A capital campaign is a large-scale fundraising campaign that a nonprofit carries out over a set time period (usually several years) in order to bring in a large amount of money. This money is typically used to secure new equipment or construct a new facility, but is sometimes used for other purposes such as building an endowment or growing a nonprofit’s team.
Because of their scale, capital campaigns are major undertakings for nonprofits. If your organization is planning on starting a capital campaign, your team will have to take inspiration from your typical fundraising practices and design a special, super-charged strategy that can carry you through the months or years ahead.
There’s no doubt that capital campaign planning is difficult, and there are a lot of things your team can start doing to prepare. But one of the most effective ways to get ready for a capital campaign (even if you’ve conducted one before) is to get familiar with common capital campaign mistakes.
In this post, we’ll walk you through three mistakes you should avoid in order for your next capital campaign to be successful. Knowing these “don’ts” will help you have a leg up on the “dos.” Let’s begin!
Mistake #1: Not assembling the right team
A more typical, “every day” fundraising effort might involve individual teams or staff members taking on most of the responsibility for successfully designing and carrying out the campaign. However, a capital campaign requires an all-hands-on-deck effort and a much more formal team organization and setup.
In fact, some nonprofits have to hire temporary staff members or consultants to help fill out the gaps in their teams ahead of a capital campaign. Work with your team and board early on in the planning phase of your capital campaign to determine if you’ll need to do this.
So, who are the people you’ll need on your side to avoid this common capital campaign pitfall? Most organizations will need the following team members to get their campaigns off the ground:
- Campaign Chair and Committee Members. The campaign chair and the planning and steering committees they oversee will take the lead on the campaign, advocating for your organization in the community and monitoring your campaign’s progress until the end.
- Nonprofit Board. Moving forward with a capital campaign without the support of your board is impossible. They must approve all major strategic decisions and will be instrumental in helping you secure major donations that will help you reach your funding goal.
- Volunteers. Especially for smaller nonprofits, your volunteers will be a valuable resource to tap into during your campaign. Well in advance of your campaign, start strengthening your volunteer program and providing campaign-specific training to your volunteers.
- Fundraising Consultant. A fundraising consultant is a third-party expert who can help you design your capital campaign strategy, conduct a feasibility study, execute prospect research, and course-correct your campaign once it’s underway. According to Donorly’s guide to hiring a fundraising consultant, before reaching out to potential consultants, you’ll need to work with your board to determine what specific services you need and the budget you have to work with.
Though it will be critical to have people with the right expertise and skills on your capital campaign team, one of the most important things you can do to assemble the right team is to make sure everyone is excited about your campaign. If your team truly believes in your cause and is invested in reaching your goal, your campaign will be more likely to succeed.
Mistake #2: Skipping a feasibility study
Feasibility studies are absolutely critical to the capital campaign planning process. Why? Because a feasibility study gives your organization an idea of whether or not you’re ready for a capital campaign. Regardless, your organization can use the information from a feasibility study to prepare for a capital campaign — whether it’s something you end up taking on now or in the near future.
Clearly, embarking on a capital campaign without completing a feasibility study is reckless. But what goes into a feasibility study, and how do you know what direction to take after you get the results?
To answer these questions, let’s take a closer look at the five steps of conducting one of these studies:
- Work with a fundraising consultant. Many organizations don’t have the capacity, experience, or tools to carry out a thorough feasibility study. That’s why working with a fundraising consultant can be so helpful in this stage. They can help you with prospect research, conducting interviews, and determining the next steps after the study is over.
- Identify key supporters. To carry out a truly successful capital campaign, you’ll need the backing of key supporters like major donors, board members, business owners, and community leaders. As part of the feasibility study process, you can start identifying these key supporters through prospect research. A fundraising consultant can help you with this and will know how to effectively leverage prospect research tools like your organization’s CRM, government records, and prospect generator tools.
- Develop a case for support. A case for support (or case statement) is a persuasive document in which you articulate your goals for your capital campaign and why your supporters should back it. You’ll pass this document along to your key supporters before the interview process and can also use it later during the public phase of the campaign.
- Conduct interviews and data analysis. During this portion of the feasibility study, your fundraising consultant will conduct interviews with your key supporters, gauging their perception of your organization and campaign, and looking at how they might be able to contribute to your campaign. From there, your consultant will analyze what they’ve learned about your donors through prospect research and interviews.
- Evaluate results and determine whether your organization is ready for a capital campaign. Once your organization has your fundraising consultant’s final written report, you’ll be able to see whether your organization is ready for a capital campaign or not. During this step, it’s important to keep an open mind, no matter the results — just because your organization isn’t quite ready for a capital campaign, for example, doesn’t mean that you can’t get to that point with a little work!
If your organization gets a green light to move forward, it’s time to continue with the planning phase of your capital campaign. After working closely with your fundraising consultant on your feasibility study, note that they will be an important resource as you move forward and begin designing your campaign strategy.
Mistake #3: Neglecting major donor relationships and gifts
It’s easy to get caught up in the many moving pieces of a capital campaign. As a result, some organizations fail to prioritize their major donor relationships, which can not only hinder their success but can also damage these important relationships.
Don’t fall into this trap! Your organization’s major donors will play a key role in your capital campaign success, whether they’re giving a major gift of their own, promoting your crowdfunding campaign, or connecting you with people in their personal networks that might be interested in contributing to your campaign in some way. Plus, you want your major donors to still be connected to your organization long after your capital campaign is over.
This means you’ll need to take a proactive approach to your major donor relationships, prioritizing them throughout your campaign. Here are three tips for doing so:
- Communicate early and often. Let your donors know early on in the planning process that you’re thinking about conducting a capital campaign. This can help prepare them for the feasibility study interview process, and could even help you gather valuable initial insight into their opinions about your organization or campaign. Once you’ve launched your campaign, make sure you’re communicating with your donors often, and not just asking for donations.
- Give your major donors multiple options for getting involved. Some of your major donors may want to play a bigger role in your campaign than just writing a check. For example, they may want to lead a team of volunteers or help you plan a kick-off event. Or, they may be looking for creative ways to increase their contributions. One option for doing so is leveraging matching gifts. According to Double the Donation’s guide to corporate matching gift programs, taking advantage of their matching gift eligibility “[allows] your donors to maximize the impact of their donation, but without having to reach back into their wallets to do so.”
- Say thank you. A little gratitude can go a long way, especially during a capital campaign. Make sure you have a thorough donor thank-you strategy to turn to throughout your campaign. Whether that means enlisting your volunteers to write thank-you notes or gathering your staff to make thank-you videos, small efforts to show your major donors that you appreciate all of the ways they’re helping you reach your goals will pay off as you strengthen your relationships with them and encourage further involvement.
It’s important for your nonprofit to take major donor relationships seriously at all times, but during a capital campaign, you’ll need to boost your usual efforts. Pay attention to your donors’ needs for communication and involvement, and do your best to personalize their experience. You’ll be glad you did later when you’re celebrating the success of your campaign together!
Capital campaigns are unlike any other type of fundraising campaign. They’re challenging for nonprofits of any size and will require the full involvement of all of your staff, board members, volunteers, and donors to be truly successful. By being aware of these common capital campaign mistakes, you can sidestep roadblocks and reach your goals faster. Good luck with your capital campaign — and remember, you can do this!