Create a Comprehensive Capital Campaign Plan in 5 Steps

By susanlienau | October 18, 2017 | Capital Campaigns
Understand how to run a capital campaign by creating a comprehensive capital campaign plan.

Capital campaigns can be complicated, time consuming endeavors for organizations of any size. No matter your nonprofit’s budget, mission, or support level, taking on a long-term fundraising project on the scale of a capital campaign is simply difficult.

Yet, with a comprehensive capital campaign plan in place, your team can rest assured that you’ll be prepared to face the challenges ahead and achieve your fundraising goals.

By working with the right nonprofit consultant, your organization can develop a customized capital campaign plan that outlines your path to success while addressing fundraising issues before they become a problem.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to run a capital campaign successfully by outlining key steps in the planning period. Your nonprofit should:

1. Assemble key players to help plan your capital campaign
2. Conduct a capital campaign feasibility study
3. Set your capital campaign’s budget
4. Develop fundraising collateral for your capital campaign
5. Cultivate a prospect list for your capital campaign

Are you ready to find out what it takes to plan a successful capital campaign? Let’s get started by breaking these steps down into some more detail.

Begin planning your capital campaign by assembling key players.

1. Assemble key players to help plan your capital campaign

Aside from the benefit of actually outlining your capital campaign from beginning to end, the capital campaign planning process can serve as an excellent opportunity to assemble the important players who will be critical to your campaign’s success down the line.

Behind the scenes, it’s important that the responsibility of carrying out your capital campaign isn’t held by any single person or committee.

The success of a capital campaign is dependent upon the many members of your team working together. In addition, your nonprofit can benefit during the planning process from the varied perspectives that these individuals have to offer.

Let’s go over some of the important roles that will come into play over the course of your capital campaign and how they fit into creating your capital campaign plan.

  • Capital campaign director. Every capital campaign should have a director leading the way from beginning to end. This individual should be solely focused on making the campaign a success and should be the guiding voice during the planning period.
  • Nonprofit consultant. Having a dedicated consultant to guide your nonprofit through the capital campaign process is crucial. When planning your capital campaign, a consultant can help you identify potential roadblocks and anticipate how to overcome them. 
  • Internal department heads. Loop in the heads of your nonprofit’s various internal departments, such as the heads of your development team, marketing team, etc. Your campaign will be better equipped for the road ahead if these individuals are present during planning to advocate for the needs of their departments.
  • Key stakeholders. Include key stakeholders such as board members, donors, volunteers, and prospects in your capital campaign’s planning discussions. These are the individuals who will be targeted by your capital campaign; thus, it helps to give them a voice early on to get an idea of whether or not your fundraising plan is reasonable.

Bonus! If your organization needs significant guidance internally, consider our embedded staffing services in which we can serve as both your campaign consultant and director. 

Involve key insiders when creating your capital campaign plan.
The success of your capital campaign depends on your nonprofit’s broad community of support working together and sustaining momentum during the several year span of your capital campaign.

Takeaway: By bringing important players together during the planning period, your nonprofit not only benefits from their perspectives and areas of expertise, but also strengthens relationships between these individuals and your organizaion.

Understand how to start a capital campaign by heading the results of your feasibility study.

2. Conduct a capital campaign feasibility study

One of the central parts of how to start a capital campaign off right is to conduct a feasibility study during the planning phase. A feasibility study assesses your nonprofit’s readiness to take on the capital campaign before you begin.

Typically, capital campaign feasibility studies are led by fundraising consultants. The benefit of this lies in the consultant’s third-party perspective.

Since they are independent of the nonprofit, they enter the campaign without preconceived notions of what will make it a success and without internal political pressures swaying their assessment of the capital campaign plan.

A central component of a feasibility study is interviewing staff, volunteers, donors, board members, and other key players in the campaign to get an idea of their level of support for the capital campaign plan.

Because the consultant is a third party, interviewees are more inclined to be honest than if a direct member of your nonprofit conducted the assessment. Your fundraising consultant can thus benefit from a more accurate dataset from which to determine the feasibility of your capital campaign.

In addition to conducting interviews, your capital campaign’s consultant will likely address some of the following areas of interest:

  • Case for support. Your capital campaign’s case for support is what will convert passive supporters of your cause into impactful donors. Over the course of the feasibility study, your capital campaign consultant will determine whether or not your case for support is reasonable and compelling enough to attract donors.
  • Data integrity. The success of your capital campaign will depend in part on whether or not your donor data is reliable and informative. Do you have an unorganized CRM? Are your prospect profiles incomplete or inaccurate? If the right data isn’t in place, your consultant may suggest ways to improve your data before the campaign begins.
  • Prospect relationships. It’s this simple: without the right prospect relationships in place, your capital campaign simply won’t have the support it needs to be a fundraising success. Your consultant will determine whether or not your nonprofit has built up enough prospect relationships that can be relied upon during the campaign and suggest how to improve cultivation where necessary.
  • Internal roles. A capital campaign consultant will also assess whether or not your team has the right people in the right roles internally. If certain staff members have too much on their plate, not enough expertise in their areas of responsibility, or are otherwise unprepared for the job ahead, your consultant will suggest how to restructure.

In addition to helping your team identify fundraising blindspots and improve your fundraising plan, your consultant will also be a key resource for your nonprofit throughout the capital campaign.

Takeaway: By establishing a relationship with a capital campaign consultant early on in the planning process, your nonprofit will benefit from having them on hand later in the campaign to help overcome unforeseen roadblocks.

Set your capital campaign plan budget.

3. Set your capital campaign’s budget

One of the most overlooked aspects of successful capital campaign planning is budgeting for the necessary expenses related to carrying out your fundraising plan.

Many nonprofits make the mistake of thinking that austerity during budget planning will get them closer to achieving their fundraising goals down the line.

While this makes sense on the surface, the reality is that your nonprofit needs to invest in the necessary expertise and manpower to make your capital campaign work. If you fail to do so, your capital campaign will be disadvantaged from the outset.

In partnership with your fundraising consultant, your nonprofit should set aside time during the capital campaign planning phase to set an accurate budget to cover the necessary costs associated with carrying out your fundraising plan.

There are two principle factors your nonprofit should consider when setting your capital campaign’s budget: the shortcomings and successes of your past fundraising plan budgets, and the budgets set by comparable nonprofits

When it comes to identifying where past budgets have been ineffective, compare key expenses year over year with income associated with those areas. You might create a budget chart like the template below comparing previous expenses and income versus anticipated expenses and income outlined by your preliminary budget.
Know how to run a capital campaign by mapping out your ideal budget using a budget chart.
After identifying the feasibility of your capital campaign’s budget based on past fundraising budgets, your fundraising consultant can provide key insight into how your budget compares to those of comparable organizations with similar campaigns.

Because your consultant has experience working with other nonprofits, this is another opportunity to benefit from their perspective as a third party. After making their assessment, they can suggest areas of improvement and inform you of how other nonprofits have approached setting successful capital campaign budgets.

Takeaway: Understanding how to run a capital campaign successfully depends upon learning from your nonprofit’s past fundraising successes and failures. Analyze past budgets carefully before making big financial decisions for your capital campaign.

Continue to plan your capital campaign by developing fundraising collateral.

4. Develop fundraising collateral for your capital campaign

Another important area of capital campaign planning is the collateral development process. Fundraising collateral refers to the documents and resources, both private and public facing, that will be referred to throughout your capital campaign.  

It is important that these resources are fully developed before the public phase of your capital campaign may begin. Because these resources will be used internally by staff members and externally by prospects, it’s integral that they are aligned in strategy and content.

As you continue to work with your capital campaign consultant, your nonprofit will likely develop some of the following resources during the planning phase of your campaign:

  • Case statement. In a capital campaign, nonprofits typically develop a document called a case statement that is used to inform prospects of the campaign’s fundraising needs; the case statement also appeals to supporters to donate.
  • Prospect solicitation materials. These comprise of brochures, slide shows, handouts, and other materials used when making formal solicitations. These often are condensed versions of your case statement.
  • Capital campaign website. In addition to your nonprofit’s main website, your capital campaign itself should have a website that you may refer prospects to for more information. The website should be equipped to accept online gifts.
  • Gift range chart. Following your feasibility study, work with your capital campaign consultant to revise your gift range chart. When developing collateral, be sure to create a gift range chart resource to be referenced by both staff, volunteers, and prospects.

Consider this gift range chart example for an idea of how to structure your capital campaign plan.
Your nonprofit may incorporate your gift range chart into a variety of collateral materials as a way to suggest giving levels to supporters. For the public facing version of your gift range chart, be sure to brand it to your nonprofit and make it both attractive and easily understood.

Takeaway: Your nonprofit should develop capital campaign collateral with an understanding of how it will be used behind the scenes and in front of prospects. Allow your fundraising consultant to advise your team on the right resources for your capital campaign.

Cultivate a prospect list as part of your capital campaign plan.

5. Cultivate a prospect list for your capital campaign plan

Finally, one of the most important areas of your capital campaign’s plan that should be addressed is how your nonprofit intends to cultivate and engage with prospects throughout the campaign.

To make your capital campaign a success, it’s necessary to ensure that you have identified the right prospects to provide the necessary gifts before your campaign can commence. Without ensuring that these prospects exist and are both capable and willing to give to your organization, your team may fall short of your fundraising goal.

In partnership with your capital campaign consultant, you can determine areas of improvement by asking some of the following key questions:

  • Do we have an extensive list of identified prospects in line to approach for specific gifts on our gift range chart?
  • Do we have backup prospects for every giving level?
  • If key prospects turn down our solicitations, do we have backup proposals ready to secure a smaller gift?
  • Are there sufficient personnel in place to steward these prospects?
  • Are our high level executives, such as our capital campaign director, executive director, president, CEO, headmaster, etc., available to make solicitations in person for key prospects?
  • Do we have a major donor and planned giver acquisition strategy in place?

Your donor database or nonprofit CRM can provide insight into your current supporters to help you develop the best strategy for each individual constituent. You can segment your database by giving history, for example, to determine which gift level might be most appropriate for your solicitation.

Further, one of the key markers of a successful capital campaign is a robust prospect pipeline. Throughout the campaign, your team should be laying the groundwork to encourage future support of your organization by prospects you solicit.

For more advice on finding prospects for your capital campaign, check out Averill’s prospect research resources article.

The timeline of your future campaigns will be dramatically shortened if you already have an established list of cultivated prospects on hand to turn to. During the planning process for this campaign, you may realize that you haven’t done enough in the past to establish a prospect pipeline you may rely on.

Working with your capital campaign consultant, your team can identify areas of improvement in the prospect cultivation process. Once you’ve finalized your list of prospects, your consultant can suggest and help implement future best practices to ensure that your next campaign can benefit from the the groundwork you’ve just laid.

Takeaway: If your nonprofit wants know how to run a capital campaign successfully, it’s important to ensure that you have a comprehensive list of prospects in line before the campaign begins. Without reliable prospects on hand, you’ll be trying to fundraise blindly.

When it comes to your nonprofit’s next capital campaign, success lies in the planning process. With the right capital campaign plan in hand, your team will be equipped to tackle any challenge on the road ahead. Good luck!

Additional Capital Campaign Resources

  • Capital Campaigns: How to Set and Exceed Your Goal. Setting an attainable (but still ambitious) capital campaign goal is one of the most important parts of the capital campaign planning process. Learn more about setting and surpassing your capital campaign’s fundraising goal with our comprehensive toolkit.
  • Write a Capital Campaign Case Statement. Having a compelling and supportable case statement is another key part of ensuring that supporters will want to give to your capital campaign. Check out our helpful strategies and illustrative examples to get started writing your nonprofit’s next case statement.
  • 11 Mind-Blowing Major Donor Fundraising Strategies. Securing major donor contributions will be an incredibly important part of seeing your capital campaign’s fundraising goals become a reality. Visit DonorSearch for some actionable major donor fundraising strategies that your team can use to reach your goal.
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