The Ultimate Guide to Creating a Successful Capital Campaign for Beginners

So what exactly is a Capital Campaign and When Should I Use It? 


It’s an intensive fundraising effort to raise a substantial amount of money for a project or product within a specific deadline. They require a lot of coordination and cooperation not only from your organization, but also the community. For a capital campaign to work everyone needs to have all hands on deck and be focused on engaging the community. 

These types of campaigns are normally used for larger projects such as acquiring land, a new building, expanding your existing building or buying equipment. Many hospitals and schools will use capital campaigns to help fund new research, expand their facilities or purchase supplies for their students or patients.

Running a capital campaign can get pretty stressful. They are normally used because it is the only way an organization can fund a vital project that goes beyond their yearly budget. Any nonprofit organization can use a capital campaign and here is how to do it without getting too stressed out. 

There are three key steps you need to go through in order to have a successful campaign: 

  1. Plan it out!
  2. Implement Your Campaign Strategy in 2 Phases 
  3. Wrap It All Up
 

The 3 Key Phases in any Great Capital Campaign 

 

Step 1: Plan it Out 

 

Assemble Your Team


Behind any great campaign is a great team, you need to start by figuring out who exactly will be leading and running the campaign.  It can be a mix of board members, staff or volunteers, they just need to be committed. After bringing together your team you need to decide what role they will play. This includes: 

  • A Campaign Owner who will lead the team and move the campaign forward 
  • A Campaign Committee to weigh in on decisions 
  • Observers who are informed along the way but aren’t actively participating in the action items 
Once you establish each person’s role outline exactly what each individual is responsible for. Each set of tasks should have a leader assigned to them to ensure everything is accounted for and delivered on time. It might also be helpful to hire a planning and steering committee to oversee specific campaign tasks. 
 

Set a Budget 


It’s important to set a clear budget and goals that are specific, measurable, attainable and time-based. Breakdown your project to help determine what your goals and budget should be. Do you need to hire a consultant to help you? Are you going to use paid social media ads to help promote your campaign? Will you be doing donor research?

These are all the things you need to consider when thinking about your budget. You can choose to include the cost of fundraising as a part of your campaigns total fundraising goal or choose to have a separate fundraising effort specifically to support the cost of operating your capital campaign.

 Regardless of how you choose to fund you will need to be upfront and honest with your donors, letting them know before they donate where and how their money is being used.  They want to know that their money is being put to good use.  You can also  allow donors to choose the specific elements of your project they want to contribute to to make them feel more in control with their donations. 
 

Develop Marketing Materials

 
This is the bread and butter for your campaign’s success, you need to be able to communicate why your project deserves people's support. The best way to do this is to create a story around your project, one that people can connect to and really empathize with. 

Your donors are the hero of the story and with their help we are all able to overcome a problem with the help of a plan that calls them to action. Clearly outline what is at stake in the story, what is the main problem (or the villain) that this campaign will defeat? Your organization needs to guide your donor to making the right decision. 
 

Conduct a Feasibility Study 

 
Feasibility studies are a huge part of your pre-campaign panning and can help you in executing your campaign strategy. The study will determine if people are willing to support your project and how interested they are in your cause. The main goal is to evaluate how key stakeholders perceive the project and your organization. 

You will interview 20-40 people from your community that you are targeting to determine if you have the support you need to succeed in meeting your fundraising goal. Questions should be both about how they view your nonprofit and the campaign itself.

Some questions they could be asked are:
  • How do you view the organization and their proposed project? 
  • How do you feel about the cause?  
  • Is the timing for their campaign ideal? Are there any other competitors or projects that could possibly draw attention away from the campaign?
  • Who do you believe will be the biggest supporters of the campaign?
  • Are you willing to donate to the cause? 
Usually, this is done by a fundraising consultant to avoid any conflict of interest and receive more candid responses. In addition to providing valuable feedback it is also a great way to begin to get people excited about your campaign. By taking other people’s considerations into the funding of your project they feel more personally involved which can also encourage them to donate. 
 

Step 2: Implementation


Now that you have the basics of your campaign mapped out you can start reaching out to donors to begin fundraising for your campaign. This happens in two separate parts: the quiet phase and the public phase. 
 

The Quiet Phase


This is where 50%-70% of  funds are raised. The goal of the quiet phase is to find a few large donors to get your fundraising going, the rest will be raised in the public phase. You are going to want to start by creating a gift range chart breaking down you fundraising goal into smaller parts. For example, if you wanted to raise $100,000 you can look for two donors to give $50,000 or 2 donations of $25,000 and one $50,000 etc. 

This chart will be a guide to keep track of how much of a donation you need from a certain amount of donors. Once solidify the gift range chart you are going to figure out exactly who to reach out to in order to meet your goal. A good place to start is reaching out to your most dedicated supporters. 

Since you are asking for bigger donations in this phase, it might also be helpful to contact companies to ask for corporate donations. Be sure to do your research before doing so as some companies have guidelines for their donations. Other tips that can help you with your campaign include: 

  • Offering Incentives: a great way to encourage larger donations is to offer something in return, like naming a room, hospital wing or library after your donor. Maybe you can display their name with a thank you message somewhere in the building. You and your team can brainstorm creative ways to thank your donors that fit with both your organization and your project. 
  • Challenge Grants: this is when a corporation agrees to donate to your project after you’ve reached a specific goal. They can match your progress, donate a percentage or a specific dollar amount. 
  • Matching Gifts: this type of corporate giving program rewards employees that give to nonprofits by matching, doubling or sometimes tripling their donation. Not every donor will be a part of a company that does this, but it doesn't hurt to remind or suggest this option to  your donors. 

The Public Phase


Now it’s time to officially launch your campaign into the public and rally to complete your fundraising goal. With the end of your campaign coming closer, it’s time to turn to the general community and really work hard to actively promote your campaign. 

You’re going to want to create a sense of emergency, let people know that you are so close to hitting your goal and you need their help to make it in time! This is where you’ll want to really engage a social media campaign, launch a fundraising thermometer to keep your donors updated with your progress or even launch a kickoff event to create buzz on your cause. 

It’s up to you and your team to decide what works best for achieving your organization’s goal. The key to this phase is to be extremely vocal with your message as well as actively engaging the community in your project. It might also help to create a small list of milestones to reach thought this phase.
 

Step 3: Wrap It All Up 


So you planned it all though, implemented both the quiet and public phases of your campaign and met your fundraising goal. Congratulations, but you’re not done yet! Now you need to follow up with your donors. 
 

Say Thank You!

 
Recognize your donors vocally and publicly. Big or small you should show appreciation to those who helped you reach your goal. They type of thank you they get however may depend on the amount of the contribution they gave to your organization’s project. 

You should also be keeping donors updated on your project. You can do this through emails, phone calls or hosting a ceremony or a special event to mark the completion of the project. Even a short video documenting your campaign’s success would be a great way to show exactly what you accomplished with their help. This is also a great way to build contacts and offer ways for them to stay in touch with your organization like joining your newsletter. 

In addition to your donors, don’t forget to thank your committee and board members! They put in so much work from the get-go and are just as important as your donors in making your project a success. 


Hold a Post-Mortem (Campaign Retrospective) 


This is essentially a discussion on what you learned from the campaign, as well as some key takeaways. After months or years of hard work to achieve a single goal it would be a good idea to take some time to go over what worked well and what didn’t. 

The post-mortem should occur directly after the campaign ends while it is still fresh in everyone's mind. This should be a constructive conversation, if discussing something that went wrong or could have been done better, it is important to steer clear from blame and focus on creating possible solutions to avoid making the same mistakes again in the future. 

Overall, the goal of the post-mortem is to reflect and grow as a team to help make your next campaign run even smoother than your first one!
 

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