Unlocking Capital Campaign Success: A Comprehensive Guide

By susanlienau | October 14, 2023 | Capital Campaigns

Capital campaigns are huge, all-hands-on-deck endeavors where your entire team works toward a lofty goal, usually for multiple years. And if you’re getting ready for one, you know that to be successful, you’ll have to keep a lot of plates spinning at once. This can be a little overwhelming for even the most experienced fundraisers.

That’s where this guide comes in. We’ll cover everything you need to know to get a strong start to your campaign:

When you have capital campaign knowledge on your side and you partner with an experienced fundraising consultant, you’ll be in a great position to set a big, ambitious goal for your capital campaign and accomplish it. Let’s dive in.

Click through to learn how Averill Fundraising Solutions' consultants can support you through your upcoming capital campaign.

Capital Campaign Basics

Whether you’re new to the world of capital campaigns or you simply need a refresher, having a little background on how these campaigns work will serve you well as you prepare for your own. Let’s go over some basics.

What is a capital campaign?

This image and the text below provide a definition of the term capital campaign.

A capital campaign is a large-scale fundraising campaign that is usually aimed at accomplishing one or several large projects.

Because these campaigns require such careful planning and supporter cultivation, they can take multiple years to complete. In fact, according to research from Capital Campaign Pro, the average length of a capital campaign is 3.2 years.

What is the purpose of a capital campaign?

Your nonprofit could choose to conduct a capital campaign for a number of reasons. Here are a few common ones:

  • Renovate or build a facility
  • Purchase land or property
  • Launch or expand a program
  • Create an endowment fund
  • Invest in technology or equipment
  • Grow the organization’s staff

Remember, some campaigns may focus on multiple initiatives at once. For instance, you may want to renovate your organization’s museum, begin building an endowment, and bring on a few new major gift officers.

Whatever project your organization wishes to work on, it will be critical to firmly root it in your nonprofit’s larger mission and cause. This will help you keep sight of what really matters, even when fundraising gets challenging!

What organizations can run a capital campaign?

Organizations of all sizes can run capital campaigns. What matters is having a compelling need for the campaign, securing buy-in from your organization’s stakeholders, being confident in the support of your community, and making a thorough campaign plan.

Often, smaller nonprofits feel that capital campaign success is out of reach because they don’t have the same amount of resources or supporters as large organizations do. But small nonprofits can conduct successful capital campaigns! In fact, a capital campaign can actually help a small nonprofit to scale up its operations and grow its team. Again, careful preparation will make all the difference in a smaller organization’s ability to reach its goal.

What are the phases of a capital campaign?

When it comes time to prepare for a capital campaign, it can be tricky to visualize how to get from the starting point to the finish line. It’s helpful to understand the different phases of a capital campaign because they can serve as a roadmap as you plan and execute your campaign.

Here are the phases to know:

This image and the text below explain the phases of a capital campaign.
  • The Planning Phase: This phase is your organization’s chance to get all of its ducks in a row. You’ll start by reviewing your past fundraising success, assessing your capacity, setting your fundraising goals and objectives, and developing preliminary campaign collateral. Next, you’ll conduct a feasibility study to test your capital campaign goal and make sure it’s something you can actually accomplish. Many nonprofits also like to partner with a fundraising consultant in this phase.
  • The Quiet Phase: During the quiet phase, you’ll focus on securing 50% to 70% of your fundraising goal from major givers. This is also a great opportunity to strengthen your relationships with these individuals. This phase typically lasts from a few months to a year.
  • The Kick-Off Phase: At this stage, you’ll announce your campaign to the public. Some nonprofits like to do this by hosting some sort of major event. No matter what your kick-off phase looks like, this will signal you’re shifting to more general fundraising efforts after securing most of your campaign goal.
  • The Public Phase: The public phase is when your organization focuses on securing gifts of all sizes from your entire community of supporters. During this time, you can employ a variety of strategies, keeping your community’s needs and interests in mind so that your efforts resonate with them.
  • The Follow-Up Phase: Once you’ve met your campaign goal, you still have work to do! The follow-up phase is critical for sustaining the relationships you’ve worked so hard to build over the last few years of campaigning. Be prompt in thanking those who gave to your campaign, and make plans for future outreach.

Each phase will look a little different depending on your nonprofit, your campaign, and your community of supporters. However, having a general outline of the course capital campaigns typically follow can help you start off on the right track as you begin planning your own campaign.

Who do I need on my capital campaign team?

Remember, capital campaigns are all-hands-on-deck efforts. If you want to succeed, you can’t afford to go it alone! Here are some key players you’ll need on your capital campaign team:

  • Campaign director: The campaign director will lead your capital campaign efforts. They’ll oversee the campaign-related work of your different departments and be the guiding voice during the planning phase.
  • Department heads: The individuals who lead the various departments within your organization (development, marketing, etc.) should be involved in the campaign from beginning to end so they know what roles their teams will play in the campaign and can stay accountable for accomplishing necessary tasks.
  • Stakeholders: Your stakeholders include your board members, major givers, dedicated volunteers, and corporate partners. Since they will make your campaign success possible, you should get their thoughts about your campaign early on. This way, you can cater your efforts to their needs.
  • Fundraising consultant: While it is possible to conduct a capital campaign without outside help, it’s not best practice. An experienced fundraising consultant can provide a third-party perspective on your campaign efforts, help you stay on track to reach your goal, and give guidance when challenges come your way.

As you dive into your capital campaign, it will be critical to ensure everyone on your team is fully invested in seeing your capital campaign through to the end. Make sure you’re providing plenty of encouragement along the way to help sustain your team’s energy and enthusiasm for the project.

Get a Strong Start To Your Capital Campaign: 8 Steps

Once you’re ready to get into the details of planning and embarking on your capital campaign, you can follow these eight steps to get a strong start.

1. Start by reviewing your past fundraising success and assessing capacity.

Before you can set a reasonable fundraising goal, your team needs to evaluate whether your goals have been attainable in past campaigns.

Conduct a rigorous data review to identify patterns of behavior, uncover new opportunities, and assess capacity by screening your database. Reviewing data from past campaigns can give you insights into what has worked best for you.

Understanding what you have aimed for in the past and what problems or barriers you encountered will help you assess what you can accomplish with this capital campaign. It also helps you proactively identify and unblock any issues that were challenging during past campaigns.

2. Set your fundraising goals.

With a clearer picture of what may be feasible for your organization, you can sit down and set your fundraising goals for this capital campaign.

As a starting point, you’ll need to outline a preliminary budget to identify your campaign costs and the minimum amount you can afford to raise for your capital project. The bare minimum does not have to be your goal, though. If it seems feasible, aiming higher can actually be a great motivator for your team and for givers!

However, it’s important to use the information you gathered in the first step to make sure you aren’t setting unattainable goals. A goal that is not in line with your organization’s capabilities or budget will only discourage your team, especially the longer your campaign goes on.

You’ll want to set your fundraising goals with the two fundraising-focused phases (i.e., the quiet phase and the public phase) in mind. Recall that in the quiet phase, you’ll focus on the top major gift leads to raise approximately 50-70% of your funds.

In the public phase, you’ll extend your reach out to the community and smaller givers. This will help you wrap up your fundraising and make that final push toward your overall goal.

3. Develop campaign collateral.

After considering your nonprofit’s past success and what you’re aiming for with your campaign, you can develop critical campaign assets such as:

  • A case statement. This is a document that outlines your campaign goals and fundraising needs, communicating why your community should give to the campaign. Your case statement will be critical during the quiet phase of the campaign when you’re securing support from lead givers, but can also be adapted for use during the public phase.
  • A gift range chart. A gift range chart helps you understand what you need in order to succeed and helps you organize your fundraising. It allows you to work from the top down in a structured way that makes your goal more attainable. Create a preliminary gift range chart by breaking your fundraising goal into attainable gift ranges, identifying the number of prospects you’ll need to give at the different levels, and brainstorming the names of prospects who may be able to provide these gifts.
  • Prospect-facing materials. These can include brochures, slide decks, handouts, social media content, and website content. All of these materials should communicate the purpose of your campaign, demonstrate a compelling need for support, and encourage prospects to act.

Don’t let perfectionism paralyze you as you create this initial campaign collateral. It’s very likely that each of these resources will change a little as you refine your campaign plan and learn more about your prospects and givers.

4. Secure the initial internal and external support you need.

Having a committed, enthusiastic internal team backing your campaign will be critical for success. Make sure everyone, from your board members to entry-level employees, buys into your fundraising goal and is willing to give their best efforts to ensure the campaign goes smoothly. This way, you’ll have a coordinated effort going forward and be able to efficiently mobilize your organization’s resources to reach the campaign finish line.

You should also consider working with a fundraising consulting firm. A capital campaign consultant can offer extensive experience and important insight for your campaign. Because they work with a wide array of clientele, they know what works and what doesn’t work for nonprofits of all shapes and sizes.

5. Undergo a capital campaign planning and feasibility study.

Every campaign should undergo a planning and feasibility study (or “internal readiness assessment”) during the planning phase. Ideally, this is led by a nonprofit consulting firm.

During the assessment, your consultant will evaluate your fundraising goal and help your nonprofit develop a concrete capital campaign plan.

Here’s what a feasibility study will typically involve:

  • Analyzing your nonprofit’s fundraising history. Past campaigns, as well as relationships with major givers, are necessary for determining a nonprofit’s current financial health for running a capital campaign.
  • Refining your case for support. Your case for support will be used during the planning and feasibility study to guide conversations with stakeholders and get their thoughts about your campaign plans. (Afterward, you’ll refine the case for support again based on your stakeholders’ feedback!)
  • Interviewing organizational stakeholders. Your consultant will ask questions to gauge the perception of the attainability of your nonprofit’s goal, as well as what kind of role your stakeholders anticipate they’ll play during your campaign. Having a consultant assist with this portion of the study is critical, as stakeholders will likely give more candid responses to an objective third party rather than someone from your team.

Once you’ve conducted all of these steps, your consultant will review the results with your team and offer actionable recommendations for how to proceed with your campaign, or where you can make improvements before launching your campaign.

6. Build strategic relationships with capital campaign givers.

If you want your capital campaign to be a huge success, your team will need to take a look at your solicitation and cultivation strategy.

After all, your supporters want to feel that your nonprofit truly appreciates and needs their support. Don’t leave these relationships as an afterthought!

Keep in mind these best practices to increase gifts to your capital campaign:

This image and the text below provide best practices to increase capital campaign giving.
  • Follow up with past supporters who have given to previous campaigns. You already know they believe in your organization, so it may be easier to retain their support for this campaign.
  • Network with givers so that they can connect you with other individuals who may also want to give to your campaign.
  • Find out why a prospect turned down your ask. They may not have the giving capacity or enthusiasm for the project that you had expected, and learning what’s in the way of their gift can improve how you approach them for future gifts.

When supporters feel like they’re key partners in your organization, they’ll be more likely to give and more inclined to promote your campaign to their personal networks. This means the more personalized your cultivation efforts and solicitations are, the better!

One way to ensure that your interactions with supporters are tailored to each individual is by using the data stored in your nonprofit CRM to create strategic solicitation plans that match up with your supporters.

Don’t forget to store any new information you collect during this time. That way, all of your future fundraising and stewardship efforts can build on what you’re learning now.

7. Prepare to offer multiple ways to give during the public phase.

During the public phase of your capital campaign, you’ll be seeking gifts of all shapes and sizes to help you reach 100% of your fundraising goal. Make sure that everyone in your community has a way to give that works for them and their lifestyle by offering multiple methods. For instance, you could:

  • Set up an online giving form
  • Educate your supporters about corporate matching gift opportunities
  • Accept in-kind gifts like equipment, services, or materials
  • Sell branded merchandise (hats, water bottles, wristbands) in an online store
  • Encourage supporters who are unable to give money to volunteer
  • Ask supporters to become volunteer fundraisers and begin their own peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising campaigns

Effective fundraisers know how to meet their givers where they are, even during capital campaigns! By preparing for different types of giving early on, you’ll be ready to welcome any and all gifts to your project during the public phase.

8. Maintain a reasonable capital campaign timeline.

There’s nothing worse than a capital campaign that meanders on and on.

A typical capital campaign lasts between three and five years. However, depending on when you reach your goal, this timeline can be shortened or expanded. The only question you should ask yourself is: How much money do I want to leave on the table?

If your nonprofit decides to call it quits early, you run the risk of missing out on future gifts from prospects who aren’t yet ready to give. However, if you find that your campaign is petering out, ending it early can benefit your nonprofit by giving your team a chance to start preparing for your next campaign, this time equipped with the knowledge gained during your most recent one.

Similarly, if you extend your fundraising deadline, you may lose valuable time you could be spending preparing for your next major fundraising campaign.

On the other hand, if your campaign is in full swing when the deadline rolls by, why end it arbitrarily? As long as you have fundraising momentum, your nonprofit may as well keep it going.

Pay close attention to your fundraising progress during the campaign to make the best decision for your organization.

The Key to Capital Campaign Success: Working With a Fundraising Consultant

A capital campaign is a big undertaking for any nonprofit organization and requires extensive collaboration and planning. Without the proper support and preparation, your organization may face challenges in meeting your campaign goals. That’s why partnering with a fundraising consultant is a best practice.

Why You Should Work With an Expert

Because the preparation for a capital campaign is so important for its success, you don’t want to cut any corners. Additionally, planning and feasibility studies essentially require an outside expert perspective, making them difficult to accomplish internally. It’s crucial that your planning and feasibility study provide you with accurate, unbiased results so that you can move forward with confidence or know what to improve before launching your campaign.

An expert not only has the experience to help you properly prepare for your campaign, but they also have the resources and outside perspective to give you the most accurate results possible. Beyond helping you determine your internal readiness to take on a capital campaign, a fundraising consultant partner may also provide fundraising counsel, strategic direction, or institutional capacity building. A top-notch fundraising consulting firm, like Averill Fundraising Solutions, can offer all of these key services.

Averill Fundraising Solutions: The Top Choice For Your Capital Campaign Consulting Needs

This is a screenshot of the Averill Fundraising Solutions homepage.

Averill Fundraising Solutions is a full-service fundraising consulting firm whose leaders and partners have more than 120 years of combined experience. Our flexible model follows industry-leading best practices to meet your needs while maximizing your return on investment. We’ve helped raise over $3,500,000,000 for nonprofits in every sector: faith-based institutions, educational organizations, healthcare nonprofits, and human service organizations.

In addition to capital campaign services, we offer additional services your organization can tap into as the need arises:

  • Annual Fund Direction
  • Embedded Staffing
  • Leadership Learning
  • Strategic Planning
  • Executive Search

If your nonprofit is looking for a true partner in fundraising that has years of experience under its belt, consider Averill Fundraising Solutions for your next capital campaign.

Capital campaigns are a lot of work, but they’re also fantastic opportunities to grow your organization’s capacity and strengthen relationships with your supporters. Use this guide to get a strong start to your campaign and remember, a fundraising consultant will be critical for unlocking campaign success!

Want to learn more about capital campaigns or fundraising? Check out these resources:

Click through to learn how Averill Solutions' fundraising consultants can help you reach capital campaign success!

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