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Capital Fundraising Campaign

  • Consider a planning study first

  • Leadership gifts are essential

Capital campaign fundraising for a nonprofit organization is a major project but should not be an overwhelming process if you take the right steps along the way.

While the board of directors may have approved a major capital fundraising campaign, is it based on need or has a feasibility study been completed? A feasibility study would help determine if the amount of funds can be raised while a planning study would assume the amount of funds can be raised and instead determine how to proceed. Often, a capital campaign fundraising study will determine both the feasibility and the process of raising funds.

A capital campaign study involves a combination of personal interviews, mailed or online surveys, and an assessment of previous and current fundraising activity for your organization and in the community. Interviews would be conducted with nonprofit organization leadership, constituents, previous donors, potential donors and community leaders. Each interview would last approximately one hour. A "case" for the capital campaign (the reason funds are needed) would be presented to respondents along with a variety of financial information and initial project plans in order to establish a general knowledge of the nonprofit organization's position and intention.

If a determination is made to proceed with a capital campaign, study results would provide names of suggested capital campaign leadership, what amounts need to be raised from various groups (nonprofit leadership, constituents, community, vendors, corporations, foundations and affiliates, etc.), the timing of a capital campaign and how funds would be raised. It is possible that a period of increased communications and marketing could be recommended for the nonprofit and for the project as a precursor to a campaign. It is also likely that before launching a capital campaign, a prospect research service would be recommended to screen donor, prospect, and constituent lists for clues that can lead to more accurate assessments of individual giving potential.

As leadership is established, gifts are requested. Before anyone should be working in a volunteer capacity for a capital campaign, each must make some type of financial commitment. The reason is that it is easy to then tell a prospect (someone who you will be asking for a financial gift) "Having made my own gift to the capital campaign, I am comfortable asking for yours." It can be very awkward to not have made a gift to the capital campaign and it need not be one of the largest. Everyone must give according to their means and commitment.

Major gift fundraising is the first step in raising the bulk of funds during a capital campaign. In a campaign for many organizations, major gifts can make-up 70% to 80% of funds raised. For a church capital campaign, major gifts may only raise 50% or less due to the large number of likely donors.

Major gifts are solicited directly and personally, but it is also possible to raise funds through small gatherings or "receptions" at the homes of prominent people associated with the nonprofit. It is vital that each prospect is asked for an amount, given a time-period in which to respond and is pursued graciously until a decision is made. Even if that decision is "no" and not "yes" to a gift, it is the "maybe" that can paralyze a capital campaign because it consumes time and effort that is better spent on pursuing new prospects. Getting a decision is critical.

After major gifts are completed for the capital campaign, general gifts can be pursued through various means including direct mail campaigns, phone solicitation and a variety of smaller fundraising projects. Always start with likely donors - those who have given before - and work your way down toward least likely donors - those who have never given at all. The cost-effectiveness of a capital campaign decreases dramatically after known donors are solicited in full.

A capital campaign can be completed in as little as 3 to 6 months at a church or can take several years at a university, medical center or other large nonprofit. Typically a year or two is average to complete the solicitation while payments on pledges can take 3 to 5 years on average.


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