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Creative Fundraising Advisors’ Capital Campaign Planning Guide

By: CFA

Many nonprofit organizations are conducting capital campaign planning or campaigns as they look beyond the global pandemic. Donors are ready to re-engage, show up at events, and share their resources with the non-profits they love and who are making a difference. Capital campaigns have the potential to infuse millions of dollars into helping people in the communities where the organization operates.

Are you a major gifts officer considering a large fundraising effort but you’re not sure how or when to start? Are you a board member and your favorite social cause doesn’t seem quite ready to launch a planned capital campaign? If you’re wondering how to set the organization up for philanthropic success, we’re here to help. 

We have assembled a short guide on capital campaigns to help you understand basic concepts and key steps toward implementation. We’ve even included a few best practices to help you envision what your organization may be able to accomplish. 

What is a Capital Campaign?

A capital campaign is an intensive, organized fundraising effort to secure philanthropic dollars for a specific purpose within a defined period. Capital campaigns are separate from annual operating appeals, major gift campaigns, and endowment or planned giving campaigns. 

A successful capital campaign can transform your organization and help you significantly impact the people and communities you serve. While capital campaigns are typically comprised of a mix of individual, foundation, and corporate donors, according to Giving USA, more than three-quarters of dollars donated in 2020 came from individuals and bequests.

Types and Benefits of Capital Campaigns

There are three main types of capital campaigns.

Capital – Capital campaigns are launched to fund an organization’s vision with new buildings and construction and may also include major facility renovation or expansion, technology upgrades, and other infrastructure improvements.

Capital and Endowment – Capital campaigns can include an endowment portion designed to help fund the operations of the new building or project. Endowment funding establishes or increases an organization’s endowment to create a regular annual disbursement for operating or a specific purpose.

Comprehensive – Along with Capital and Endowment components, a comprehensive campaign also grows the organization’s annual support and includes every dollar of contributed income raised over a period of time.

Capital Campaign Benefits

There are many benefits to capital campaigns.

Transformation. Allows the organization to improve or change in such a way that it delivers its mission more effectively and efficiently.

Dollars. Increases the number of investments that donors make and potentially expands the base of your donor community.

Engagement. Engages your Board and volunteers in a deeper way through a short-term but intensive effort.

Teamwork. Contributes to organizational unity when the development team is aligned on a singular effort.

Brevity. Advances long-term goals in a shorter period than without a coordinated campaign.

Knowledge. Provides financial development and management training for staff, leaders, and volunteers.

Awareness. Raises awareness of the organization within its community and allows donors to learn more about the organization.

Already know you are ready to tackle your own Capital Campaign? We’d love to connect. Contact us today.

Types of Nonprofits That Conduct Capital Campaigns

Any nonprofit can launch a capital campaign with the required staff and resources. 

According to Giving USA, nonprofits received a combined $471 billion in charitable dollars in 2020, with “religion” bringing in the highest share at 28 percent, followed by “human services” and “public-society benefit” with a combined 24 percent.

capital campaign planning 2020 contributions chart by recipient

Capital Campaign Phases

Many fundraisers might suggest that a capital campaign has two phases: quiet or flooring phase and a public or external phase. It’s important not to forget the pre-work and planning tasks that must go into setting your organization up for success.

Feasibility Study. This initial phase is when you determine if your fundraising goals are realistic and if the organization has the internal capacity to launch and manage a campaign. Feasibility Study Article.

Planning. This phase is where you determine an internal budget with fundraising costs, set your financial fundraising goals, develop your Case for Support and related materials, recruit enthusiastic leaders including a chair or co-chairs, and put a schedule in place for Board approval and a campaign launch.

The “Quiet” Phase. This is the early phase of active solicitations when leadership donors and the Board are solicited and you attempt to raise a percentage of the overall goal before promoting the effort to a wider audience. Typically, an organization will look to raise 75-90 percent of the goal during this early phase, but circumstances impact this decision, and opinions on this subject vary. Increasingly, organizations are skipping this traditional quiet phase and opting to be more transparent about how much they have raised in the early phase of the campaign. When you go public with your campaign has a lot to do with your organization’s fundraising history and your standing in the community.

The Public Phase. This final phase is when your organization is ready to share campaign news with the widest possible audience. This phase is designed to broaden the campaign’s donor base and often garners smaller contributions as well as public attention. Your organization may wish to create a public relations effort and an event to announce the campaign publicly.

Necessary Components of Launching a Capital Campaign

The Big Idea. The better you can express why and how the effort will impact your constituents in a compelling narrative or slide deck, the more successful your campaign will be.

Campaign Goal. Even if your organization’s goal is a “sky-high” wish list, it is imperative that you outline what you hope to raise and what components make up the goal.

Prospects. Successful campaigns often see between five to 10 percent of their donors pledge 90–95 percent of the campaign goal. Review your top 100 prospects early—and consider a donor capacity screening and analysis—to determine if you think this is a possibility for your organization. Donor Data Strategies Article.

Leadership. It’s vital that your organization has a strong development function in place, and important that you have confidence that volunteer leadership from your Board and/or development committee will step forward to give and help raise funds.

Timeline and Plan. Plan for four to six months for a consultant to conduct a feasibility and readiness study and an additional six months for the planning stage. The capital campaign solicitation phase can take three to five years.

Hiring a Fundraising Advisor for your Capital Campaign 

Consultants bring the added benefit of external perspective, previous experience, and new ideas. Finding the right fundraising advisor to walk with you through a campaign from the feasibility and planning stages to the public launch cannot be overstated. What should you look for when interviewing consulting firms?

Expertise. Experience is key, and so is a consulting partner who has their finger on the pulse of what is happening in philanthropy today.

Chemistry. Make sure you enjoy working with the consultant and their team. The right chemistry allows campaign leadership to build much-needed trust.

Social change. Ensure your consultant’s stance on social impact, including diversity, equity, and inclusion practices, matches up with your organization.

Expectations. Many factors can impact the timeline during a campaign, so it’s especially important to ensure everyone’s expectations concerning who is responsible for which tasks are clear.

Capital Campaign Checklist

Some of the highlights for planning and conducting your campaign are below.

  1. Development Assessment. This is an objective review of your internal development program whereby an impartial consultant assesses the readiness of staff to take your organization to the next level. 
  2. Donor capacity and affinity analysis. Part of determining the capacity of each prospect is through research and wealth screening. This typically involves contracting with an external company to compare your donor information with data found across charitable giving and wealth databases
  3. The Case for Support. The case for support is where your organization lays out the most compelling components of the campaign vision to appeal to the hearts and minds of your prospects. 
  4. Feasibility Study. A study is critical to flesh out the necessary components for a capital campaign and is the only way to truly determine when and if your nonprofit will be able to raise funds to support its “blue sky” wish list. Feasibility Study Article.
  5. Internal Capital Campaign Budget. Careful budget planning is critical for launching and operating a capital campaign. Internal capital campaign costs of less than 15 percent of the goal are considered acceptable to most donors; less than 10 percent is considered very efficient. Donor Data Strategies.
  6. Campaign Committee. Identify and recruit a capital campaign chair or co-chairs and ask them to help recruit and build out a group of enthusiastic people for the committee. 
  7. Campaign Strategy. Overall campaign strategy is comprised of a goal, plan, metrics, and timeline.
  8. Solicitation and Tracking. There are many software platforms and organizational methods to choose from when it comes to tracking the status of solicitations, stewardship, and fundraising cultivation of your donors, which is essential for long-term relationships with your supporters. 
  9. Acknowledgment. No donor can be thanked promptly or often enough, and every gift deserves proper acknowledgment within the campaign. 

Capital Campaign Best Practices

Below are a number of best practices for planning and launching a successful capital campaign. 

Strategic Plan. Your nonprofit must know its goals and objectives for the future. A Board-approved three-or-five-year strategic plan will give your organization a roadmap for how aggressive your fundraising targets need to be to meet your goals and objectives.

Brand identity. Creating a thoughtful, well-developed brand for the organization is a key step in getting campaign-ready. The campaign will have its own slogan and theme with images, typeface, and wording, so it’s important to have a solid brand identity to lean on and into.

Board support. There is a current trend where fewer campaigns are following the traditional practice whereby every Board member makes a lead financial contribution in appreciation for Board members who bring other resources and strengths to the table and may not have the capacity to give. Your organization must set the bar for how you expect the Board to participate from the start, but it goes without saying that 100% participation sends a strong message to other potential funders that the Board is seriously committed to the campaign.

Gratitude and Communications. Sharing campaign news with your donor base keeps donors excited and involved. A gift acknowledgment will be sent out for each donation, but you can add an extra touchpoint with your donors by crafting a regular campaign newsletter or sending coordinated email messages when your campaign achieves a major milestone.

Named Gifts. Giving donors the opportunity to have their name on a building, room, or donor wall allows them to feel valued and can also signal the importance of leading gifts to others.

Stewardship. A well-stewarded gift is your next gift. It’s important to have a thoughtful stewardship plan in place to ensure every donor knows the impact of their gift, which in turn sets you up for success when asking for the next gift.

Are you ready for your next Capital Campaign?

If your organization is ready to tackle the steps above in planning for a capital campaign, and you are interested in partnering with a campaign counselor who can provide tailored solutions that drive positive results, please contact Creative Fundraising Advisors. Our objective is to set your organization up to achieve capital campaign results. We would enjoy hearing from you.