5 Consultant-Approved Strategies for Capital Campaigns in 2021
By their very nature, capital campaigns are challenging to plan and execute. After all, there’s a reason nonprofits only conduct these campaigns once every 10 to 15 years: They require a significant amount of time, resources and manpower to execute successfully. Still, the benefits they can provide should make them an essential aspect of your long-term fundraising strategy.
From new facilities and equipment to critical infrastructure, these years-long campaigns can provide the funds necessary to grow your nonprofit’s capacity and make even more impact to your community and constituents.
In our years of experience in data-backed fundraising, we’ve learned the dos and don’ts of capital campaigns, and we’re here to share five top strategies. We recommend that you:
- Consult with fundraising experts.
- Plan extensively.
- Make the most of your campaign’s quiet phase.
- Provide regular campaign updates.
- Thank your donors for their support.
A capital campaign may seem like a daunting undertaking, but with adequate preparation and research, you’ll be able to make the most of your investment of time and resources and ultimately achieve the results you need to expand your nonprofit’s programs. Let’s get started.
1. Consult With Fundraising Experts
Nonprofits of all shapes and sizes can benefit from consulting with outside fundraising experts to guide their capital campaign efforts. It’s a fairly standard practice for capital campaign planning, and for good reason.
Growing nonprofits may lack the staff and resources to be able to fully invest in the success of their capital campaigns. Capital campaigns require more research on the frontend than typical fundraising campaigns, and your staff will obviously need to keep up with the day-to-day operations of your organization in addition to capital campaign work. Your development team may not be able to sacrifice their attention to their regular duties to solely focus on capital campaign planning.
In this case, we’d recommend seeking assistance from an outside fundraising consultant or agency that can supplement your team’s efforts, essentially filling in as extra researchers and fundraisers to guide and support the campaign.
Even if you have a large organization with the infrastructure established to support a capital campaign, it could still be beneficial to seek assistance from fundraising experts who specialize in more specific fundraising activities, like prospect research and major donor solicitation. Input from teams that specialize in these areas could make your campaign more efficient and help your team target their efforts in the areas most likely to increase your ROI.
This guide can guide your decision-making process if you do decide to seek outside help for this essential component of capital campaign preparation.
2. Plan Extensively
In general, capital campaigns follow a standard timeline that begins with a planning phase. It’s important not to put off any essential aspects of your campaign strategy until later in the campaign development process, as you’ll need a strong foundation to guide your efforts all the way through to the end. In addition to beginning to feel out potential major donors for your campaign, we recommend that you use your capital campaign’s planning phase to:
- Conduct a feasibility study. A feasibility study is an analysis generally performed by an outside agency or other third party to determine if your nonprofit is ready for the significant step of a capital campaign. Over the course of the study, the agency will collect data from your past campaigns and interview key stakeholders in an effort to ascertain whether or not you could feasibly reach the capital campaign’s goal. You’ll need to conduct a study early in the planning process since its findings can drastically shape your overall plans.
- Create a gift range chart. Also called a gift table or gift pyramid, a gift range chart outlines the level and number of donations your nonprofit will need to reach the campaign’s monetary goal. For example, you may determine that you need five gifts of one million dollars or more, eight gifts in the $500,000 to $700,000 range, 10 gifts of $100,000, and then 50 to 100 mid-level or lower-level gifts to reach your goal. Establishing this plan is essential to guiding your team’s donor outreach and stewardship efforts once the quiet phase is underway.
- Construct a timeline. Because capital campaigns often span years, it’s important to develop a timeline for the campaign from the beginning. Your campaign’s timeline can be thought of as its scaffolding — establishing the general outline allows your team to fill in the appropriate events, dollar benchmarks and phase completions so you stay on track toward your goal.
- Develop your case statement. In order to secure the significant monetary support you seek in a capital campaign, donors need to believe their donation will make a real difference and have a significant impact on your nonprofit’s mission. A case statement provides this reasoning through the explanation of what exactly you seek to accomplish with the funds from the campaign and why this accomplishment matters.
While this phase may not contain the same buzz and excitement as later phases, extensive planning on the frontend is a necessary investment to guarantee the success of your campaign.
3. Make the Most of Your Campaign’s Silent Phase
Following a capital campaign’s planning phase is a period of time known as the “silent phase.” During this stage, your team should work to secure 50% to 70% of the total monetary funds you seek for the entire campaign. This is the period of the most intense major donor research, identification and cultivation, which involves a couple of key activities:
- Prospect research. Effective prospect research should result in not just the identification of donors who can donate significant amounts but also those who’ll be most willing or likely to make a major donation. Research into essential wealth markers is still necessary, but affinity metrics can be just as valuable. Some indicators that a wealthy donor may be likely to contribute a major gift include significant involvement with your organization or others, activity on a nonprofit’s board and high-dollar political contributions, among others. Your team can conduct prospect research on their own with help from guides like this one, or you may enlist the expertise of fundraising consultants who specialize in prospect research. Fundraising consultants may have access to more sophisticated prospect research tools, heavy-duty databases and expertise that your team could benefit from.
- Major donor cultivation. Once you have identified key prospects through extensive research, it’s time to cultivate and then steward those donors as effectively as possible. This means heavily investing in personal relationships with potential major donors. Initiate conversations with these important donors over the phone, at one-on-one meetings with your major gift officers and at intimate fundraising events for prospects (whether virtual or in-person). The more personalized, one-on-one attention you can give your prospects in this phase, the more likely you are to secure their valuable donations and encourage increased engagement in the future.
Because such a significant percentage of your capital campaign’s revenue should be secured during its silent phase, this is the best time to kick your major donor outreach efforts into overdrive.
4. Provide Regular Campaign Updates
In any fundraising campaign, it’s a best practice to keep your supporters apprised of the campaign’s progress.
Whether you’re updating your major donors or the public at large once you’ve entered your campaign’s public phase, make sure to maintain channels of communication with everyone involved in your campaign. Share reports with your supporters about the campaign’s standing, progress toward its goal and contributions still needed.
Your communication strategy should be closely aligned with the messaging public messaging of your campaign. You’ll want to use a variety of channels like news articles, newsletters, interviews, direct mailings and digital outreach.
You may even encourage a peer-to-peer aspect of your campaign to widen your base of support and diversify your donor base. The addition of fundraising thermometers in peer-to-peer campaigns can be highly effective to encourage additional donations, as they provide an idea of how close your organization is to reaching its goal.
Even after your campaign is over, donors — particularly major donors — will want to know how their money is being put to use, so it’s important to maintain communication with your supporters even after the campaign reaches completion.
5. Thank Donors Appropriately
It’s widely accepted in the nonprofit space that donor recognition is an essential part of donor retention and encouraging ongoing engagement. Even more so than a regular campaign, capital campaigns require significant attention to donor recognition and appreciation strategies. After all, many of your campaign’s key supporters will have donated relatively large amounts of money in support of your cause, so they deserve a proportional thank-you.
Particularly for your capital campaign’s major donors, consider the following:
- Highly personalized thank-you messages. While an automated email may suffice for an average donor, major donors to your capital campaigns deserve more personalized thank-you messages, like phone calls and handwritten notes.
- Appreciation events. Inviting your major donors to an appreciation luncheon, dinner or other event (like your project’s groundbreaking or ribbon-cutting) signifies how grateful your organization is for their support. Block out some time for major donor appreciation in your next annual gala, but just be sure to get their sign-off before highlighting them in such a public way.
- Donor recognition walls. If your capital campaign involves a renovation or building expansion, a permanent donor recognition wall in a public space in the building is a meaningful way to recognize the major donors who made the project possible. Eleven Fifty Seven’s donor wall ideas showcase how versatile and visually appealing these donor walls can be.
Capital campaigns wouldn’t be possible without the generous contributions of major donors, so your nonprofit should generously recognize them for their support. Doing so is not only appropriate and professional, but makes it more likely they’ll continue involvement with your organization going forward.
Capital campaigns provide valuable opportunities for your nonprofit to increase its capacity to accomplish its mission. While these campaigns require a significant amount of effort and planning to execute, the outcome is worth it. Be sure to follow our tips and seek advice from experts for your nonprofit’s capital campaign. Best of luck!
Founder and President Sandra Davis leads Donorly with 30 years of fundraising experience and leadership. Sandra has consulted on numerous capital campaigns, led strategic planning and feasibility study efforts and managed board development and recruitment efforts, planned giving, special events, and annual giving programs. Under her leadership, Donorly has grown to support the fundraising efforts of over 75 clients to date.