Say your nonprofit is looking for funding for a large-scale project, like expanding your facility or purchasing new equipment and supplies to better serve your beneficiaries. After considering all your fundraising options, you’ve determined that starting a capital campaign is the right way to go.
A capital campaign is a massive campaign conducted over a set period of time (usually months or years) that helps you raise an enormous amount of money to fund a specific project. Because these campaigns are such big endeavors, they require a clear goal, careful planning, and a dedicated team in order to succeed.
It can be daunting to know where to start when it comes to planning and executing a capital campaign. But don’t worry—we’ve got you covered. In this guide, we’ll cover 13 essential steps that your organization can take to ensure that you start your capital campaign off on the right foot:
- Assemble a capital campaign committee.
- Complete a feasibility study.
- Screen campaign prospects.
- Set a deadline.
- Finalize your campaign’s financial goal.
- Prepare for success by reviewing past wins and challenges.
- Set a budget.
- Develop a gift range chart.
- Create a capital campaign plan.
- Outline your campaign timeline.
- Prepare supporting documents.
- Write your capital campaign case statement.
- Establish expectations with your team.
As you embark on your organization’s next capital campaign, use these steps to point your team toward success. Remember to also invest in expert advice and top-tier tools to level up your strategy and ensure that you’ll pull in the funding that you need for your special project. Let’s dive right in.
1. Assemble a capital campaign committee.
A capital campaign cannot survive with one person calling all of the shots. It is a team initiative that requires the support and commitment of several people. In particular, a capital campaign needs a strong committee made up of specific individuals to ensure successful cohesion. Generally, these people will include:
- Members of your board of directors. Your entire board doesn’t need to be on your capital campaign committee, but make sure that you’ve enlisted the help of your key members before you start planning your capital campaign. Board members are often the most invested and well-connected individuals on your capital campaign team. They will be essential during the fundraising process (and may even contribute large gifts of their own).
- Staff members. Depending on your type of nonprofit, these team members may be faculty, heads of departments, or senior executives. It’s a good idea to have a selection of people from different departments and areas for a well-rounded capital campaign team.
- Community volunteers. Your capital campaign team should not be composed solely of organization members. Regular supporters of and advocates for your nonprofit are perfect candidates for your capital campaign team. These supporters may have benefited from your services and be alumni, previous hospital patients, or recipients of your goodwill.
- Valuable prospects. Be sure to include key giving prospects in your capital campaign committee. They can provide a unique perspective as donors that your nonprofit can leverage to better plan your capital campaign from the start.
Depending on the size of your committee and the scope of your capital campaign, you may need to break up your team into various subcommittees to help handle smaller or more detailed projects. Types of subcommittees that you could potentially create include:
- Government Relations
- Loans and Bridge Funding
- Corporate Donations
- In-kind Donations
- Special Events
As you can see, there are many options for subcommittees. Make sure that your main committee meets regularly to get updates from each subcommittee so that you can ensure every task necessary for campaign success is being taken care of.
Finally, you may need the help of additional people that aren’t included on your committee. These individuals can come from within your organization or be externally contracted (like a nonprofit consultant). In general, you should look to the following individuals or groups for additional help during your capital campaign:
Capital campaigns are not meant to be tackled alone, so choose your teams wisely. Depending on your goal and your organization’s resources, the composition of these teams may differ.
2. Complete a feasibility study.
A feasibility study involves assessing whether or not your organization has the current capacity and community support to succeed with a capital campaign.
During a feasibility study, your organization will take a look at its resources, donor data, and past fundraising success. Additionally, a member of your organization will conduct a series of interviews with your organization’s stakeholders, like members of the community and potential donors, to help determine whether or not your campaign will be able to raise the funds necessary in the allotted amount of time.
Think of it as a focus group to improve a product before it launches. You wouldn’t try to sell a product that no one wants, and you definitely don’t want to launch a capital campaign that no one cares about. A feasibility study allows you to determine whether or not your organization is ready for a capital campaign, and if the community would be willing to support your project.
During the feasibility study, your committee will need to look at several factors:
- The community’s perception of the proposed project and your organization in general
- Your organization’s fundraising KPIs
- The potential size of your donor base and the ability of those supporters to give large donations
- Available internal resources, such as fundraising software, and where resources are lacking
- External factors that could come into play during the capital campaign (such as the current economic climate or social movements)
- Other relevant information
A feasibility study may be completed by a member of the committee or can be conducted by an outside consultant. Many organizations prefer to rely on an outside expert to conduct the interviews for a feasibility study, as stakeholders may give more honest feedback to a third party rather than someone they know from your organization.
Either way, a feasibility study will usually involve interviewing between 30 and 40 people, including:
- Board members
- Staff members
- Past donors
- Other major gift prospects
- Other members of the community
Prepare yourself and your team to accept the results of the feasibility study, whatever they may be. If your stakeholders give insights that lead your organization to conclude that a capital campaign isn’t possible right now, keep an open mind and consider the steps you need to take so that your campaign will be feasible in the future!
3. Screen campaign prospects.
To help find major gift donors and lead donors, conduct prospect screening, also known as prospect research, before you make appeals.
Prospect research conducted with robust research tools can help identify both capacity and affinity markers for each prospect. Capacity (wealth) markers tell you that a prospect has the financial means to give a large gift, whereas affinity (warmth) markers tell you that the prospect may be inclined to give to your cause. Here are some examples of affinity and capacity markers:
- Real estate ownership
- SEC transactions
- Business affiliations
- Political giving
- Previous donations to your nonprofit
- Donations to other profits
- Nonprofit involvement history
- Personal information like hobbies, values, or interests
For more information about affinity and capacity markers, as well as the ins and outs of prospecting, check out DonorSearch’s definitive guide to prospect research.
Having this information at your fingertips will help you determine the giving levels for your hierarchy of gifts. It will also be helpful when you make donation appeals to your major donors. The more you know about a prospect’s giving patterns and willingness to give, the better prepared you will be for making effective donation appeals.
In addition to the typical indicators of capacity and willingness, don’t forget to include other aspects of someone’s identity that could support your capital campaign, like matching gift eligibility. If you have someone’s employer listed in their donor profile or can extrapolate from public information, you can look into their matching gift eligibility with a matching gifts database. If you find that they are eligible to have their employer match their gift to your nonprofit, make sure to plan to include that in your ask—1 in 3 donors indicated that they would give a larger gift if a match from their employer were applied to their donation.
4. Set a deadline.
One of the components of a capital campaign that distinguishes it from some other fundraising efforts is that it has a deadline. While annual funds and endowments can be replenished at any time, funds for a capital campaign must be made within the allotted time.
Set a realistic deadline for your capital campaign, but account for unexpected events that could stall your fundraising and throw off your plan. A capital campaign can last anywhere from one year to several depending on your fundraising efforts and your system for pledges. Pick a deadline that makes the most sense with regard to your project and how long you think the fundraising stages will be.
The most important thing to remember when picking your capital campaign’s deadline? Always keep it flexible. Don’t let your campaign run on and on if you hit fundraising roadblocks. This can be a sign that it’s time to head back to the drawing board instead of dragging out a campaign that can’t support itself. Conversely, if you hit your fundraising stride near the planned deadline for your capital campaign, don’t be afraid to keep fundraising. Your campaign’s deadline should be a guidepost and not a brick wall.
Explore available resources to help your organizational leaders plan a campaign and stay on track for the duration. One great example of this is Capital Campaign Toolkit, a resource that guides nonprofit leaders through a seven-phase campaign plan. A combination of online resources and expert capital campaign advising, the Toolkit is a step-by-step path to campaign success. When using the Toolkit, your nonprofit gains access to templates, checklists, worksheets, and campaign experts to fully map out your campaign and any appropriate deadlines. With access to the Toolkit’s private Facebook group, weekly advising calls, and expert advisors, the Capital Campaign Toolkit has built-in accountability to keep you on track and help you meet your campaign deadline.
5. Finalize your campaign’s financial goal.
One of the most important planning components of your capital campaign is setting your financial goal. Naturally, this will depend on the scope of your proposed project, but make sure that you are accounting for hidden costs as well as obvious expenses.
Hidden costs that you might not initially account for in your capital campaign goal include:
- Fundraising costs. Between marketing materials, the costs of fundraising events, and other related expenses, it’s difficult to raise a large sum of money without spending some money. Make sure that your financial goal takes these costs into account.
- Consulting costs. Many nonprofits rely on consulting services for successful capital campaigns. Though consulting services are a wise investment, they will come at a cost, so be prepared to account for the cost of the services in your goal.
- Attrition costs. Many capital campaigns rely on pledges that are dispersed over the course of a number of years. Some of the value of these pledges will be reduced, often through nonpayment. Keep these attrition costs in mind when you start planning your financial goal and remember that attrition costs should not exceed 10% of your final goal.
- Inflation. This hidden cost may be more difficult to calculate than others, but you can still try to prepare for the costs associated with inflation over the course of your capital campaign.
- Donor appreciation wall. Especially when a facility is built or renovated, nonprofits like to recognize their top supporters with a donor appreciation wall. Because constructing an appreciation wall can be costly, consider the expense and include it in your financial goal.
Make sure that you take a holistic view of your campaign when finalizing your financial goal. The goal will be integral when making your donation appeal to major donors, corporations, and other individual supporters.
6. Prepare for success by reviewing past wins and challenges.
Before determining who to solicit donations from and how to raise money for your capital campaign, look to the past to guide your efforts. Your feasibility study gives you a natural opportunity to do so, but you can return to your past fundraising data again and again as you begin strategizing for your campaign.
For example, if you implemented a direct mail campaign that worked well in the past, consider using that method to communicate with your supporters. Looking to the past can be a great way to give all of your fundraising methods a boost, but it can be especially helpful when planning a capital campaign. Since you need to raise a significant amount of money by a certain deadline, it’s useful to have all of your best fundraising strategies in the back of your mind.
As you review what has and hasn’t worked in the past, you can also formulate a plan for unforeseen circumstances during your capital campaign. These could range from small hiccups to large roadblocks that stall your project for several months. Your subcommittees and the main committee should keep each other regularly updated on progress to catch problems earlier rather than later so that you can effectively pivot and prevent past mistakes.
7. Set a budget.
As mentioned earlier, capital campaigns are designed to raise money for a particular venture, but they also require the spending of funds. Before you launch your campaign, create a designated budget for fundraising costs and other expenses.
Potential costs could include:
- Major gift donor cultivation. Asking major donors for contributions requires more than a simple phone call. It involves meetings, lunches, and other events that are designed to persuade the individual to donate to your capital campaign. Your team will have to spend some money during this cultivation process.
- Support documents. Your capital campaign will have to have various materials available for donors to learn more about the campaign. Whether completed in-house or by a marketing agency, these materials should be factored into your budget.
- Fundraising events. Depending on the type of event, you might need to pay for certain services, like event planning.
You will likely find that your campaign has many other costs in addition to these. Accounting for all of the expenses that you might incur during the planning and implementation process will help you stay on track to achieving your goals.
8. Develop a gift range chart.
Once you’ve outlined a financial goal and budget, you should create a gift range chart.
Because capital campaigns rely on a few major donations and many smaller contributions, the hierarchy should look like a pyramid. So, as the gifts get larger, the number of prospects gets smaller.
Within your chart, you’ll need to identify:
- A few lead gifts that make up a large portion of your funds and are secured at the very beginning of the campaign
- A dozen or so major gifts from your most dedicated supporters
- A moderate amount of special gifts from other donors
- A large amount of general, smaller donations
Check out this example gift charge to get an idea of what your own could look like:
Your gift range chart will be dependent on your fundraising goal, as well as the results of your feasibility study. Remember that it is supposed to be a general guideline and that you may need to adjust it as the campaign goes on.
9. Create a capital campaign plan.
Once you know how many gifts you’ll need from each donor level, you’ll want to plot out a fundraising course for obtaining those gifts.
The capital campaign committee should kick off the giving with their own donations, but after that, you’ll need to determine when and how you go after major gifts, lead gifts, and smaller donations.
Remember: your capital campaign plan can be subject to change. Allow yourself flexibility with your plan so you can course-correct as issues arise. However, it’s important to stay in line with your capital campaign plan as much as possible.
One effective strategy for staying on track is to set checkpoint dates for your team to evaluate fundraising success. If you’re consistently failing to meet benchmarks, that could be a sign that your fundraising goal isn’t attainable or that you need to head back to the planning stage to get the right prospects in line to contribute gifts.
10. Outline your campaign timeline.
Going along with your fundraising course, you’ll need to create a detailed capital campaign timeline. This timeline should focus on the two main phases of your campaign:
- Quiet Phase: This is the stage in which you make appeals to major donors, corporations, and government agencies. During the quiet phases, many campaigns aim to pull in 50-70% of their overall goal.
- Public Phase: After a kick-off event, the capital campaign is made open to the public. At this point, donors can contribute whatever they want, whenever they want.
You can fill in the details of these two phases with the particulars as they relate to your specific capital campaigns.
11. Prepare supporting documents.
At this point in the process of starting a capital campaign, prepare your support documents. These documents will help convey the professionalism and seriousness of your capital campaign, encouraging supporters to donate.
Support documents can include:
- Case statement (More on this below!)
- Pledge cards
- And more!
Having these support documents on hand before you start soliciting donations will help guarantee that donors have a positive perception of your organization in general, as well as your campaign.
12. Write your capital campaign case statement.
One support document, in particular, deserves special attention: your case statement. A case statement is what you will use during your donation appeals to convince prospects that your project is worth funding. It is a flexible document that answers questions about the capital campaign and sells it as being worthwhile. It is also helpful when developing proposals and brochures, marketing your cause, writing speeches, and establishing accountability with donors.
Your case statement should be professional, visually appealing, and informative, highlighting your organization’s past and current accomplishments and explaining why you need money for your capital campaign.
13. Establish expectations with your team.
Before you hit the gas pedal on your capital campaign, make sure your entire team is ready and on the same page. Hold regular meetings during the planning phase and check in on a weekly or monthly basis to update everyone on progress.
Additionally, keep the other key players updated on the campaign. The more informed everyone is, the more streamlined the entire process will be.
Starting a capital campaign requires the support of everyone involved. It also takes considerable time and effort to raise a significant amount of money. By following these 13 steps, your nonprofit will be poised for capital campaign success!
Looking for additional reading? Check out these resources:
- Creating Perfect Donor Prospect Profiles: A Guide & Template. Prospect profiles come in handy for any fundraising endeavor. Learn how to create effective profiles in this guide.
- Wealth and Philanthropic Screening by DonorSearch. Thoroughly screening your prospects is essential for making informed fundraising asks. Learn about DonorSearch’s wealth and philanthropic screening services.
- Grateful Patient Programs: An Intelligent Fundraising Guide. Is your healthcare organization looking to raise money through its grateful patient program? Get some tips in this article.