Capital Campaigns: The Groundbreaking Guide
Take your nonprofit's capital campaign to the next level.
Capital campaign guide

Capital Campaigns: The Groundbreaking Guide

What is a Capital Campaign?

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At its core, a capital campaign is a drawn out, extensive fundraiser.

But at a more complex level, a capital campaign is a concerted effort to raise a substantial amount of money for a specific project or undertaking. They always have deadlines that can be as soon as a year or as far away as five years or more!

Capital campaigns require coordination and cooperation from the organization and community. Without the support of board members, staff, and individuals within the area, a capital campaign has little to no chance of succeeding.

Why Do Nonprofits Use Capital Campaigns?

As stated before, nonprofits generally use capital campaigns for large projects that require significant, substantial financial backing.

More often than not, capital campaigns are used to raise money for a new building, but they can also be for:

  • The Acquisition of Land

  • A Supplement to an Endowment

  • The Expansion of an Existing Building

  • The Purchasing or Equipment or Supplies

What are the Benefits of Capital Campaigns?

Whatever big undertaking your nonprofit is thinking of raising money for, you should try implementing a capital campaign.

Even though capital campaigns are massive undertakings, they end up helping your overall fundraising in the long run for two reasons:

  • Everyone in the organization becomes better at soliciting major gifts and other donations.

    When everyone is better equipped to ask for donations during a capital campaign, they can use those same skills for year-round fundraising as well.

  • Donors are able to see tangible results of their donations.

    Many supporters are drawn to “brick and mortar” campaigns (another name for capital campaigns) because they show real results over time. Due to this, many donors continue to give to an organization after the campaign is over.

What Types of Organizations Use Capital Campaigns?

Hospitals

Many hospitals or healthcare nonprofits choose to launch capital campaigns to raise money to construct new wings or buildings, to purchase new equipment, to replace or repair outdated machines, or to fund groundbreaking medical research.

Schools and Universities

Schools, colleges, and universities are the other type of organization that frequently uses capital campaigns as a fundraising method. Education-related organizations use capital campaigns to raise money for new buildings, scholarship funds, or new equipment.

Other Nonprofits That Can Use Capital Campaigns to Fundraise

  • Community and Civic Organizations

  • Environmental Nonprofits

  • Animal-Related Organizations

  • Arts and Culture Nonprofits

  • Churches and Religious Organizations

The Process of a Capital Campaign

Planning a Capital Campaign    ♦    Implementing a Capital Campaign    ♦    Following up After a Capital Campaign

Planning a Capital Campaign

The planning stage for a capital campaign is arguably the most important component of the whole process. Without the proper planning parameters in place, the implementation stage won’t be as successful as you hoped.

Some standards that should be set in the planning phase include:

Your capital campaign needs a financial goal

The Financial Goal

Your financial goal will depend on the scope and size of the project your organization is undertaking. You should have arrived at this number after careful calculation and accounting for hidden costs.

The Deadline

Your deadline will largely depend on your financial target and the pool of donors you expect to donate. You don’t want to make your deadline too soon and risk not raising your goal. On the other hand, you don’t want to set a deadline that’s five years from now when it would only take two years to raise the money.

The Budget

Capital campaigns are used to raise money for large projects, but they also cost money to prepare and launch. You’ll need to account for marketing materials, costs for events, and other fundraising expenses that may occur.

The Feasibility Study or Report

We’ll go over the details of a feasibility report in a later section, but it’s vital to the success of your capital campaign. A feasibility report is essentially “product-testing” your campaign. You want to make sure that the community will be willing to support your project, and a feasibility report helps you do just that.

Your capital campaign needs a dedicated team or staff

A Dedicated Team

Capital campaigns aren’t one-man-shows. They require a dedicated committee (or multiple committees!) composed of committed individuals. Your committee(s) should be composed of a mixture of board members, staff members, people in your community, and volunteers.

Implementing a Capital Campaign

After all of the hard work in the planning phase, it’s time to implement your capital campaign! There are two main segments within the implementation process:

The Quiet Phase

The Quiet Phase is not made open to the public but instead relies on contributions from your major gift donors. During this stage, your committee members will reach out to your major gift donors and local businesses to solicit large donations. Usually, capital campaigns raise 50-70% of their total during the Quiet Phase.

The Public Phase

The Public Phase begins with a kickoff event, sometimes at the building site (when applicable). Once the Public Phase begins, donors are able to give however much they want. Your committee can still solicit major gifts, but the focus should be on broad marketing to as many donors as possible.

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Capital Campaign Follow Up

Every fundraising effort requires a follow-up component.

However, when it comes to capital campaigns, the follow-up process is even more important.

You should be thanking major gift donors immediately after they make a donation. A handwritten letter or a phone call can be a great way to deepen the connection that you have with a particular donor, encouraging them to give again in the future. But don’t just stop there! Continue to thank major gift donors even after the Quiet Phase has ended.

Recognizing your major gift donors can go beyond just thanking them, though. You can even offer incentives to major gift donors, like having a wing, room, or building with their name attached to it.

People like to know that their donations are appreciated; saying thank you more than once and commemorating a major gift donor’s contribution shows that you appreciate your donors’ generosity.

Essentials for a Successful Capital Campaign

Feasibility Study    ♦    Capital Campaign Committee    ♦    Prospect Research   ♦   Case for Support

Feasibility Study

Feasibility studies are crucial to the success of any capital campaign. They essentially determine whether or not your donors and the community will be willing to support your organization’s project.

It’s easiest to think of feasibility studies as product testing for your capital campaign. You must complete a feasibility study before you start fundraising for a capital campaign.

During a feasibility study, your organization or an outside consultant will sit down and interview 30 to 40 individuals from the community.

Questions to ask your interviewees during a feasibility study will range from personal (“What is your connection to the organization?”) to more broad (“Do you think this organization can raise the money for this project?”).

By the end of the feasibility study, your organization should be able to determine whether or not you have the support needed to raise money for your capital campaign.

Whom Should You Interview for a Feasibility Study?

  • Community Leaders

    Community leaders such as mayors, local representatives, and company board members will have valuable insight into the feasibility of your capital campaign.

    Test the waters by talking to the movers and shakers of your local community. Make sure to get leaders from a variety of industries and sectors.

  • Staff Members

    It’s important to have your staff members’ thoughts about your capital campaign before you launch it. They might have insights or reservations that you hadn’t thought of before.

    Depending on the size of your nonprofit, you might not be able to interview every single staff member. Instead, grab a leader from each department to talk to during your feasibility study.

  • Current and Past Board Members

    Your current board members will be able to help give you some valuable perspectives and offer their opinions on whether the capital campaign will be successful.

    Previous board members can do the same, but they also might be able to give good advice if they have experience with capital campaigns during their tenure as a board member.

  • Major Gift Donors

    Your major gift donors will be the ones who contribute the most to your capital campaign. It makes sense to interview them to get their input about your fundraising efforts.

    Talk to previous major gift donors as well as any prospects in your community who you think might want to donate to your capital campaign.

What Questions Should You Ask During a Feasibility Study?

  • How would you describe our organization?

  • Which programs do you believe are the most important?

  • How would you characterize our nonprofit’s reputation in the community?

  • What are our nonprofit’s weaknesses and strengths?

  • How do you feel about our case for support?

  • How do you feel about the project as a whole?

  • Do you think our goal and deadline are attainable and reasonable?

  • How do you think the community would respond to the project and campaign?

  • Who do you think would be the biggest supporters of this campaign?

  • Would you like to volunteer to help this campaign succeed?

Capital Campaign Committee

Who Should Be On Your Capital Campaign Committee?

  • Board Members

  • Staff Members

  • Major Gift Donors

  • Regular Volunteers

  • Community Leaders

Don’t feel obligated to create a massive committee that includes every board member, staff member, and major gift donor in your organization’s history. The committee should be big enough to handle the particulars of the capital campaign but small enough to give everyone an opportunity to voice their opinion.

Prospect Research

Prospect research can help you learn more about a donor’s:

  • Past giving history to your organization

  • Previous donations to other nonprofits and political campaigns

  • Business Connections

  • Employment information

  • Basic data like name, email address, and phone number

Having this information will help guide you toward your major gift donors. Because major gifts are going to drive the first half to two-thirds of your capital campaign, you’ll need to be well prepared to make those donation appeals.

With prospect research on your side, you’ll be more than ready to solicit those major donations from your supporters.

A Case for Support

A case for support is your nonprofit’s justification for hosting your capital campaign.

The case for support is the document you will use to communicate the reasons behind your campaign to your donors.

For that reason, your case for support must be airtight and convincing! Convey a sense of urgency as concisely and clearly as possible.

After all, donors want to know why you need their support and how they can help.

The elements on the right are important aspects to include in your case for support.

What Should You Include in a Case for Support?

  • Your nonprofit’s background

  • Your cause and services

  • Your future goals

  • The reason for the capital campaign

  • An explanation of the capital campaign

Capital Campaign Fundraising Strategies

Fundraising Events  ♦  Matching Gifts  ♦  In-Person Appeals  ♦  Corporate Gifts  ♦  Online Giving  ♦  Challenge Grants

Capital Campaigns and Fundraising Events

Fundraising events can be a great opportunity for your nonprofit to directly interact with your donors and form deeper connections with them.

But by their very nature, fundraising events are meant to help your organization raise more money.

Because capital campaigns often run for months and even years, there is plenty of time for your nonprofit to host fun events that bring in more donations.

Obviously, the one event you’ll already have to plan is the kickoff event between the Quiet Phase and the Public Phase.

But you can host all sorts of fundraisers that will bring your community together to raise money for your campaign!

Capital Campaigns and Matching Gifts

Matching gifts have the potential to speed up your capital campaign two fold. 

These corporate giving programs reward employee giving to nonprofits by doubling or sometimes even tripling employees’ donations to eligible organizations.

Not every donor will work for a company that matches donations, and even if they do, every company has different guidelines and restrictions that must be followed before the matching funds are released.

But, your organization should still promote matching gifts to all of your capital campaign donors anyway!

Why? Well, since 50-70% of your capital campaign funds will come from major gifts, those donations mean even more when they are doubled.

It can’t hurt to remind your donors of matching gift programs!

Asking for Donations During a Capital Campaign

Asking for donations can be tricky.

Asking for major donations for a capital campaign can be even tougher.

Major gift solicitation requires a lot of face-to-face time with donors and even more follow up than regular donations. In both cases, asking for donations can be a nerve-wracking experience.

But have no fear! We’ve got resources for asking for donations. Whether you’re making appeals in person, on Facebook, or somewhere in between, we’ve got tips and strategies for making those solicitations.

Tips for Asking for Donations

  • 1. Be genuine

    No one likes (or appreciates!) an insincere donation appeal.

  • 2. Be specific

    This applies for all donation asks, but even more so for capital campaigns. Your organization is trying to reach a goal. You won’t get there quickly with vague donation appeals.

  • 3. Say thank you

    You should always be grateful for donors’ generosity, but make sure that you’re thanking donors more than once for their contributions during a capital campaign.

Asking for Corporate Donations

Companies big and small are often willing to support nonprofit projects like capital campaigns.

Not only does it allow them to be more philanthropic, but they receive tax benefits and form meaningful partnerships with organizations.

Therefore, it’s a smart move for some members of your capital campaign committee to ask businesses for cash and in kind donations for your capital campaign.

Some companies will respond favorably and donate generously while others will have guidelines about the types of nonprofits and projects they donate to.

The best route to take is to research which companies offer grant programs and regularly donate to nonprofit organizations.

Give your capital campaign fundraising efforts a boost by asking for donations from companies!

Some companies will respond favorably and donate generously while others will have guidelines about the types of nonprofits and projects they donate to. The best route to take is to research which companies offer grant programs and regularly donate to nonprofit organizations.

Online Donation Tools

Fundly

Fundly is a crowdfunding platform that enables nonprofits to raise more money online. The platform uses social sharing to help nonprofits get the word out about their capital campaign.

Fundly also has a peer-to-peer fundraising platform and CRM, making fundraising and data tracking easier than ever!

Qgiv

Qgiv crowdfunding fundraising ideas

Qgiv has multiple types of fundraising software that can all be used in conjunction with one another to help nonprofits raise more money during (and even after!) their capital campaign.

Qgiv has donation page software, a mobile giving tool, a peer-to-peer platform, and on-site kiosks for in-person fundraising.

SalsaLabs

SalsaLabs is a great online donation tool for nonprofits that are running capital campaigns

SalsaLabs can help your nonprofit organization or schools raise money and reach out to donors and advocates with comprehensive fundraising and advocacy software packages.

SalsaLabs can help you raise money via online donation pages, peer-to-peer fundraising forms, and marketing and communications software.

Capital Campaigns and Challenge Grants

A capital campaign committee may elect to apply for a challenge grant to take their fundraising efforts to the next level.

Challenge grants are funds that are released by a grant-making entity after a nonprofit has completed a challenge.

Normally, these challenges are fiscally based, meaning that they are perfect additions to capital campaigns.

A challenge grant will sometimes match the challenge amount anywhere from .5:1 all the way up to 2:1.

This means that your nonprofit could stand to triple the funds that you raise during your capital campaign with the help of a challenge grant.

Do some research to find out if there are any challenge grants available in your local area to help your capital campaign reach its maximum potential!

Challenge grants are funds that are released by a grant-making entity after a nonprofit has completed a challenge. Normally, these challenges are fiscally based, meaning that they are perfect additions to capital campaigns.

How to Hire a Capital Campaign Consultant

Capital campaign consultants bring valuable expertise and a refreshing, outside perspective that can help you plan and execute your capital campaign. However, the process of hiring a consultant can be rather involved.

After all, you’re building a partnership and a long-lasting relationship with someone who can understand your mission, meet your needs, and get along well with your existing staff.

  • 1. Determine your nonprofit’s needs

    Do you need a consultant to conduct a feasibility study, or to support your efforts throughout the campaign?

  • 2. Do your research

    Look online for consultants who offer the specialty services that you need. Consider their location, cost, and core values. Ask other nonprofits in your network for recommendations.

  • 3. Start a conversation with your top choices

    Speak on the phone or in person to your top consultants. Get a feel for their personalities and how they’d mesh with your nonprofit.

  • 4. Request a proposal

    Request a proposal from your top choices. Look for a consultant who understands your nonprofit’s unique needs and brings new ideas to the table.

  • 5. Check your consultant’s references

    Ask for former clients that you can speak with to better understand how each consultant can serve your nonprofit.

  • 6. Finalize the details

    Once you’ve selected a consultant, you can discuss changes to their proposal and the engagement. Then, sign a contract that you’re both happy with!

Note

Run a Profitable Capital Campaign! Grab our 14-Step Guide to Running a Successful Capital Campaign.

Consultants for Capital Campaigns

Aly Sterling is a capital campaign consultant who can help your nonprofit raise more!

Though there are many types of fundraising consultants who can support your general fundraising efforts, there are specific consultants with the unique skill sets and insights to strengthen your capital campaign.

Capital campaign consultants should provide targeted campaign services, including:

  • Feasibility studies
  • Campaign management
  • Case for support

Consultants like Aly Sterling have dedicated capital campaign services. With a little research, you can find the consultant who’s right for your campaign.

Additional Capital Campaign Resources

Capital Campaign Timeline

Capital Campaign Timeline

Capital campaigns must follow a very defined timeline with specific checkpoints throughout.

For a detailed explanation of each of these checkpoints, read DonorSearch’s article about capital campaign timelines.

Top Consultants

Sometimes, nonprofits need help from an outside source during stages of their capital campaigns.

That’s where capital campaign consultants come in! We’ve found the six best consultants out there. Take a look!

4 Traits of Successful Campaigns

If you want your capital campaign to succeed, you should read this amazing article!

Aly Sterling Philanthropy recently wrote about the top 4 traits of successful capital campaigns. It’s a must-read for all nonprofits!