June 12, 2021 | Categories DonorPerfect Fundraising Software, Featured, Fundraising Strategies, Nonprofit Technology

How to Launch a Successful Capital Campaign

How to Launch a Successful Capital Campaign

This article is contributed by Robin L. Cabral, MA, CFRE and founder of Development Consulting Services.

Before you dive headfirst into your next capital campaign, there are some basics to consider. You can’t just flop something together and hope for the best.

Capital campaigns are the science behind fund development. They take strategic thinking and planning, or what I like to call, “getting your ducks in a row.” 

6 Questions to Ask When Planning a Capital Campaign

To ensure a successful capital campaign, start by taking an in-depth look at your organization and consider these questions carefully: 

#1. What is the expertise level of your current staff? Should you consider bringing in outside campaign counsel to oversee the effort (highly recommended, of course)?

#2. Do you have an existing pool of loyal donors? Major donors? Prospective donors?

#3. What relationship-building strategies have you engaged in with your current donors?

#4. Do you have a clearly outlined case for support document highlighting a substantial community need?

#5. Do similar services or projects exist in the community, and, if so, how is yours different?

#6. Do you have these five fundamental structures in place? 

  • A donor management CRM
  • A cleaned-up and segmented database
  • Acknowledgment and pledge receipting process
  • Finance and bookkeeping systems
  • Overall campaign management supports

This list of questions illustrates the types of systems and processes that need to be ready to start a significant capital campaign. You can be sure of one thing: failure to plan will ensure failure to succeed. 

Are you wondering where to begin? 

No worries! I’ll walk you through the whole process, step by step.

  1. Conduct a Feasibility Study
  2. Put Together these Critical Capital Campaign Components
  3. Appoint a Solid Capital Campaign Steering Committee

Step 1: Conduct a Feasibility Study

You should not skimp on a feasibility study as a vital first step. The feasibility study is akin to a “readiness test” for your capital campaign. 

Once completed, you will:

  • Understand internal & external perceptions of your organization
  • Understand your key opportunities & biggest challenges
  • Find your potential campaign leadership
  • Know whether to refine your case for support

The feasibility study also provides you with an outline for the campaign plan and helps to determine the fundraising goal. With this crucial step complete, your organization will know whether you can make a go of it — as well as why or why not.

While a feasibility study is often best conducted by an outside, objective consultant, the following steps will serve to guide that process internally within the organization.

Here is the internal process that I recommend:

  • A consultant should be retained to guide the process and to ensure the objectivity and the confidentiality of the interview process.
  • Organizational leadership must embrace the process. If leaders are not passionate about the project, others will sense their hesitation.
  • The process is linked to a credible budget to be funded, wholly or in part, through philanthropy.
  • Leadership must be pre-sold before the study goes to the community.
  • Leadership must participate in identifying the study sample, so the leaders own the results of the study.
  • Prospective study participants must be invited to participate by a person of clout.
  • A consultant should conduct confidential interviews.
  • The feasibility study report should be reviewed by the leadership before shared with others.
  • All leaders should receive the summary findings in a workshop or retreat dedicated to the study.
  • Leadership must act with dispatch, whether they like the study results or not. A revised budget, plan, or pace may be the result of a study.
  • All persons invited to be interviewed must receive a copy of the executive summary of the study, whether they agreed to be interviewed or not.

Step 2: Put Together these Critical Capital Campaign Components

The capital campaign planning committee develops the campaign plan, or the steps leading up to the kickoff event. 

What goes into the capital campaign plan? You’ll need a strong case for support or document that outlines your organization’s need for philanthropic support. This Case for Support is the guiding document that serves as the key messaging for campaign need. Your Case for Support should include:

  • A campaign budget that outlines all avenues of campaign revenue including contributions and expenses towards the capital project
  • A workable goal and gift chart or table of gifts that describes the projected sequence of prospects and donors needed to reach a campaign goal
  • A campaign structure with giving levels and naming opportunities tied to the gift chart or table of gifts outlined above must inspire a donor to give at higher levels. Named gift opportunities are often created based on their “wow” impact and not solely on position or size
  • Campaign timetable/schedule that outlines the sequence of giving needed to reach a campaign goal without losing momentum (The campaign plan must delineate each phase and its timing. Phases consist of the pre-campaign, planning, lead gift, major gifts, community gifts, and follow-up)
  • Campaign policies that outline the acceptable campaign gifts and their parameters (Gift policies help to determine what contributions count towards the campaign and when. They also help to define acceptable and non-acceptable gifts.)
  • A campaign communications plan that will outline how all campaign communications will happen according to the campaign timeline
  • Campaign steering committee identification and recruitment (The campaign steering committee is the group who will be directly responsible for overseeing the campaign plan implementation and making some of the more significant asks for the project.)
  • Training for the board and others on their role within a capital campaign that will outline the expectations and responsibilities of the Board of Directors in regards to the before, during, and post-campaign timeline

Strong campaign leadership, a compelling case for support, and a workable gift chart will make all the difference between capital campaign fundraising success and failure.

Also, you’ll need a budget and messaging about the campaign, whether on social media or via newsletter. You’ll also want to have a well-defined campaign period, with a kickoff event and a campaign closing date. 

Last but certainly not least, don’t forget about donor recognition!

Step 3: Appoint a Solid Capital Campaign Steering Committee

As I mentioned above, strong campaign leadership is an absolute must! The members of the steering committee must be invested to run the campaign effort itself. They should follow the developed campaign plan, the backbone of the campaign. Your campaign may flounder without this crucial group.

The members of the steering committee are the folks who can leverage their networks and open doors for you. They are the askers. They conduct solicitations. The steering committee can also help to feed the board pipeline, soliciting energetic new members to keep things moving forward after the campaign is over. 

You may want to consider people of such stature that they can lend their name to the success of the campaign or serve as the campaign spokesperson. These individuals should have connections, status, and capacity to be able to “open doors” to other prospects and donors to make a significant financial gift of their own to support the campaign, host campaign events, and recruit other leaders.

Plan Well, and You’ll Love Your Results

Not all boards and development staff realize what it takes to pull off a fabulous capital campaign. Fundraisers can’t just “swoop in and create money,” and they certainly can’t begin to do it in the timeframe that a capital campaign demands. 

However, if your feasibility study encourages moving ahead, carefully map out a plan and put a stellar steering committee in place to run the show, as we discussed. By carefully preparing for your capital campaign, you’ll raise more money than you thought possible through a more significant structure and effectiveness. 

Robin Cabral
Development Consulting Solutions – Robin L. Cabral, MA, CFRE is the one and only outsourced development professional providing value-added interim development staffing and consulting services with razor-sharp monthly result objectives and benchmarked deliverables.

With her over 25 years of experience, she has raised millions of dollars for small to mid-sized organizations.

Her hands-on results-driven approach to raising money comes directly from both her experience assisting worldwide, national and local organizations and her cutting-edge Master of Arts degree in Philanthropy and Fund Development from Saint Mary’s of Minnesota.

Robin is also an AFP International Master Faculty Trainer and presents nationally and online.

She works with nonprofits that want to position themselves to build capacity and generate MORE fundraising prospects, BETTER donor relationships, and BIGGER fundraising dollars.

She is the leader in providing outsourced Nonprofit Fundraising Development Services, interim development services, and coaching and assisting smaller organizations in their first campaigns; annual, capital, and endowments.

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