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Planning a major fundraising campaign, whether a capital campaign or your year-end giving campaign, can be an overwhelming process.

From setting goals to thoroughly examining your current fundraising processes, planning for one of these campaigns takes time and careful consideration. And, that’s before considering what’s trending in fundraising, which could certainly affect your strategy.

If you break this preparation down into a few steps, it becomes significantly more manageable. Following these steps will give you a solid start to your next campaign:
major fundraising campaign guide - marathon runners

1. List out Your Goals

Before you begin planning your major fundraising campaign, you need to outline what you want to achieve through it.

Are you planning a capital campaign in order to address a specific set of needs related to your mission? Are you planning your end-of-year fundraising push and hoping to surpass donations from the year before? Is this your first major fundraising campaign and an opportunity to activate your supporters around a shared goal?

In addition to knowing why you’re fundraising, it helps to know how much you’d like to raise and the timeline for doing so. Include your budget for actually raising the money, and be sure to consult with your board on all points.

With your general goals in hand, proceed to the next step, which is hiring a fundraising consultant. Your consultant will help you further refine campaign goals at a later step, but for now, you just need a general idea to get started.

Also read: Where to Look for Fundraiser Professional Support

2. Should You Hire a Fundraising Consultant?

Once you’ve outlined your goals, consider whether hiring a fundraising consultant could help in the process.

Ask yourself these two questions:

Where does your organization actually need support?

Are you prepared to accept support from an outside source?

Involve your board and development committee in these early planning stages, before actually finding a consultant, to make sure you have permission to seek outside help.

After answering these questions and obtaining the go-ahead from your board, identify which particular consulting services would best serve your organization’s specific pain points and begin your search.

Ask your network of nonprofit peers for recommendations and check with professional organizations, foundations and other nonprofit hubs for suggestions. It’s important to find a reputable consultant whose approach aligns well with your organization’s culture, as you’ll be building a relationship that could last long after the campaign ends.

Ask yourself the following questions when evaluating consulting firms:

  • Does the consultant have experience with similar projects or organizations?
  • Are they recommended for being collaborative? How about organized?
  • Do they have an interest in your cause and specific organization?
  • Are they direct and respectful in answering questions?
  • Can they point you to references from previous work?

Once you’ve found a fundraising consultant that seems like a good fit, request a proposal for services. This document should reflect any conversations you’ve had with the consultant and include their recommendations for services and fees.

Ask the consultant to present the proposal to you (and your board, if needed) so you can ask questions and make constructive changes. Successful campaigns require collaborative partnership between organizational leaders and consultants, working toward a shared vision.

For more information, check out Aly Sterling Philanthropy’s  guide to hiring a fundraising consultant.

3. Review the Success of Your Past Strategy

Before you get too far into planning your major fundraiser, evaluate your current and past strategies for what worked and what didn’t.

You may find that your organization never actually developed a defined fundraising strategy, or that you’ve outgrown the one you developed a few years ago.

One way to evaluate this is by examining your past donor data, specifically a few metrics that you’ve probably been gathering for a while, such as:

  • Donor retention rate
  • Event and campaign participation
  • Email open and response rates
  • Fundraising goal achievements


If you’ve created a process of gathering and storing this data in your nonprofit CRM system, pulling this data for analysis should be a fairly easy process. Examining this data can reveal trends in your past fundraising efforts, such as regularly surpassed fundraising goals (time to reach higher) or an extremely low retention rate (time to re-evaluate your donor communications strategy).

The fundraising consultant you hired in the previous step can provide a new perspective in evaluating this data. Armed with the experience they have working with other nonprofits, and lacking the bias you may have when looking at this data, a consultant can provide a fresh perspective.

Also read: Fundraising Donation Request Letters: A Writing Guide

4. Refine Your Fundraising Goals

When we’re talking about major fundraising initiatives like capital campaigns, it’s now time to begin refining your fundraising goals by conducting a feasibility study. As an objective third-party, a fundraising consultant would be a critical partner in this effort.

Feasibility studies involve one-on-one interviews with your key stakeholders to determine how receptive they are to your proposed project and fundraising goal. This feedback, paired with data analysis, will help your organization solidify a project and fundraising goal that balances both realism and hopes for growth.

You can then use all of this information to make a gift range chart. This chart shows how many donors you need at different gift levels to reach your overall goal.

You’ll realize that you need more small gift donors to equate to a few major gift donors. You may want to develop a strategy that puts extra energy into stewarding these major donors, alongside your smaller gift donors, so you can solicit fewer donations overall.

5. Craft a Confident Case for Support

Your case for support is messaging that can be used across mediums and channels to define who you are as an organization and what your purpose is in doing the work you’re doing. It should outline a clear vision for your nonprofit’s future work and how your desired financial goals will be used to achieve that.

Your case for support is your elevator speech for what you do and why, and why people should support you. It can be printed as a brochure or booklet, added to your website, shared on social media and even integrated into speeches.

There is some required information:

  • What is your organization’s general mission?
  • Why is your mission needed?
  • What actions do you take to achieve that mission?
  • Why is the campaign needed? What will it result in?
  • How much are you looking to raise via the campaign?
  • What will these donations go to, specifically?


You’ll want to clearly, confidently convey this information to donors. A strong case for support is a vital resource for staff and volunteers to reference when advocating for your nonprofit.

Also read: 6 Tricks to Find the Right Donor Prospects for Your Cause

6. Create a Plan of Action

Now, armed with all of your facts and resources, it’s time to create your plan of action.

This plan will outline the steps you will take toward achieving your goals, and it’s absolutely vital that everyone in your organization is in lockstep. Here is what you can do to promote understanding of the campaign and create consistency across the organization:

– Determine and quantify what fundraising activities you will pursue.

There are a few different fundraising activities you can pursue, from major gift solicitation to corporate philanthropy-based sponsorships.

Remember that the majority of your donations (80%) will come from major donors (the top 12%). So, even if you’re using trending digital fundraising techniques, you’ll want to cultivate a strong strategy for stewarding major donors. A fundraising consultant can help you facilitate these relationship-building conversations.

– Create a fundraising calendar.

Schedule every fundraising activity your organization chooses to pursue in a comprehensive fundraising calendar to avoid any overlap. In addition, this helps you to stay on track with your fundraising activities, including regular donor communication.

– Outline clear internal processes.

If your staff isn’t working together efficiently, it will be incredibly difficult to reach your fundraising goals.

Outline processes for delegation, internal communications, timeline maintenance and staff incentivization. This ensures everyone involved is doing so enthusiastically and with all the needed information.

Planning a major fundraising campaign can be overwhelming, but breaking the process into a few digestible steps can make it significantly more manageable.


With this guide, you’ll have everything you need to get started planning a successful major fundraising campaign. After completing these six steps, you’ll be ready to fundraise!


About the Author:

Long before Aly Sterling founded her eponymous consulting firm, she was solving the unique yet similar problems encountered by nonprofit organizations.

Her decision to start her own business in 2007 was driven by her belief in leadership as the single most important factor in organizational success, and her determination to work with multiple causes at one time to scale societal change.

Aly’s expertise includes fundraising, strategic planning, search consultation and board leadership development for the well-positioned nonprofit. She is regularly sought for comment by trade and mainstream media, including the Chronicle of Philanthropy and U.S. News & World Report. She has contributed to publications of BoardSource and The Governance Institute, as well as the Toledo Chamber of Commerce and The Giving Institute.

For more information visit alysterling.com.

Aly Sterling

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