Are You Ready for a Capital Campaign? 5 Questions to Consider as You Plan for the Future
Capital campaigns are one of the most effective ways to galvanize transformational support for a nonprofit’s community. They build energy around a bold vision for the future, engage leaders and key stakeholders in fundraising activity, and grow a strong culture of major giving.
I have had the privilege of working with nonprofits on capital campaigns and development projects that helped grow their revenue and amplify their social impact. One of the most common questions nonprofits consider is how to know when it’s the right time to launch a capital campaign.
What Is a Capital Campaign?
A capital campaign is a special fundraising campaign that transforms a nonprofit and strengthens its ability to carry out its larger goals and mission, usually conducted within a predetermined time frame. Capital campaigns most commonly fund the acquisition or renovation of a building and/or growing an endowment for the future.
To be successful, capital campaigns must be built on a strong foundation, often articulated through a strategic plan. They should have a clear vision for the future and engage leadership, building momentum and inspiring support from the broader community.
Meeting the Moment With a Capital Campaign
It can be difficult to know when the time is right to embark on this hallmark fundraising campaign. Perhaps you have an opportunity to purchase new space for your growing community. Or, the demand for your programs currently exceeds your ability to deliver and you urgently need to scale capacity. Or, you have a new CEO who has a bold vision for the future that requires extraordinary philanthropy.
Whatever the source of inspiration for a capital campaign may be, consider these five questions to position your organization for its next phase of growth and philanthropic impact.
1. How Much Money Are You Seeking to Raise?
The first thing any capital campaign needs is a financial goal. The most effective campaign goals are both ambitious and attainable. The goal should be large enough that it inspires your organization’s leaders and community of supporters to reach for milestone levels of giving. At the same time, the goal should represent an attainable figure that reflects your community’s philanthropic capacity and enthusiasm for the campaign vision and funding priorities. Most importantly, as a community, you want to be successful. Therefore, it is better to set a more conservative goal and exceed it, than set a goal that is too high and fall short. Psychology matters!
2. What Will the Campaign Fund and What Will Be the Impact of Philanthropic Investments?
Every capital campaign needs a case for support, more commonly known as a fundraising pitch. A case for support is a powerful tool to tell an organization’s story and inspire donors to make a meaningful campaign gift. Through an engaging narrative that uses data and personal stories, the case for support articulates an inspiring vision for an organization, provides a compelling rationale for philanthropy and communicates clear impact. Developing your case is an opportunity to think boldly and creatively about your organization’s future!
3. Who Will Lead the Campaign and Champion the Case for Support Within the Broader Community?
Once you have your case for support, you need dynamic and influential leaders who will build energy and momentum around the campaign. Board members and volunteer leaders are some of the greatest assets to a capital campaign. They champion the campaign vision, engage their personal networks and provide generous financial support. Advance your campaign goals and activity by leveraging their diverse skills, stories, and experiences through personalized engagement and leadership opportunities.
4. Who Will Be Inspired to Invest in This Hallmark Fundraising Effort?
As you embark on a capital campaign, you will need a cohort of prospective donors who are committed to your mission and who have the philanthropic capacity to support this campaign by making a major gift. While the definition of a major gift will vary by organization, personalized donor engagement is key. Consider the milestones of the donor journey and develop bespoke cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship strategies to secure donor support at the highest levels. A key benefit of a capital campaign is the opportunity to build a stronger culture of major gift philanthropy at your organization.
5. What resources and support are needed to be successful?
Every campaign needs a plan — a strategic approach to your fundraising activity. An effective campaign plan includes revenue goals, a projected timeline and activity required for success. It takes significant development capacity and resources to support a capital campaign, especially if the campaign is in addition to annual revenue goals. Therefore, it is vital to invest in the fundraising tools, technology and team to position your organization for long-term growth and success.
Your Roadmap to Campaign Success
Many organizations will embark on a planning (or feasibility) study prior to formally launching a capital campaign. A planning study provides the opportunity to socialize the campaign goal, case messaging and leadership prospects within the community while laying the groundwork for your transformational fundraising effort.
The first step in a planning study is to develop a draft case for support. This document illustrates the campaign vision and funding priorities and articulates the impact of philanthropic investments on the communities you serve.
Next, the campaign vision and funding priorities are shared with key stakeholders during planning study interviews. These strategic conversations focus on participants’ perceptions of the organization, reactions to the campaign vision, advice on key campaign elements and personal engagement in the campaign.
Finally, it is time to develop the campaign plan. The campaign plan includes an analysis of interview responses and recommended next steps on the financial goal, timing, case for support, donor strategies, leadership roles and resources. This is your roadmap for campaign success.
Realizing Your Bold Vision for the Future
Personally, I believe the most exciting part of a capital campaign is the tangible outcome, whether that is a new or renovated building for your nonprofit’s programs, greater institutional capacity to respond to the growing needs of your community or a healthier endowment to ensure a sustainable future. These outcomes have significant, long-term benefits to your community and bring you one step closer to realizing your bold vision for the future.
Elizabeth Abel is a senior vice president at CCS Fundraising and expert in philanthropy. In her role at CCS, she has led capital campaigns and development initiatives that have collectively raised half a billion dollars for education, health care, arts and culture, and advocacy organizations.
Elizabeth provides counsel on strategic planning, major gifts fundraising and board engagement. She is an Instructor at the University of Pennsylvania where she teaches “Fundraising and Philanthropy: The Donor Journey” to graduate students in the Nonprofit Leadership Program. Elizabeth has been recognized by BELLA Magazine as a “Woman of Influence in Philanthropy.”
You can find Elizabeth offering her fundraising expertise at industry conferences, on nonprofit podcasts and on social media platforms, including LinkedIn and Instagram. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter, and she is an avid hiker, traveler and tea drinker.