Capital campaigns can be instrumental in helping organizations grow their resources, achieve long-term sustainability and deepen their impact. Developing a successful capital campaign requires extensive support from a nonprofit’s board, staff and community members, which means clear organization and communication are essential.
In this post, we’ll dive into the details of capital campaigns and a few key strategies your team can put in place to help you succeed.
What is a Capital Campaign?
In simplest terms, a nonprofit capital campaign is an extended fundraiser to raise money for a major project, such as purchasing a new building, acquiring land, expanding current facilities and/or buying necessary equipment.
There are two main phases to capital campaigns: the quiet phase and the public phase. During the quiet phase, the nonprofit seeks to raise major contributions from existing gift donors, rather than solicit contributions from the public. Typically, 50-70% of total funds are raised during this phase.
During the public phase, the capital campaign engages the public in order to raise the remainder of the goal amount. For capital campaigns to succeed, there must be strong financial and community support from the committee, staff and other groups who have a connection to the organization.
How to Develop a Successful Capital Campaign
Construct a Capital Campaign Committee
The first step in preparing to launch a capital campaign is determining the team that will bring your campaign to life. Members of the capital campaign committee may include your nonprofit board of directors, internal staff or even an outside consultant. Ideally, all members should have a vested interest in the organization and be prepared to dedicate themselves to the full timeline and scope of the campaign.
With your committee in place, it’s time to establish roles and expectations. Setting forth clear guidelines is the best way to empower your members to own their individual responsibilities. It also eliminates confusion over who the decision-makers are in each aspect of the campaign.
If your organization is struggling to gain support from its board, check out our blog post How to Engage and Equip Your Fundraising Board for helpful tips.
Establish SMART Goals
SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. Determine a SMART goal for your budget, deadline, funding goal, and communication and outreach channels.
Example: Raise $500,000 by December 31 to upgrade our existing facilities in order to provide exceptional opportunities for at-risk youth. The new program space will allow us to grow and develop our comprehensive services and programs.
Vague goals hinder action, but SMART goals provide a clear path forward. Use this goal-setting activity as a way to answer questions about the specifics of the campaign and to get everyone on the same page before talking to donors.
Develop a Case for Support
A case for support is one of the single most important documents a nonprofit can create to ignite community passion and donor support for its mission. In summary, it outlines the reasons your nonprofit is seeking support for the capital campaign. To make it as recognizable and official as possible, it’s good practice to brand the document with your organization’s logo, font and colors.
- Emotional Introduction
Make an emotional connection with the reader by sharing your organization’s story and the reasons behind the capital campaign.
- History of the Organization
Provide a brief summary of your organization's history and values, as well as an overview of the organization’s impact on the community.
- Mission and Impact
Convey the reason your organization exists and the supportive services it provides to better the lives of individuals and communities.
- Future Goals and Objectives
Outline the capital campaign SMART goals and execution tactics needed to successfully launch the campaign.
- Financial Needs
Determine how much money is needed for the organization to expand its impact. Use infographics, testimonials and other supportive materials to exemplify how the organization is benefiting its target audiences.
- Call to Action
List different ways the audiences can support the campaign beyond monetary donations. For example, include ways companies can sponsor the campaign by giving gifts such as bequests and charitable annuities.
Conduct a Feasibility Study
Feasibility studies determine whether the community and prospective donors will actually support the capital campaign. Before your nonprofit begins fundraising, complete a feasibility study by having a nonprofit member or outside consultant interview 30 to 40 community members.
Interviewees can consist of community leaders, staff members, current and past board members, and major gift donors. Prior to the interview, have participants read through the case for support so they have familiarity with the capital campaign goals.
Potential questions you can address during the interview include:
- Do you think our goal and deadline are attainable?
- How strong is our case for support?
- What section of the case for support most appeals to you?
- What are our strengths and areas of opportunity as an organization?
- How confident are you in our nonprofit board to achieve our goal?
- What groups of people do you see as major funders of the campaign?
- How do you think the rest of the community (outside of our organization) will respond to our campaign?
Create Branded Materials (Print and Digital)
Another important step before launching the campaign publicly is to create branded material that will convey the campaign’s story and mission. Put yourself in the shoes of prospective donors to create visually attractive yet informative materials. Address what problem the campaign will solve and the strategic steps you will take to solve that problem.
Don’t forget to create an online webpage dedicated to the capital campaign that directs your audience to support your efforts. Include the link to the well-designed webpage in all marketing materials to give individuals and corporations a centrally-located, simple way to donate. If your budget allows, generate promotional videos, a donor toolkit and vivid imagery to spark a clear call to action.
Identify Strong Sources of Support
Before selecting your main sources of support, gain insights on each potential donor’s giving history, past donations to other nonprofits, professional connections, employment information and contact information. Then, begin to list community members who are strong leads and dedicated supporters who can contribute large gifts to your campaign.
As a reminder, this is still considered the silent phase as the board is tapping into personal connections to gain funding and support before publicly launching the campaign.
When you’re ready to ask for a major gifts, it’s essential to prepare and make your pitch dynamic. Prepare for asking for a donation with these six tips from Network for Good:
- Keep it simple
- Keep it lively
- Bring key players
- Put all numbers on the table
- Do your own public relations
- Get ready to fulfill the commitment
Consider adding extra incentives to support the campaign, including naming opportunities. If your nonprofit is building new facilities or expanding its current location, offer to name buildings or rooms after major donors as recognition.
Publicly Launch the Capital Campaign
After meeting with major gift givers and, hopefully, gaining a solid start to achieving financial support, it’s time to launch the campaign to the broader public. Begin by actively promoting the online fundraising page through social media, email marketing, paid advertising and sharing of the donor toolkit. Outline how different levels of contributions will help achieve the goal and encourage the community to join the movement.
Consider hosting a capital campaign kickoff event with potential donors to create community buzz. For example, your nonprofit could host a 5K run, silent auction, gala, or golf outing depending on what the majority of community members are interested in attending. Determine the event details and promote the event through personal phone calls, emails, social media and mailed invitations. Recruit volunteers through your capital campaign committee and internal staff to help support and spread the word about the kickoff event.
Conclude the Capital Campaign
Once your campaign begins nearing its goal and the deadline approaches, the process is still not over. It is essential to continue the relationship with donors by showcasing the project’s progress and thanking them for their continued support.
There are many ways to thank donors beyond simple phone calls and emails. Consider using one of the 15 Creative Ways to Thank Donors from Classy. You could create a video that highlights the capital campaign’s progress or offer tours of your new building once it’s complete. Another meaningful way to thank donors is to send personalized, handwritten notes highlighting the importance of their gift. There are many great ways to make donors confident in their decision to support the organization. No matter which way you choose, a genuine thank you is the most effective way to keep donors loyal.
Overcoming the challenge of launching a successful capital campaign is not an easy feat, but the support your nonprofit gains throughout the process is priceless. Cultivating meaningful relationships with your donors will last years beyond the capital campaign. By following these strategic steps, it will set your organization up for success by allowing you to gain community support and accomplish your mission even further.
Editor's note: This blog is intended as a general overview. For professional guidance and support in developing a capital campaign, please call us at 216-465-2043 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.