Need to construct a new building, update a program facility, or fund an endowment for your organization? You can achieve any of these large projects by launching a capital campaign.
Capital campaigns are large-scale fundraisers carried out over a set time period (usually several years) to bring in a large amount of money for a major project. Because of their scale, capital campaigns are significant undertakings for nonprofits and take more than your typical fundraising strategies to be successful.
While a lot goes into planning a capital campaign, you can set your nonprofit up for success by making a few key preparations:
- Get your capital campaign team on board
- Perform a feasibility study
- Communicate early with major donors
We’ll explore why each of these preparations is important and how you can get started. Knowing these basics will help you feel more confident in finding success with your next capital campaign. Let’s dive in!
1. Get your capital campaign team on board
If your nonprofit has never launched a capital campaign before, you might feel overwhelmed by the all-hands-on-deck effort it takes to pull one off. However, you can alleviate your fears early on just by knowing who all the key players are and how to get them on board.
Internally, most organizations need to get the following team members on board to get their campaigns off the ground:
- Nonprofit Board: It’s crucial to secure the full support of your board before moving forward with a capital campaign. They must approve all major strategic decisions and will be instrumental in helping you secure the major donations that will allow you to reach your funding goal.
- Campaign Chair and Committee Members: Your capital campaign chair and committee members will most likely be select board members. This campaign chair, along with the planning and steering committees they oversee, will take the lead on the campaign. They’ll advocate for your organization in the community and monitor your campaign’s progress until the end.
- Volunteers: Especially for smaller nonprofits, your volunteers will be a valuable resource to tap into during your campaign. Well in advance, start strengthening your volunteer program and providing them with campaign-specific training.
Along with these existing team members, it’s crucial to bring in an outside fundraising consultant to guide your capital campaign team. These experts can help you design your capital campaign strategy, conduct a feasibility study, execute prospect research, and course-correct your campaign once it’s underway.
Donorly’s guide to hiring a fundraising consultant walks you through the steps needed to find the right consultant, beginning with defining the services you need. Consider your existing team’s strengths and weaknesses and where a consultant could jump in to fill the gaps.
2. Perform a feasibility study
Feasibility studies are formal assessments conducted by a fundraising consultant that give your organization an idea of how ready you are for a capital campaign. While it isn’t always necessary to perform a full feasibility study before moving forward, especially for smaller nonprofits, performing some type of assessment of your donor base and readiness can help you prepare.
But what exactly goes into a feasibility study? Your consultant will typically follow these four steps to evaluate your readiness:
- Identify key supporters. To carry out a successful capital campaign, you’ll need the backing of key supporters like major donors, board members, business owners, and community leaders. Start identifying potential key supporters through prospect research using tools like your CRM, government records, and prospect generator tools.
- Develop a case for support. NXUnite defines a case for support (or case statement) as a persuasive document in which you articulate your campaign’s core message, goals, and reasons 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 anonymous interviews with your key supporters to gauge their perception of your campaign and how they might be able to contribute. 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 you have your fundraising consultant’s final written report, you’ll have a better idea of how ready your organization is for a capital campaign. If the report finds any major roadblocks, use insights gained from the study to make the necessary changes to prepare for a future campaign.
If the results of the study indicate that you have enough support to move forward, congratulations! You’re ready to move on to the planning phase of your capital campaign. As you move forward, your fundraising consultant will continue to be an important resource for designing your campaign strategy and keeping your progress on track.
3. Communicate early with major donors
Your organization’s major donors play a key role in your capital campaign success, whether they’re giving a major gift, promoting your crowdfunding campaign, or connecting you with people in their personal networks who might be interested in donating. Plus, a capital campaign is an opportunity to build deeper relationships with your major donors that can support you well into the future.
Take a proactive approach to your major donor relationships by prioritizing them early and at every phase of your campaign. There are a variety of ways you can engage major donors at each of these main phases:
- Planning Phase: Let your major donors know early on in the planning process that you’re thinking about conducting a capital campaign. This can prepare them for the feasibility study interview process and give them time to decide if they can contribute an additional major gift on top of their annual gift.
- Quiet Phase: Your campaign’s quiet phase, which takes place after the campaign starts but before you announce it to the wider public, should focus solely on finding and stewarding major donors. Take time to develop relationships, solicit donations, and offer multiple ways to get involved in the campaign.
- Kick-Off: Give major donors the chance to be involved in your kick-off event when you launch the campaign publicly. Some of your major donors may want to play a bigger role than just writing a check, and this is a great opportunity to do so.
- Public Phase: Once you’ve launched your campaign, make sure you’re communicating with your major donors often, beyond asking for donations. Provide them with frequent updates on your progress and timeline to keep your campaign top-of-mind.
- Completion & Follow-up: When your campaign closes, it’s crucial to have a thorough donor appreciation strategy for your major donors. Small efforts to show major donors that you appreciate all of the ways they’re helping you reach your goals will strengthen your relationships.
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 and will require extra work from everyone involved in your organization. But by making these key preparations, nonprofits of any size can set themselves up for a successful capital campaign!