Ready for a Capital Campaign? 6 Key Aspects to Consider
By Amy Eisenstein

Amy Eisenstein
Amy Eisenstein

Capital campaigns are multi-year undertakings with the potential to completely reshape your nonprofit’s ability to pursue its mission. They’re intensive projects, and we’re continuing to experience an uncertain fundraising landscape.

This means you’ll need to carefully consider if your nonprofit is truly ready to take the dive before investing heavily in planning your campaign.

Here are six key aspects to consider as you weigh your capital campaign options.

1. Board Activeness

A highly engaged board is a must for capital campaigns. As you consider your campaign readiness, ask these questions about your board:

  • Is your board actively involved in fundraising right now?
  • Is your board fully aligned on the need and vision for your capital campaign?
  • Is your board willing to become more actively engaged?
  • Do any board members have previous experience with major campaigns?
  • Do any board members have connections to potential campaign donors?
  • Do any board members have connections to potential campaign volunteer leaders?
  • Will your board be able and willing to fund 10-30% of your campaign’s total goal?

While board members don’t necessarily always contribute financially (this may vary based on your nonprofit’s unique circumstances), they should actively contribute in other ways to lead different aspects of your campaign.

2. Volunteer Leadership

Like your board, other volunteers will be invaluable teammates during a capital campaign. Examine your current volunteer processes and consider these questions:

  • Can you enlist community leaders to help guide the campaign?
  • Do you already have connections with influential figures in your community?
  • Can you identify potential campaign leaders and create a plan for enlisting them?

Capital campaign volunteers can take on a variety of roles throughout each stage of your campaign, so carefully consider who you’ll enlist and what they might do.

3. Donor Prospecting

Gifts from major donors will make up the vast majority of your campaign’s total funding, so you can’t afford to not give your prospecting process some early thought and attention. Try to answer these questions:

  • Can you currently identify a lead gift (roughly 20%+ of the total goal) for your campaign?
  • Do you have an existing group of well-cultivated and involved donors?
  • Can you identify 15-20 potential sources of major gifts right now?

Donor prospecting and the quiet phase are crucial parts of a capital campaign. If you can’t currently identify donors who have both the ability and affinity to give major gifts, a capital campaign may not be the best choice right now.

4. Development Logistics

Along with a reliable pipeline of prospective donors, you’ll need a solid major gifts program and development team to develop those relationships and make solicitations. Consider these essentials:

  • Have you allocated funds to grow your staff for a major campaign?
  • Do you have gift acceptance policies in place or in development?
  • Do you have an experienced, capable staff ready to take on a campaign?

Intensive campaigns require organized structures and processes to succeed. Capital campaigns can be the perfect opportunity to revamp or upgrade how your nonprofit works internally.

5. Campaign Planning and Messaging

How you present your campaign to various audiences will play a critical role in its success. You’ll need to develop an impactful case for support, but you’ll first need to ensure you can answer these questions:

  • Is the need for your campaign well-established, urgent, and clearly explainable?
  • Have you articulated your vision in a compelling presentation?
  • Are your capital projections and budgets complete and accurate?
  • Can you convey your campaign’s impact in vivid, emotional terms?

As detailed in this Capital Campaign Toolkit guide, a capital campaign’s case for support should be a clear and compelling set of ideas to motivate donors to give. Hammering out these details very early in the planning process will make it easier to refine your case for support as the campaign evolves.

6. Public Image

Finally, your nonprofit’s public image and community relationships will play a direct role in your campaign’s feasibility. As part of your initial readiness assessment, ask questions like:

  • Are you a leader in your service area?
  • Is the community confident in your organization and leadership?
  • Do you actively communicate your results and impact to the community?
  • Is your organization visible in the community?

Getting a firm grasp on your organization’s public image during the planning process will help you determine how receptive a broader audience will be to your campaign.

It pays to be as prepared as possible when it comes to time- and resource-intensive projects like capital campaigns. A readiness assessment is the first essential step for any organization considering this type of campaign.

To get started, enlist key leaders from your staff and board, and compile their thoughts on each of the questions listed above. Discuss your findings, trends, strengths, and problem areas together to lay out a pre-campaign roadmap.

Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, is CEO and co-founder of the Capital Campaign Toolkit. A veteran fundraising consultant with more than 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, she’s published a number of books, including Major Gift Fundraising for Small Shops.

April 2021