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By DonorSearch

Capital campaigns are complex, intensive undertakings that can completely change how your organization pursues its mission and serves constituents. However, the amount of time and effort that goes into a successful campaign is the reason why many nonprofits shy away from adding extra levels of complexity to their goals. Especially after a year of COVID adjustments and fundraising, that’s understandable. 

But capital campaigns also open up some amazing fundraising opportunities that you shouldn’t brush away too hastily. 

Specifically, capital campaigns can be a great time to secure endowment and planned gifts. These forms of giving are extremely important for many nonprofits, so if you’re already planning or thinking about a capital campaign, don’t let them scare you.

At the Capital Campaign Toolkit, we’ve guided countless organizations through the process of planning and executing successful campaigns. We emphasize to our own clients the importance of making their campaigns their own. This means strategically tapping into the fundraising opportunities that crop up for your unique context and community.

If you have an aging donor base or donors who’d be open to these opportunities, building endowment and planned giving into your capital campaign can be a wise choice—you’ll just need to pursue those gifts strategically. Here are our top tips:

  1. Understand how these types of giving do and don’t fit together.
  2. Set modest endowment goals to be raised through pledges and planned gifts.
  3. Consider creating a bequest challenge with your top donors.

Remember, most nonprofits only conduct capital campaigns once every ten to fifteen years. If you’re already investing the time, attention, and resources into a campaign, don’t miss these opportunities as they arise. Plus, capital campaigns are a time of deep, one-on-one engagement with your most important supporters, making them a natural time to start new conversations and create new giving opportunities. Let’s dive in.

Understand how these types of giving do and don’t fit together.

Capital campaign donations, endowment contributions, and planned gifts—three forms of major donor fundraising but each with a wide variety of best practices, approaches, and contexts. 

If you’re looking to secure endowment or planned gifts in a capital campaign, you might initially be concerned that offering other avenues to give could detract from the immediate needs of your campaign. This is a valid concern, but you can set yourself up for success by understanding which types of asks work best in which contexts. 

Remember that outright gifts to endowment funds are relatively rare since donors want to know that their gifts will have direct, immediate benefits for your mission. Because endowment funds serve more as long-term investments, they’re unlikely to fulfill donors’ immediate desires.

This is particularly true when these discussions occur in the context of a time-bound campaign with concrete objectives. Asking prospects to make outright endowment contributions during your campaign likely won’t generate the results you’re looking for. Instead, we see that planned gifts and bequests are often the best ways to raise endowment funds. 

During your capital campaign, then, you should focus on planned giving rather than pushing for straightforward endowment giving, which can be less motivating for many donors. There are two main benefits to this approach:

  • Planned gifts give you a new angle to emphasize in your conversations during your campaign’s quiet phase—paying it forward more directly. For donors of a certain age, putting your organization in their will might be an appealing way to make a gift that secures their legacy after they’re gone and helps secure the organization’s future. Direct endowment gifts, on the other hand, will have little immediate impact. While still beneficial for your organization, they aren’t as appealing to many donors who prefer their gift to make a bigger, short-term difference.
  • Bequests forge stronger long-term connections and emotional bonds with your mission. These individuals will likely stay very engaged as donors, volunteers, and advocates over time.

The bottom line: Planned gifts are much more appealing to some donors than direct contributions to the endowment. Planned gifts can also strengthen your relationships in more meaningful ways. If you want to take the opportunity to secure these types of gifts during a capital campaign, you should create strategies to raise endowment funds through planned giving. 

2. Set modest endowment goals to be raised through pledges and planned gifts.

As with any strategic undertaking, you’ll need to give your team some structure by setting goals. In this case, set a modest endowment goal. This will help you pursue it strategically without shifting focus away from the overarching capital campaign. 

You should also include both endowment gifts/pledges and planned gifts within this goal. For the donors who would have the affinity to give directly to your endowment fund, you’ll be able to provide them that option. However, a modest goal that includes both types of giving will give you the flexibility you need to provide alternative approaches that fit your donors’ needs, too.

Additionally, don’t build your endowment goal solely around a dollar amount. Instead, think about how many individuals you want to include your organization in their wills. 

In other words, don’t approach it as a classic campaign gift range chart but rather as a straightforward, non-financial goal—the number of individual endowment gifts or planned gifts that you want to secure. Of course, you can attach dollar amounts to these goals for the sake of planning and specificity, but don’t get bogged down in them or allow them to take the focus away from your larger campaign.

By setting specific non-financial goals for the endowment aspect of your capital campaign, you’ll also open opportunities for your development team to begin naturally discussing planned giving during the normal solicitation process. And even if a prospect chooses not to make a planned gift yet, you’ve laid the foundation and started a conversation to return to in the future.

3. Consider creating a bequest challenge with your top donors.

Any time you’re offering a giving option that’s new to your donors, it’s a good idea to take steps to provide incentives. 

One tactic that we’ve seen work well for planned giving is bequest challenges. In this challenge, a top donor or other funder vows to immediately contribute a set amount whenever your organization is newly named as a beneficiary. 

This model combines the ideas of peer-to-peer fundraising and corporate matching challenges, adapting them to the unique context of planned giving. Your generous challenger helps spread the word to people they know who might provide matching contributions, much like a corporate partner might do in other types of fundraising challenges. 

Here’s an example: Meet Bob Ross, a dedicated donor and volunteer for Big Apple Greeter

Bob became a full-time philanthropist and volunteer when his wife passed away, so he’s passionate about making big impacts with his philanthropic investments through his wife’s memorial fund. He loves volunteering for Big Apple Greeter but wanted to take his support even further. Bob came up with a unique way to supercharge their fundraising by encouraging other Greeters to include the organization in their wills. He began sharing this simple message with peers and fellow volunteers:

The Janet Ross Fund will immediately contribute $500 to Big Apple Greeter when you or anyone you know makes us a beneficiary in their will.

The results were fantastic: Within the first month, matches from the Janet Ross Fund alone generated $11,500 for the organization. Over the long run, the total commitments of that first batch of bequests is estimated to represent $500,000 or more in long-term funding. Check out this write-up to learn more about Bob’s bequest challenge.

Consider what this tactic might do for your capital campaign. A bequest challenge could have some major benefits:

  • Capital campaign funding through the matched gifts
  • Long-term funding through planned gifts
  • Immediate, direct impact for donors who make planned gifts
  • The personal touch or “social proof” of your generous partner, increasing the likelihood that you’ll secure bequests
  • A more engaging, exciting way to begin discussing planned giving with your donor base

If you have passionate supporters or partners who’d be interested in this type of challenge, even on a small scale, consider starting that conversation in the earliest planning stages of your capital campaign. Candidates might immediately come to mind, but you can also conduct some research in your CRM to find highly engaged major donors or donors who’ve already made planned giving commitments and go from there.


Endowment contributions and planned giving are extremely important for many organizations. If you’re already investing the time and energy into planning a capital campaign, there’s no reason why these other forms of giving have to be off the table. These additional gifts can make huge differences for nonprofits in the long run, so it’s always worth weighing your options.

The key is to be realistic and flexible—understand what will work best in the context of a larger campaign, set modest and achievable goals, and brainstorm some ways that generous partners could help you succeed.

Board Member’s Guide to Capital Campaign Fundraising

If you’re on the board of an organization that’s considering a capital campaign, there are things you need to know. This guide will help you understand your own role, and that of the entire board, during a campaign. Download this free guide today!


Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, and Andrea Kihlstedt are co-founders of the Capital Campaign Toolkit, a virtual support system for nonprofit leaders to run successful campaigns. The Toolkit provides all the tools, templates, and guidance you need — without breaking the bank.

Endowment & Planned Giving in a Capital Campaign: 3 Tips