Six Key Elements for Capital Campaign Success
By Sylvia R. Hampton

Sylvia Hampton
Sylvia Hampton
Embarking on a capital campaign is a major undertaking for any nonprofit, and before jumping in, it’s best to review a number of basic considerations that, when properly approached, will make the entire experience more fun, less frustrating, and ultimately successful.

A cautionary example of what can go wrong with a campaign when there is no solid preparation: The leadership of a youth organization with an annual budget of $2 million wanted to conduct a $5 million capital campaign for a new facility. The organization, however, did not have the infrastructure (major gift prospects, staff, budget preparation, cost analysis) in place to take on the task. Lack of proper planning and management caused the campaign to stall. This, in turn, discouraged board members and alienated prospective donors, causing the organization to miss the opportunity to take itself to the next level.

Organizations are more likely to be successful if they take the time to prepare thoroughly and consider the following key essentials:

1. Leadership
Most successful campaigns are dependent on strong and committed volunteer leadership. Your leadership should be ready and willing to be involved in the planning and cultivation and be willing to actively drive the campaign to its triumphant end.

2. Case for Support
The case for support must be well written and compelling, detailing why the campaign is so vital to your organization. Prospective contributors will expect to be convinced that your organization’s need is valid and urgent.

3. Prospects
It is essential to have enough prospects willing to make substantial gifts to your campaign. Successful campaigns conduct calculated assessments of the number of prospects needed to raise the required funds to meet campaign goals.

4. Plan
All successful capital campaigns begin with a plan. The campaign plan is a detailed set of practical guiding principles for the campaign leadership and volunteer participants. The successful campaign plan is constructed with two overriding principles in mind: (a) Anything other than total campaign success is completely unacceptable, and (b) To ensure the complete success, the campaign must be officially acknowledged (and treated) as the major priority of the organization throughout the fundraising timeline.

5. Competent Staff (and, ideally, External Professional Counsel)
Ensuring sufficient resources are in place is a requirement of a successful campaign. Resources include staff and skills, financial structure, and processes.

6. Well Organized and Influential Campaign Cabinet
This is a few steps beyond recruiting strong volunteer leadership for your campaign. A well organized and well managed campaign cabinet can lead by example and wield significant fundraising reach and influence. (Note: Professional counsel can help your organization identify, enlist, and direct this talented group of highly performing volunteers.)

Other important considerations include the size and range of your giving program, previous fundraising success, and quality of your programs and how well your organization serves its constituencies. The more positive these experiences have been, the more likely your capital campaign will succeed.

You might ask, should we engage professional counsel or conduct our own capital campaign? There is a huge advantage to having someone on your team with capital campaign experience and know how. When there is so much at risk, and the fundraising dollar amount goals are huge, engaging a fundraising counsel can be an excellent strategy. A consultant is also essential when you need to conduct a feasibility study that will help you accurately assess how much money you can raise #147; you need a professional who is objective and will help support your case for funding.

Whether you conduct your own campaign or enlist professional help, a capital campaign can be an energizing and transformative event for your organization, and campaigns are one of the most effective ways to fundraise for large gifts. However, undertaking a capital campaign requires a great deal of effort from everyone #147; your staff, members of the board, and volunteers.

The six key elements listed above will help you make the choices and commitments necessary for a successful campaign. Bottom line: If you have carefully assessed how much you can raise, go ahead, jump right in #147; and don’t forget to show your gratitude to all who help pave the way to a successful campaign.

Sylvia R. Hampton, is founder and president of Hampton Bates Cooper & Robinson LLC, a full-service fundraising and communications firm in Chelsea. Call her at 617-413-6764 or email to