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How to Lay Early Groundwork For a Future Capital Campaign

By Gail Perry, Fired-Up Fundraising

Capital campaigns are not for the faint-hearted!

After leading or coaching over 50 campaigns, here’s what I’ve learned about laying the groundwork early.

The most important time in your campaign is your PRE-PLANNING.

Why, because it’s what you do ahead of time that matters most.

Here’s what you do early, early, while the campaign is still just being talked about.

My advice: Slooooowwww down.

There’s lots to do in order to be ready for a capital campaign.

Here are key steps you need to work through BEFORE you launch into the silent phase of your campaign.

1. Decide your scope. Exactly what will you be raising money for?

This sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s not.

Do you need a new building? Consider this:

  • Where will the building be and how much will the land cost?
  • Do you have a simple schematic design?
  • Do you have an idea about costs?
  • What about the cost of building permits, upfit, new furniture etc?

Don’t forget other things might you want to include in your campaign objectives. How about:

  • Funding for your endowment?
  • A special building maintenance fund or money for equipment?
  • Start-up costs for any new programs?

Identify all the different “funding objectives” or purposes that your campaign might include – well in advance.

2. Create a “working” campaign goal for planning purposes

Once you have a sense of what you might want to raise money for, you can put some numbers next to each funding objective.

Then you can come up with a Working Campaign Goal.

It’s a starting place for your campaign planning.

Once you start talking numbers, you’ll find a sweet spot; a number that impresses people but doesn’t make them gasp at your optimism.

3. Break down the capital campaign goal by gift amounts

You’ll need to craft a Gift Range Chart. It will be a remarkable planning tool for you.

Based on your preliminary working campaign goal, create a chart that will show how many gifts you’ll need of what sizes to reach that goal.

  • How many gifts of $1 million will you need?
  • How many of $500,000? and $250,000?
  • How many in smaller amounts will you need to cover what your major donors don’t?

Know that a gift range chart for the same goal will vary from organization to organization depending on the size of your prospect list and the potential of your largest donors.

4. Get your board on board early

Before you start interviewing potential consultants, make sure  your board is fully briefed about the prospects and potential for your campaign.

Take the time to educate your board about how capital campaigns work.

  • Major gift and capital campaign strategy is not always intuitive. Your leaders need to understand that it takes time and a lot of nurturing to close huge gifts.

Take the time to get everyone’s agreement on campaign objectives. Is everyone on board with the Working Goal, and the projects that will be funded by the campaign?

You can’t go forward if there is dissent about what the campaign will include!

  • Start beefing up your infrastructure. You’ll need extra staff, consulting, design, materials, PR and events. The money you want to raise won’t just walk in the door!

5. Involve your most important donors in your capital campaign planning

Many people ask us, “when do we approach our major donors about the campaign?”

We recommend that you engage major donors when your campaign is just an IDEA!

You should involve these donors in the planning process – as your ideas evolve. Let them actually help shape the plan.

You get the idea.

Don’t keep your most important donors at arm’s length through the planning process.

Instead, use your planning phase to draw them in. The pre-planning phase is a wonderfully exciting time to involve your donor prospects.

Take these steps first and you’ll not only save time and money, but you’ll also have your campaign on the early road to success!

About the Author: Gail Perry is an international fundraising consultant, keynote speaker, trainer and philanthropy leader, with deep expertise in major gift and capital campaign fundraising. Her Fired-Up Fundraising approach, developed over the past 30 years as a nonprofit philanthropy expert, has helped organizations raise hundreds of millions in gifts..

Looking for more? Check out Capital Campaigns: A Complete Guide for NonprofitsNeed help finding the right prospects for your capital campaign, check out Sumac’s Prospecting Add-on!


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