Capital Campaigns – Building A Bright Future For Your Nonprofit

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”

  • Jonathan Swift 

When a nonprofit begins, it is in response to someone seeing a need for a service.  As the life of that nonprofit grows, so does its infrastructure. This is where the capital campaign comes in. It could be a much-needed renovation to your existing place of business or it could involve breaking ground on a new building.  In either case, there is a need for big resources to bring that vision into being.

Before you venture down the capital campaign path, it is critical to make certain your organization is ready for such a big project.  Keep in mind that it takes between six and twelve months to create your plan before it is implemented.  Perhaps the timing may not be best to launch a campaign but it is certainly a perfect time to do all the planning.  It is also critical to identify and establish your people power for the campaign.  Yes, having key volunteers as part of your committee to help identify and connect with donors is important, it is also important to have an experienced capital campaign manager leading the implementation of your well-thought out plan.

As mentioned above, the first step is creating your plan. As mentioned in this DonorSearch article, there are several steps to get that process going:

  1. Assemble a capital campaign committee.  It is never just one person running the whole show at a nonprofit and that is the case with a capital campaign.  Collaboration with your board leadership, team members, key volunteers, and dedicated donors can be the jump start to success. 

  2. Conducting a feasibility study. Knowing if it is a viable direction is also a cornerstone issue when you are embarking on a potential capital campaign. A feasibility study includes a survey of key stakeholders to determine the viability of financial success.  The study also looks at your internal readiness for a campaign. You’ll get feedback on brand awareness of your work in the community along with a temperature check on your nonprofit’s reputation. It is a bit of a testing ground to see if the time is right for your campaign.

  3. Pre-qualify your potential donors – Investing time in looking at your existing donor pool to understand the viability of contributions will save you from a steeper climb later in the campaign. Knowing who your donors are and why they invest in your nonprofit is a critical component of a successful capital campaign. This information will also help you develop the gift chart that breaks down the gift levels to reach your ultimate financial goal. 

  4. Setting a deadline and a timeline. As with any good plan, a destination is important to have as is a deadline to reach it. A great way to create it is to back engineer the step by step process of the campaign.  It must also be realistic. In many cases, capital campaigns span three to five years in duration. Using your target end date, you can also craft your timeline from start to finish. 

  5. Establish your financial goal and budget. Understanding all the costs of the capital campaign is needed so you know how to create your gift chart and know the overall costs for the project. Be sure to not only note the obvious costs but to also research any potential hidden costs like unfulfilled pledges. You will need funds to cover costs to ‘live’ the plan.

  6. Evaluate your previous successes and failures in raising funds. There is no better lesson than 20/20 hindsight and assessing your ‘wins’ and your challenges will help inform strategies for this big campaign. You will know how your donors prefer to respond to calls of support and what does not elicit a response.

  7. Create a Plan B. It is important to keep in mind that unforeseen circumstances can stall your project.  Be certain to know how the organization will respond in those cases by keeping the communication channels open and having a few options on the back burner.

  8. Create a gift chart. This tool is a breakdown on the number of gifts and levels of gifts that will lead you to your financial campaign goal.  It breaks down these factors along with knowing how many prospects you need to lead to the gift. Here is an online gift chart calculator to help you create your chart.

  9. Creating your road map. Assemble your findings into a document that outlines your target end result, the participants, and the timeline. You will also need to articulate various approaches to securing the donations.

  10. Prepare communication assets. You will need letter templates and email templates to request meeting time, solicit for donations, and acknowledge gifts. These communication tools should all be branded using your slogan and visual identifiers established for the campaign. You may want to create a special page on your website when the campaign goes public.

  11. Your Case Statement. It is also known as the case for support. This document shares the reason for the campaign, answers key questions about the project, and sells your campaign to donors.  Out of all the materials you complete, this is the cornerstone of a successful capital campaign.

In summary, there are many moving pieces of the capital campaign puzzle. Make sure your board of directors is well versed with the scope of the campaign as they will be authorizing the funding needs for it.  Establishing regular meeting times for your planning committee and creating thoughtful timelines will help you align expectations with the intentional outcomes. It is a very specific fundraising campaign that is intense and executed over multiple years. It starts out with the ‘quiet phase’ to secure a large portion of the overall financial goal. 

By hiring a professional consultant who recognizes the key components of a successful campaign, you will significantly ease your stress. Your consultant can manage the entire process for you so you don’t have to.