Capital Campaigns for Nonprofits: 3 Best Practices You Need to Know

Courtney Chatterton

Capital campaigns are daunting. Often, there can be six figures — or more — attached to an overarching goal. For some campaigns, physical accomplishments. such as a building or renovation, are often the end goal.

On the other hand, if you find your nonprofit struggling most with interest on loan or mortgage, a capital campaign could be a great way to get you out of the red. You may even choose to provide an endowment fund for the next generation of constituents. 

This can all be pretty overwhelming for any nonprofit, which is why we’ve rounded up three best practices for preparing and executing a successful capital campaign. No matter the type of campaign, these best practices can help you. 

1. Do your research

Many aspects of a capital campaign need to be taken into careful consideration when planning. Feasibility, timing, goal setting, and donor analysis all play a large role in carving out a worthwhile campaign.

Before diving in, make sure you ask the following questions.

Is the campaign feasible?

Conducting a feasibility study will help you begin to understand what your organization is capable of fundraising, as well as determining where your pain points might be.

Like all fundraising, you need to be sure that your nonprofit has the infrastructure to handle a long-term project like a capital campaign.

If your staff alone cannot lead the campaign, consider selecting a board of constituents to help spearhead the fundraising efforts. Make sure that they are invested in the long-term plan and can dedicate enough time for meetings, though!

Is the timing right?

However, if you have a firm footing – or you’ve been in the game for a while, it could be time for a capital fundraising campaign.

If you’re just getting your organization off the ground, it may not be the right time for a capital campaign. Your efforts should instead be going into bringing in more first-time donors to help build sustainable, long-term growth.

Are your donors ready?

Knowing whether or not your constituents can raise the amount of money you’re looking for can make or break a capital campaign. 

If you only raise a few thousand dollars annually, then your donors may not yet be ready to execute a campaign resulting in millions of dollars.

In your planning phase, you should segment out your donors and see who is likely to give major gifts, as well as who has already done so in the past. 

Segmenting out the larger donors from the smaller helps you craft a strategy while making sure you’re not overworking your team. Plus, it can help you determine if a campaign is sustainable with your current donor base.

2. Be compelling

If your project doesn’t move your constituents, then you’re looking at a failed campaign. Fear not, though! All you need is to perform a test run of the materials and vision you create.

In creating your plan, test the feasibility of not only your team but your materials, too. Is the mission or project believable? For example, have you already garnered community support for a new building? 

Make your needs known and convincing. Why is the campaign needed? Why are your typical fundraisers not enough?

Your board and leadership should be sponsoring and supporting the ideas powering your capital campaign, from the planning period to launch.

Because capital campaigns are long and time-consuming, having your ideas communicated clearly and effectively is important. You don’t want to alienate your donors or volunteers by sharing the same shaky ideas. 

Instead, you want your project and mission to resonate with them so they are invested in your shared future. 

Check out these capital campaign marketing tips for some ideas for how you can ensure you’re telling your stakeholders an authentic and compelling story.

3. Roll it out in phases

Each capital campaign should have multiple stages, moving from the planning period to what is known as the quiet or silent phase and then the public phase. Read on for more info.

The Quiet Phase

Immediately following the planning period, your team should work to begin seeking out potential key donors. Typically, this is done before the campaign has been officially announced. 

Depending on the size of the organization, the length of this phase – and the entire campaign – can vary from several months to over a year. 

In the quiet phase, you can begin to get the ball rolling by announcing plans for a renovation, a building move, or the development of an endowment. This is markedly different from launching the campaign publicly, though.

Begin including plans and other teasers into your ongoing communications, such as newsletters or bulletins, so that your constituents know what you’re thinking about. This can help build support before you ever make an announcement.

This phase is also about using your previously cultivated relationships with large donors by asking them to make the first donations to the campaign. 

Make sure you are offering adequate recognition. This could be in the form of a plaque, meeting room, or even an entire fund named after them, depending on your project.

The overarching goal of the quiet phase is to ensure that your campaign will be successful. You want to be able to fundraise the majority of your goal so that smaller donors do not feel overburdened once the campaign goes public.

It also guarantees built-in goal protection – if you reach your goal before even leaving the quiet phase, you can easily adjust it to accommodate your donors’ giving.

The Public Phase

It’s time. You’ve made major strides toward your goal, and your team has confidence in the campaign. Kicking off the public phase means looping in your remaining constituents, as well as the general community.

Acknowledging every donor – big and small – is a huge part of maintaining a successful and healthy campaign. Since a capital campaign could last from anywhere between one to five years in total, make sure you’ve already outlined the strategies for tackling this final phase.

So, get ready. It’s time to start planning your next capital campaign.

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