Capital Campaign Fundraising Explained

What is a capital campaign?

A capital campaign is a targeted fundraising effort that takes place over a defined period of time. Typically, there are two overarching phases: the quiet phase and the public phase.

During the quiet phase, 50%-70% of the funds are raised through major gifts strategies. And during the public phase, the remaining funds are raised by soliciting donations from a larger population of donors.

More often than not, capital campaigns are used by organizations, like hospitals and educational institutions, to raise money for concrete projects such as new construction and building renovations — hence the nickname, brick-and-mortar campaigns.

This is the definition of a capital campaign.

How is a capital campaign different from other forms of fundraising?

Capital campaigns differ from other forms of fundraising in that the cause and effect is clearly explained to the donor at the outset.

Before donating, supporters know exactly what it is they’re helping to accomplish.

Whereas other types of campaigns will have general goals and benchmarks to aim for, the goals of a capital campaign are more specific and clearly laid out. The end goal of a capital campaign is rarely an abstract change; it is almost always something concrete, like a building or equipment.

Additionally, the distinct phases of capital campaigns set them apart from other forms of fundraising in that they offer an obvious delineation between private fundraising and public appeals.

This explains how capital campaigns differ from other forms of fundraising.

Why launch a capital campaign?

Capital campaigns are most useful when you know you have a set time frame to accomplish a major fundraising feat.

A nonprofit, university, or hospital might choose to launch a capital campaign over hosting any other sort of fundraiser for a number of reasons.

However, the decision ultimately boils down to incentive. Capital campaigns are incredibly targeted, and as such, donors are more incentivized to give and fundraisers are more incentivized to solicit gifts.

Logic Behind Organizing a Capital Campaign

What types of nonprofits use capital campaigns?

Although any nonprofit looking to raise funds can benefit from a capital campaign, they are usually run by larger organizations who have equally large needs and projects on their dockets.

There are two main categories of organization that most regularly rely on capital campaigns:

  • Healthcare institutions: hospitals, hospices, etc.
  • Educational institutions: universities, private schools, independent schools, etc.

Both organization types tend to require help with substantial, concrete projects more often than other categories of nonprofit.

This explains the types of nonprofits suited to capital campaigns.

What makes capital campaigns successful?

Just as having a solid foundation for a building is important for the overall integrity of the architecture, capital campaigns depend on several key components to be highly effective.

Those components include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Strict deadlines with a set end date.
  • A targeted plan.
  • A clear goal.
  • A focused team.
  • A quiet phase for major gifts.
  • A public phase for all gift types.

As the rest of this guide will go on to explain, the most effective capital campaigns combine the power of traditional fundraising methods with the incentive of an immediate and tangible need.

Learn what makes a capital campaign successful.

Planning a Capital Campaign

Understanding a Capital Campaign Timeline

1. Planning

Within the planning phase, your organization must complete a feasibility study, assemble your team, set your goals, deadlines, and budget, and conduct a prospect screening.

2. Quiet Phase

Here, you’ll focus on the top major gift leads. This phase can take upwards of a year. 50-70% of your funds will be raised during this phase, so it’s absolutely crucial.

3. Kick-Off

The kick-off phase marks the launch of your campaign. After months quietly courting major donors, it’s time to host a press conference and throw a party to announce your campaign.

4. Public Phase

Finally, you’ll extend your reach out to the community and smaller donors. The public phase can also encompass follow-through: the wrap-up to your efforts.

Complete Timeline of a Capital Campaign

Capital Campaign Team Members Explained

In-house Team Members

Board Members

What is their role? Board members will be involved in the day-to-day planning and execution of your capital campaign, but they’ll also be at the forefront of big picture discussions.

Why are they important? Your board members are crucial on two levels. Any time you’re expending money and/or resources, you’ll need board approval. You also want them there to help secure major gifts, especially during the quiet phase.


What is their role? Capital campaigns often enlist the help of major gifts officers, prospect researchers, volunteer coordinators, event planners, and marketing coordinators among others to bring their unique expertise to the table.

Why are they important? By picking the key players that you know will be committed to seeing this project through, you position your capital campaign for prosperity. You won’t need everyone, so be strategic.


What is their role? When you really think about it, almost everyone on your capital campaign team is a volunteer of some sort. It’s important to pick just the right players to round out your league.

Why are they important? No fundraising endeavor would be complete without the input and manpower that volunteers selflessly provide.

Committee-related Team Members

Campaign Chair

What is their role? Your campaign chair is going to be one of the most crucial team members. The chair will be in charge of overseeing your committee(s) and act as an ambassador for your capital campaign within the community.

Why are they important? They can set the stage by contributing an early major gift, and they can also most effectively promote and advocate for your campaign.

Planning Committee

What is their role? Your capital campaign planning committee should be formed to help plan the campaign and will consist of between 10 and 15 members.

Why are they important? Including top-level development staff, some board members, and volunteers who are prominent community members, the planning committee will get things rolling in the right direction.

Steering Committee

What is their role? It is the committee most directly involved with the ongoing maintenance of the capital campaign. As such, it’ll share some members with the planning committee but will feature new additions as well.

Why are they important? The steering committee is in charge of making sure everything runs as it is supposed to throughout the campaign.

Hiring Consultants for your Capital Campaign

If you’re looking to plan and execute a capital campaign, it’s worth considering asking for help from the experts: capital campaign consultants. 

Learn how to figure out what areas of your capital campaign require the assistance of consultants.

What kind of help is needed?

Because capital campaigns are so long-running and large-scale, they’re not only a lot to manage but require a variety of skill sets.

As such, when you’re working through what your campaign will involve, make note of any areas where you think you’ll need help.

Then, prioritize those needs and look for consultants who will meet them. Maybe you’re set for the public phase but worried about the major gifts during you’ll need to acquire during the quiet phase. Maybe you are desperate need of some guidance for your feasibility study.

Bottom line: Before you can hire a consultant, you need to know what you’re looking to gain and to decide what services will help you get there.

Before selecting a consultant, learn how much access you'll have.

What kind of access do you have to them?

As with any outside consultants, you should address practical concerns before deciding on a firm to move forward with.

You’ll want answers to the following questions:

  • Is their office nearby?
  • Will they be available full-time?
  • Will they work from your office?
  • Will they be working remotely?

For some organizations, you’ll want your consultant full-time, in office. For others, remote work with intermittent meetings is the best plan.

Bottom line: Finding a consultant who is able to offer you the level of access you need is critically important to a productive working relationship. To avoid problems down the road, make sure your expectations regarding access are clear from the get-go.

Before deciding on a capital campaign consultant, you should see samples of their work.

Do they have samples of their work?

When you hire a consultant, you’re bringing them on because you are relying on their expertise. Before you make any hiring decisions, you need a good sense for what their past work product has been and the quality you can expect.

Beyond giving you a window into what level of quality you can expect, work samples will also give you an idea of the options you have and what you can request help with.

Bottom line: 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. 

Learn More From the Consultants Themselves

When you’re ready to begin your search in earnest, you’ll have no shortage of excellent consulting candidates to choose from. Learn more about some such consultants by clicking on the boxes below.

Performing a Feasibility Study

What are they?

Through the use of surveys, and often outside help from consultants, nonprofits use feasibility studies to gauge whether or not they’ll be able to meet the goals they hope to accomplish with a potential capital campaign.

What do they involve?

Prior to launching your capital campaign quiet phase, you’ll interview 30-40 members of the community (including a few prominent board members) to see if they would be willing and able to help fund the project in question.

What is the end result?

At the feasibility study’s close, you should know if there is enough interest and support to move forward, and you’ll also want to know how much your existing donor pool can and will realistically contribute.

Setting a Capital Campaign Budget

Budget with Your Goal in Mind

Once you have a desired dollar amount in place for your fundraising goal, it’s time to come up with a concrete budget.

On average, a capital campaign will cost an organization upwards of 10% of the end goal. Say, for instance, that your nonprofit aims to raise $10 million. That campaign would likely cost $1 million.

Consider Costs for the Entire Campaign

Many nonprofits encounter the issue of neglecting to factor in campaign costs when they set their ultimate goals.

Capital campaign activities range from events to face-to-face fundraising to direct mail (and many other fundraising strategies), it’s important to map out exactly what your campaign plans are, accounting for all foreseeable activities.

Creating Gift Range Charts

A gift range chart is your nonprofit’s way of mapping out future gifts. Essentially, you’ll take your total dollar amount goal and divide that amount across giving levels.

In your gift range chart, you’ll list out how many gifts of a certain size you’re looking to secure. The larger the gift, the fewer the donations of that quantity you’ll be aiming for.

This is not meant to be a hard-and-fast rule but rather a guideline to help lead your fundraising efforts when you get to the solicitation phase.

Gift Range Chart

Running a Capital Campaign

Identifying Major Gift Donors

Why start with major donors?

Major donors are a major factor in your campaign’s success. Approximately 60% of your capital campaign’s total will consist of funds from major donors (mostly acquired during the quiet phase).

Look for candidates with both an affinity for your organization and the ability to gift a large donation.

Click to learn more about major gifts

How do you find major donors?

Prospect research will help you identify major donors through the investigation of key characteristics that influence a person’s warmth toward your nonprofit and capacity to give a major gift.

Those characteristics involve a combination of wealth markers and philanthropic indicators.

Click here to learn more about prospect research. 

Capital Campaign Best Practices

Offer Incentives to your Major Gift Donors

One of the best ways that you can entice major gift donors to contribute to your capital campaign is to offer them exciting incentives.

Offering substantial gift donors naming opportunities (if you’re constructing a new building) is one surefire way to get them to break out all the stops.

Get Full Board Participation

Let your board lead your donors by example. 100% participation from your board shows donors that the campaign is something your whole team believes in.

Plus, your board members are bound to be some of your best major gift prospects.

Maintain a Consistent Brand

It is absolutely crucial that your capital campaign has a cohesive brand. It helps tie all of your efforts together and makes the work you do recognizable across your various fundraising channels.

Stay consistent throughout your marketing materials, starting with your case statement.

Keep Supporters Updated on Progress

While it’s important to keep donors in the know during any sort of fundraising campaign, it’s especially vital to update supporters during a capital campaign.

In order to keep the momentum up throughout the duration of your efforts, you must have a steady flow of communication with the people whom you plan to ask for help along the way.

Utilize Software to Track Donors' Contributions and Information

Although they’re run under time constraints, capital campaigns can often span multiple years, meaning you’ll have hoards of donor data to track.

Ensure that you’re using your CRM properly and keeping accurate records of donor behavior. You’ll be able to learn from that information after the campaign concludes.

Host an Event to Celebrate the Conclusion of the Capital Campaign

Nothing says “thank you” quite like a spectacular celebration. And as you probably know, it’s vital to the success of your organization on the whole to have happy donors.

Show them some love for the support they’ve shown you. Highlight contributors who have helped you make the biggest leaps and bounds throughout your campaign.

Thank Donors Promptly and Often

The end celebration is the big “thank you,” but it’s definitely not the only time you should show your appreciation.

In order to have a healthy, successful capital campaign, you should thank your donors immediately, sincerely, and often. “Thank” and “you” are words that don’t tire easily.

Capital Campaign Grants

What is a capital campaign grant?

The goal of a capital campaign grant is to make a large contribution to worthy renovation projects that will enhance the mission of the recipient charity.

These grants are typically sought at the outset of a campaign and often set organizations up with the possibility of encountering other major gift donors.

Are they different than challenge grants?

Challenge grants require nonprofits to complete a challenge (hence the name) or match funds in order to receive the grant money.

Capital campaign grants don’t typically require either of those stipulations. A capital campaign grant can be a challenge grant, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be.

How do you seek out a grant for your organization?

Much in the same way you’d apply for any other grant, you’ll want to start by seeking out institutions that award grants to nonprofits like your own. Then, you can start drafting your proposal.

Once you’ve crafted an elegant proposal that gets to the heart of your campaign’s mission, submit it for approval.

Capital Campaign Names and Slogans

The Importance of Branding

In truth, the best capital campaigns expend time and energy into crafting unique branding for their efforts. It goes beyond beautiful brochures and touches on the heart of your message. What do you want your donors to remember?

What about slogans?

The right slogan ensures that your capital campaign stands out from the pack. It should be unique and memorable. From your slogan, potential supporters should be able to easily grasp what’s at the core your campaign.

Capital Campaign Marketing Materials

Case Statement

What is it? Your case for support is designed to both summarize the work you’re looking to do and persuade supporters to get involved through volunteering or making donations.

What should it look like? It should include a brief background summary of your organization, an explanation of the project and goal, details on why the project is important, and a defense of why you’re doing this now.


What is it? Consider creating a separate site for your capital campaign or a dedicated page. Instead of directing supporters to your main site in your online promotions, you can send them directly to your campaign website/page.

What should it include? Within the site, you should provide links to the donation page for your campaign, any event registration, and similar engagement activities.


What are they? Brochures are a great way to give detailed information about your capital campaign to donors and prospects in a tangible format. It’ll be a natural extension of the ideas from the case for support you’ve crafted.

What should they look like? They should include information about different giving levels, donor incentives, and ways to give.


What is it? Capital campaign slogans are brief, catchy ways of communicating your campaign’s brand. The slogan is a big part of how you’ll differentiate the campaign’s efforts from your other fundraising endeavors.

What should it include? It should be a cohesive symbol of your branding. It should be relatively short, to the point, and connected to work your campaign is doing.


What are they? Use letters to market your capital campaign to your supporters that prefer direct mail. Don’t underestimate the value of a well-crafted appeal letter.

What should they include? Letters should be personal, explain your campaign, make a genuine appeal, and thank donors in advance.

Pledge Cards

What are they? Your capital campaign pledge cards should match the branding of the rest of your campaign and can be sent in the mail, given out at events, or provided during meetings.

What should they include? The card should include a space for donors’ names, contact information, donation amount, and a payment schedule.