The Ultimate Guide to a Successful Capital Campaign

Your capital campaign has the potential to raise huge funds–if you set it up for success. Here’s what you need to know to create a successful campaign.

Your organization needs to raise money for a project. Big money. The kind of money that makes or breaks a project. So, you’re preparing to undertake a capital campaign.

While the fundraising phase is the part that gets the most attention, the real work of a capital campaign begins in planning. Specifically, it happens in the so-called “quiet phase “, the lengthy period in which you plan the campaign and raise as much as 60% to 70% of your campaign goal.

Despite the name, the quiet phase isn’t actually that quiet. This is the time when you solicit your largest potential donors (board members, committee members, and other key volunteers). In fact, there’s only one part of the quiet phase that stays quiet: your campaign goal.

Because the most important work of a capital campaign happens during the quiet phase, we’re going to focus almost exclusively on this stretch.

Preliminary Phase

While it’s easy to want to dive into the work of the capital campaign, campaigns are successful based on the success of their planning, which means the preliminary phase is absolutely critical.

There are a few key points to focus on in the preliminary phase: developing a preliminary working goal and developing your preliminary case.

The preliminary working goal is not a hard target, but rather the goal you’d like to aim for (this is why it’s the quiet part of the quiet phase–it may shift over time). It’s not just a financial number, either–it will reflect all aspects of your campaign, including how you are planning to run the campaign.

This is supported by the preliminary case for support.  If the campaign goal outlines what you’re trying to achieve and why, the case for support is a clear, compelling set of ideas that literally makes the case for why donors ought to support you.

Assemble a Campaign Committee

Once you have the preliminary goal and case, it’s time to get the team together and assemble your campaign committee.

While it’s easy to attribute the success of a campaign to one highly visible leader, the truth is that no capital campaign survives on the work of a single person. Capital campaigns are a team sport.

Generally, your team will include:

  • Members of your board
  • Staff members
  • Community volunteers
  • Valuable prospects

Depending on the size and scope of your campaign, the committee may also include subcommittees to deal with various aspects of the campaign. This depends on the campaign in question but can range from government relations to marketing to large gifts to special events and everything in between.

The committee can be as segmented as you’d like it to be. The key is to make sure that everyone’s duties are clearly defined. Segment the committee as needed to reduce confusion and ensure everyone has enough time to focus their efforts.

Conduct a Feasibility Study

Next on the list is a feasibility study, a type of analysis that takes all the relevant factors into account to determine the likelihood of success. Basically, this is your chance to ascertain the pros and cons of a project before investing a lot of time and money into it.

During the study, your committee will need to examine:

  • Community perception of the project
  • Community perception of your organization
  • Potential size of your donor base
  • Availability of that donor base to give large donations
  • Available internal resources (or lack thereof)
  • Relevant external factors

Typically, a feasibility study will involve interviewing 30 to 40 people, including board members, staff members, past donors, major prospects, and community members. It’s critical to use capable interviewers at this stage, since it’s the interviewer’s job to flesh out the finer details that will make or break your campaign.

Screen Prospects

If the feasibility study is successful, you’re ready to start screening major prospects. Remember, the quiet phase is when you solicit more than half of your total campaign goal, and the screening process helps identify the donors who make that possible.

This means that the work of prospect screening is a bit more complex than just identifying potential givers. Your primary goal in this stage is to identify the major donors and lead donors who will take the campaign on huge leaps toward your goal.

The process relies on several key pieces of information to identify potential big fish donors, including:

  • Past donations to your organization and other organizations
  • Organizational and business affiliations
  • Real estate ownership
  • Stock ownership

Essentially, you’re going beyond a basic name, address, and age to identify the value of a given donor and whether they’re worth prospecting.

Set a Deadline

Annual funds can be replenished at any time. A capital campaign is unique from other fundraising vehicles because it has a hard deadline. Once you’ve identified your donors, you need to set a preliminary deadline.

The trick is that you have to set it based on more than just an arbitrary number.

Capital campaigns can take anywhere from one year to several years depending on a variety of factors, including your fundraising efforts, your pledge system, and external factors that may impact giving patterns. For this reason, it’s important to set a realistic campaign deadline that accounts for unexpected external events.

Review, Set a Budget, and Get Organized

This is the stage when you complete one of the most important steps of the campaign: finalizing your fundraising goal.

While the preliminary goal was a hopes and dreams type of budget, the finalized goal is grounded in hidden costs: fundraising costs, inflation, and attrition costs to name a few.

You’ll be helped along at this stage by setting your budget for the campaign. In the process, you’ll also work to align everyone’s expectations for what the campaign will look like, clarifying duties, and setting the standard for performance.

Let’s Connect the Dots on Your Capital Campaign

At BrightDot, we know that a successful capital campaign is about so much more than just numbers. It’s about connecting the dots on people and relationships to get your campaign off the ground.

Ready to set the stage for a successful capital campaign? Get in touch today to learn how our team can set your team up for success.

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