Get our capital campaign planning checklist to help you prepare.

Launching a capital campaign is like moving into a new home. If you want the transition to your new home to run smoothly, you’ll need to plan ahead.

The same can be said of capital campaigns; a lot of preparation goes into a capital campaign so that your nonprofit can reach or even exceed its goals.

In case you’re not familiar with the term, a capital campaign is an intense effort undertaken by a nonprofit organization to raise a specific dollar amount within a defined period of time. The purpose of a capital campaign is to fund a specific project, usually something significant and concrete such as a new facility or equipment.

If you want to plan a capital campaign for your nonprofit, we’ve come up with a step-by-step guide to help you along the way. Here are the nine steps we’ll cover:

  1. Enlist the help of a consultant.
  2. Conduct a feasibility study.
  3. Set a goal and deadline.
  4. Plan out your gift ranges.
  5. Initiate a budget.
  6. Excite your board and leadership.
  7. Assemble your team.
  8. Draft your case for support.
  9. Create a communication plan.

Keep reading to learn more about planning a capital campaign. 

Step #1: Enlist the help of a capital campaign consultant

Taking on a capital campaign is a huge endeavor. Not only does it require a lot of planning, but it also takes a team effort to succeed. Why not stack the odds in your favor?

That’s why you should consider hiring a capital campaign consultant.

Consultants are professionals that can help you throughout your capital campaign. They bring experience, fundraising knowledge and an objective perspective that will be valuable to your campaign.

A capital campaign consultant can guide you through each step of the planning process and assist you with:

  • Your feasibility study.
  • Prospect research and major gifts.
  • Strategizing your marketing plan.
  • Training your board members.
  • And much more!

While there is no guarantee that your capital campaign will be successful, a consultant can help increase its chances. If this is your first capital campaign, you’ll find many advantages to having a consultant on your team. Consultants can help you spot any gaps in your planning and guide you through the best strategies for success. 

If you do decide to hire a capital campaign consultant, ask for references so that you can get a better understanding of what they’ve accomplished in the past. Plus, you can use references to gain insight into how your consultant operates.

Finally, make time early in the partnership to introduce the consultant to your staff and give him or her a sense of your organizational culture. This is especially important if you’ve chosen to work with someone out of town (i.e. your nonprofit is in Indiana and you’ve hired a consulting firm in Michigan) and will do most of your communicating via phone and email.

The bottom line: Consider hiring a fundraising consultant to guide your campaign planning and execution. Their expertise and experience can help ensure you stay on track and conduct a successful campaign based on best practices.

Bonus: Interested in hiring a consultant? Check out this helpful guide. 

Step #2: Conduct a feasibility study.

One of the most important first steps in planning a capital campaign is the feasibility study. A feasibility study helps you determine whether or not your capital campaign has a chance of being successful. If a study isn’t performed, you could put the campaign and the project itself at risk.

A feasibility study focuses on answering the following questions:

  • Does the community and board of directors support the project?
  • Do we have a large enough donor base to support our goal?
  • Are there any external factors that could cause concern?
  • Do we have the resources to launch and promote a capital campaign?

Another part of the feasibility study is prospect research. This part of the study helps determine which donors have the potential to be major gift contributors. Considering the significant funds your nonprofit is trying to raise, prospect research is crucial.

How to conduct a feasibility study

First, you need to reach out to 10 to 50 stakeholders of your organization and ask them to participate in your study. How you decide to conduct the actual study is up to you. You could interview participants separately or have everyone attend a focus group. Either way, participants will be asked a series of questions to determine the feasibility of the capital campaign.

It is also recommended that you consider engaging the help of an outside source, like a consultant, to conduct your study. This is because stakeholders are more likely to provide honest, candid answers to someone with no ties to your organization. A consultant is also well-positioned to synthesize the responses to your questions and create an objective report of findings.

If you choose to engage a consultant, just remember you are under no obligation to use the same consultant for your capital campaign.

The bottom line: A feasibility study can help you determine potential support for your capital campaign by stakeholders. Take the time to conduct a solid study and seek the help of a professional.

Step #3: Set a goal and deadline for your campaign.

Once you’ve gotten the results of your feasibility study, you’ll be in a good position to set a goal for your capital campaign. Usually, capital campaigns seek to raise a substantial amount of money.

While you may know how much you want to raise, don’t be tempted to lowball your goal for fear that you won’t be able to reach your desired amount. 

As you set your goal, there are three things you need to consider.

First, you need to include all the costs associated with your campaign. Let’s say you’re trying to raise money for a new building.

You may have considered the cost to build it, but did you include the cost of furniture, insurance, relocation and unexpected expenses? These are all things that will play a part in how much your goal should be.

Second, it’s important to consider your deadline. Not only does a deadline help make your goal more concrete and measurable, but it also allows you to take the cost of inflation into account. If you plan to begin building in two years, you need to consider whether your expenses will change over the course of your campaign.

And last but not least, you need to take into account the expenses of the capital campaign itself. How much is it going to cost to run and market the campaign? These answers could affect how much your goal should be.

The bottom line: Setting a goal is an important part of the fundraising process and relies on accurate information gained from your feasibility study and plans for your project.

Step #4: Plan out your gift ranges.

Your feasibility results can be used for yet another key element of your capital campaign: the gift range chart. This chart should reflect all relevant information about potential major donors and gifts gleaned from your feasibility study. It can then be used to help you and your staff visualize the steps (and donors) it will take to reach your goal.

Since capital campaigns rely on a few major contributions and many smaller donations, your chart should have a few large gifts that make up 10-20% of your entire goal.

Here is an example of what your gift range chart should look like:

A gift range chart is an important aspect of planning a capital campaign.

As you can see, this chart includes:

  • A couple of large gifts at the top of the chart.
  • Lower gift sizes with a larger number of donors.
  • The number of prospects, which is higher than the number of gifts needed.

Remember that your gift chart is just a general reference on where your donations could come from. The sizes and sources of your actual gifts will likely vary from the chart.

The bottom line:  A gift range chart will show where your donations will come from and provide some direction on whom to reach out to.

Step #4: Plan out your gift ranges.

Your feasibility results can be used for yet another key element of your capital campaign: the gift range chart. This chart should reflect all relevant information about potential major donors and gifts gleaned from your feasibility study. It can then be used to help you and your staff visualize the steps (and donors) it will take to reach your goal.

Since capital campaigns rely on a few major contributions and many smaller donations, your chart should have a few large gifts that make up 10-20% of your entire goal.

A good gift range chart should include:

  • A couple of large gifts at the top of the chart.
  • Lower gift sizes with a larger number of donors.
  • The number of prospects, which is higher than the number of gifts needed.

Remember that your gift chart is just a general reference on where your donations could come from. The sizes and sources of your actual gifts will likely vary from the chart.

The bottom line:  A gift range chart will show where your donations will come from and provide some direction on whom to reach out to.

Step #5: Initiate a budget for your capital campaign.

While your goal is to raise funds, a capital campaign also requires money to run. You need to make sure you have a designated budget set aside for expenses. Sticking to a strict budget will ensure you have the most funds possible dedicated to your goal.

Aside from the cost of your project, your budget needs to include:

  • Consultant fees – Hiring a consultant comes with a cost. Be sure to include expenses, like travel and lodging, if that’s part of your agreement.
  • Communications – If you’re creating your communication materials in-house or through a marketing agency, there is a cost associated with promoting your campaign.
  • Donor recognition – Whether you decide to honor your major contributors through signage, personal mementos or a donor recognition program, it’s important to include those expenses in your budget.

Of course, these are just some of the costs associated with running a capital campaign. You may find that your nonprofit has additional costs to consider, so take time to create an accurate list and budget.

The bottom line: Budgeting for your capital campaign will help you set a goal that still leaves you with plenty of funds to finance your project.

Step #6: Excite your board and leadership.

Since you’ll need board approval to execute your capital campaign, it’s important to get them excited about it.

Capital campaigns don’t happen often, so your board members might not be as familiar with the process or their role as they are with annual fundraising. Plus, capital campaigns often have ambitious goals that can make your board unsure about the success of your campaign.

Getting your board members excited about the campaign is about more than just giving the basic details; you have to make sure that your board can imagine successful results.

To do that you’ll need to make them part of the discovery and planning process.

Involve your board and leadership in early conversations about your organization’s specific challenges and potential solutions. If a feasibility study is the logical next step, involve them in that process too. Share the study report and findings, and get members’ buy-in and approval for strategic next steps. Involve members of your standing development and facilities committees to assist with early campaign and project planning.

This approach does more than give you the benefit of your board’s diverse skills and interests (which is a pretty cool benefit, by the way). It also builds familiarity with the project and comfort with the campaign goal and initiatives — so your members are informed and ready to lead. They’ll be excited for the potential of the project and understand their role in raising the dollars to make it reality.

The bottom line: Exciting your board members is important because they will play an active role in your campaign. Get them on board early in the planning stage to have a successful fundraising campaign.

Step #7: Assemble your capital campaign team.

You can’t run a capital campaign all on your own. That’s why it’s important to build a team that will help you along the way. As you assemble your team, make sure that everyone is aware of their role in the capital campaign.

Here are the team members you’ll need to run a successful capital campaign:

  • Board members: The board will be involved in planning your campaign, determining strategic direction and asking for gifts. They should make a donation to the campaign.
  • Staff: Your staff will play a major role in the campaign. You will need the help of leadership and program staff as well as the development team. Their knowledge and involvement will determine your success.
  • Campaign chair(s): Your campaign chair could be one person or multiple people who will oversee the capital campaign committees and act as ambassadors between your organization and the community.
  • Planning committee: Your planning committee should consist of about 10 to 15 members that work together to plan the campaign. The committee will include staff members and volunteers.
  • Steering committee: The steering committee helps with the running of the campaign after it has launched. They will be in charge of making sure that everything runs smoothly. The planning and steering committees will have some overlap in members.

The bottom line: Designate your team to ensure that you have all the resources to plan and run your capital campaign.

Step #8: Draft your case for support.

A case for support, or case statement, communicates your reasons for undertaking a capital campaign. It should explain to potential donors why this project is important and what your goal will achieve.

Additionally, the case for support is the key resource used by staff and volunteers when soliciting contributions. It provides the details in writing, providing direction to the conversation and showing potential donors that the project is legitimate and well-reasoned.

Your case for support should include strong and compelling reasons why donors should contribute to your campaign. Your statement should include the following information:

  • Background information on your organization. Let donors know more about your organization, its mission and its impact. This will help them build a passion for your cause and understand why your work is important.
  • The challenge and the proposed solutions. Go into detail about the problems your project will solve and the intended outcome or impacts for the project.
  • Details about the fundraising campaign. Share the campaign goal and budget, and explain specifically how funds will be used.

In addition to the points mentioned above, the case for support should answer the common questions donors will have about your capital campaign. These questions can come from your feasibility study or by brainstorming with your team members.

The bottom line: The case statement is an important part of your capital campaign. It helps to establish why you need to raise funds and prepares your volunteers on how they can communicate with donors.

Step #9: Create a communication plan.

The final step to planning a capital campaign is to create your communication plan. This will help you determine how you will ask major donors for gifts during the quiet phase and how you will promote your campaign to other prospects during the public phase.

Let’s look at each phase and how you can market to your donors.

Quiet phase

The quiet phase is crucial to your campaign’s success. On average, nonprofits raise 50-70% of their goal during the quiet phase of a capital campaign. That’s why it’s so important that you have a solid communications plan and an effective way to ask for donations from your major gift donors.

To create the perfect plan, your leadership needs to be on the same page. You can create a step-by-step guide for how your volunteers and leadership can ask for donations.

Your guide should include steps such as:

  1. Call your prospect and invite them to meet. Explain the purpose of the meeting so as not to catch them off guard.
  2. At the meeting, explain why you’re passionate about the organization.
  3. Explain the project and state your case for support.
  4. Answer any questions that the prospect will likely have.
  5. If the situation feels right, ask the prospect to make a contribution.
  6. Follow up to thank them for their time. If they made a donation, be sure to acknowledge and thank them for their contribution.
  7. Stay in contact to update them on your progress and invite them to campaign events and activities.

During the quiet phase, it’s important to meet with prospects in person. That way, you can immediately answer any questions and explain the reasons for the campaign.

Public Phase

By the time you reach the public phase, a majority of your goal will have been raised. During this phase you will announce your campaign to the general public by expanding your communications efforts to grab the attention of a larger group of supporters.

Send out direct mail and emails, post your campaign on social media and even text donors with information. The more awareness you build around your campaign, the more donors will learn about it and want to contribute.

The bottom line: Each phase in your campaign will have a slightly different strategy to reach out to donors. For the quiet phase, you may stick to phone calls and in-person meetings. During the public phase, you can communicate with donors through more public channels like media and direct mail.


You’ve read through all the steps to planning a capital campaign! Now you’re ready to start planning your own.

Additional Resources

 

Get the step-by-step guide to planning a marketing campaign.

Aly Sterling Philanthropy

Aly Sterling Philanthropy

Over the years we’ve helped nonprofits raise millions of dollars, engage their leaders, hire top-notch talent and grow their missions. Are you ready to move your mission forward? Contact us to get started.
Aly Sterling Philanthropy
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