goal.

Here is an example of what your gift range chart should look like:

As you can see, this chart includes:

      • A thorough breakdown of the overall goal.
      • A clear correlation between large gifts and a smaller amount of donors.
      • The number of prospects who could give each donation. This number is higher than the amount of donors needed so that the organization has some wiggle room.

The logistics of each chart will vary depending on the make-up of your organization’s donor base (and if you haven’t already, you may need to screen your donors for the most comprehensive insights into who can give what amount).

Further, it’s important to understand that a gift range chart is a guide, not a rigid set of rules. Use it to inform your fundraising, but don’t be afraid to adjust gift sizes depending on in-person conversations with donors.

6. Determine your budget

A capital campaign can be costly, so it’s important to carefully budget for the logistics of the campaign, as well as the fundraising ideas that will bring the campaign to life.

A well-reasoned budget will keep spending on track, help you anticipate expenses, and ensure that donations go directly toward your project — not toward internal operations.

Aside from the cost of your project, your budget needs to include:

      • Consultant fees: If you’re hiring a capital campaign consultant, you’ll need to budget for their fees (usually an upfront, recurring cost that will be paid throughout the course of the campaign). Be sure to budget for additional expenses, like travel and lodging.
      • Communications: If you’re creating your communication materials in-house or through a marketing agency, you’ll need to consider the costs of printing and promotion.
      • Donor recognition: Whether you decide to honor your major contributors through signage, personal mementos, or a donor recognition program, it’s important to include those expenses in your budget.

These basic considerations should be included in any budget, but details will vary depending on your organization’s fundraising strategy.

For example, schools and universities will often host events during the public phase to promote and raise funds for their capital campaign. These institutions should factor in the costs of a school auction or other event early to generate the highest ROI.

The risk of a loose budget is falling short of your goal due to unanticipated expenses; minimize that risk by planning ahead!

7. Craft your communications plan

The final step to planning a capital campaign is to create your communications plan.

Your plan will outline how you’ll ask major or prospective donors for gifts during the quiet phase and how you’ll promote your campaign to other prospects during the public phase. Everything from scheduling time with major donor prospects to developing a high-quality video for social media should be taken into account.

Let’s look at each phase and how you can market to your donors.

Quiet phase

The quiet phase is crucial to your campaign’s success. On average, nonprofits raise 50-70% of their goal during the quiet phase of a capital campaign.

As such, you’ll need to tailor your campaign marketing toward major donors.

Most of your quiet phase communications will occur in intimate, in-person settings.

A personal phone call should kick-start the conversation; clearly explain why you want to meet with the prospect and establish a plan for meeting.

It’s important not to beat around the bush. Make it clear that you want to ask for a gift upfront, so as not to offend a prospect by catching them off guard. Put yourself in their shoes! How would you feel if you went to catch up with a friend, only to have them ask you for money?

Once you and the prospect are face-to-face, again, be direct. Explain why you’re passionate about the organization, and provide your case for support.

Answer the prospect’s questions. Feel out the conversation. If the prospect is receptive to the conversation, ask for a donation.

If the prospect seems uncertain, you may need to offer them more time to think about your proposal, provide them with additional information, or meet several more times before they’re comfortable making a gift.

Keep prospects and donors alike involved in the campaign by sending progress updates and inviting them to campaign events.

The key is to be persistent, yet polite. Always thank a prospect for their time, even if they decide not to give.

Of course, if they do make a donation, express your gratitude! Thank them in person, send them a handwritten thank you note, and continue to thank them throughout the campaign!

Public Phase

By the time you reach the public phase, a majority of your goal will have been raised.

During this phase, you’ll announce your campaign to the general public. You’ll need to grab supporters’ attentions by maximizing your communication channels.

Direct mail, emails, social media posts, phone calls — all of these channels, and more, can be used to reach your donors.

To accept donations, many organizations use crowdfunding campaigns, where a lot of supporters contribute smaller donations within a defined, urgent timeline (check out Double the Donation’s crowdfunding tools for more information).

You can also create a designated donation page on your website, or add an option to donate to your capital campaign on a traditional donation form.

The key is to make your campaign as accessible as possible to donors!

Now that you know the essential first steps to planning a capital campaign, you’re well-equipped to start the process yourself!

Jenny Goldberg, CFRE
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. Jenny’s workshops and presentations have been featured at meetings of the National Schools Foundation Association, the legal aid sector’s Management Information Exchange, Ronald McDonald House Charities and Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Jenny holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Toledo, received training from the Fund Raising School at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and is a graduate of Leadership Toledo. She has served on boards and committees for organizations such as Ronald McDonald House Charities, Northwest Ohio Scholarship Fund, Anthony Wayne Youth Foundation, Sight Center of Northwest Ohio and the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo.
Jenny Goldberg, CFRE
Jenny Goldberg, CFRE

Latest posts by Jenny Goldberg, CFRE (see all)

By | 2017-06-10T18:02:01+00:00 March 7th, 2017|Capital Campaigns|

Leave A Comment