Does your nonprofit have a big expenditure on its mind? For example, do you see a need in your organization’s future for a new building or large-scale renovation of your current headquarters? Funds for big-ticket projects generally don’t come from routine income sources. Depending on the goal, a capital campaign may fit the bill.

Planning it out

Committing to a capital campaign isn’t easy. The fear that people won’t donate in an uncertain economy can cause hesitation to ask for more funds. But when a dedicated group within your organization grabs on to this opportunity to expand and grow, it’s time to start planning.

It’s no surprise that a massive effort to raise money for a new building, costly equipment or an endowment is called a “campaign.” Like a succession of military attacks designed to produce a particular result, a capital campaign is a series of efforts aimed at a specific end. And like a wartime campaign, a capital campaign calls for strategic preparation and skillful execution.

The campaign might span three or more years. Campaign workers typically raise funds through direct mail, email, direct solicitations, special events and other traditional and creative maneuvers. (See the sidebar “Lining up manpower for your capital campaign.”)

Finding a leader

You’ll need a leader to head the campaign and direct the troops into battle. Look to your current and past board members and the greater community to find someone with the right qualifications. You want to find someone who has a fundraising track record and knows your geographic area and local issues. Additionally, you’ll want to choose an individual who’ll be fully committed to the cause and can motivate others.

Targeting donors

To ensure your staff and volunteers are focusing on the most promising donors, start by identifying a large group to solicit for donations. Draw your list from past donors, area business owners, board members, volunteers and any other likely prospects. Then narrow that list to those with potential for the largest gifts and talk to them first. Secure the large gifts before pursuing anything under $1,000.

Most people don’t like asking other people for money. So it will be necessary to train team members on how to tell your story and solicit funds.

Creating consistent messages

Make sure that your key constituents are on the same page about the vision for the campaign and the primary strategies for getting there. Break down your overall goal into smaller objectives and celebrate reaching them. Regularly report gifts, track your progress toward reaching each goal, and measure the effectiveness of your activities.

Craft your campaign message carefully. Here’s where a professional fundraiser, experienced with capital campaigns, might come into play. Potential donors must see your organization as capable and strong, but also as the same group they’ve championed for years. Additionally, instead of focusing on what donations will do for your not-for-profit, show potential donors the impact on the community.

Choosing the launch time

Fundraising wisdom holds that you shouldn’t go public with your campaign until you’ve secured a significant amount of “lead gifts” from major donors. The recommended percentage varies, with organizations commonly waiting until 50% to 60% of their fundraising goal is reached before announcing the campaign. As the campaign progresses, publicly recognize your donors.

3 years or more

Capital campaigns often stretch over three years or more. Making sure that your capital campaign plan has the legs to survive the long haul will help you reach your goal.


Sidebar: Lining up manpower for your capital campaign

Volunteers play a major role in capital campaigns. Look to your current and past board members, project leaders and rank-and-file volunteers. Also be prepared to draw from staff, knowing that you can’t rely on volunteers to do all the work.

As you assess your manpower, you might see a need to hire additional staff, such as a professional fundraiser and administrative personnel. Seek a mix of talents and personal qualities among your volunteers, board members, staff and new hires. Include in the mix energetic individuals with strong people skills.

If you have questions or would like guidance based on our years of experience with nonprofits, give us a call today!