If you’re preparing to launch a capital campaign, a lot of work goes into figuring out exactly how much money a nonprofit can realistically raise. When looking to raise large sums, proper planning, preparation, and execution of all phases of the capital campaign are crucial.
Nonprofits such as museums; community centers; faith-based organizations like churches, synagogues, mosques; and homeless shelters often seek funding through intricate, involved, capital campaigns to raise funds to purchase land, build a building, and/or renovate or preserve an existing structure.
Capital campaigns can last for years, but it’s important to list an end date and not let them drag on indefinitely. If you don’t reach your goal, you can have a new campaign in the future, apply for grants and/or loans, or change your budget to reflect what makes sense based on the funds you’ve actually been able to raise.
According to Robert Happy, President of Averill Fundraising Solutions, LLC, “Nearly every nonprofit institution struggles when it comes to successfully executing capital campaigns.” He offers some great tips in his article 10 Capital Campaign Do’s and Don’ts for Better Fundraising, published by The Giving Institute.
In addition, Averill Fundraising Solutions offers a comprehensive toolkit on its website. Capital Campaigns: 11 Steps to Set and Exceed Your Goals, with information on Setting Capital Campaign Goals, Exceeding Capital Campaign Goals, and Maximizing Capital Campaign Success.
Another helpful article on the subject is 9 Capital Campaign Best Practices to Help You Succeed by Aly Sterling Philanthropy.
Here are 10 Best Practices to increase your capital campaign’s success culled from our experience as well as gathered from nonprofit, philanthropy, and fundraising experts.
1. Plan Ahead!
This can include some of the steps below. Running a successful fundraising project of this magnitude generally requires a strategic plan and having a good team in place to ensure the campaign all runs smoothly.
It’s important to make sure that you preserve annual giving so that you will have funds to continue operations, and possibly the higher expenses linked to a larger facility after the campaign. Donors who’ve just made donations in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars can feel overtaxed or put upon if expected to continue to give annually at the same level.
2. Choose your team
Your team can consist of a combination of your staff, executive committee, and board members.
- Choose members who have experience with fundraising, connections, and/or you know are dependable and will remain actively involved until you reach the finish line.
- Make sure the team can is cohesive and can operate effectively together.
- Fragile egos and controlling attitudes can cause enough friction between staff and top-level volunteers to negatively impact your results.
- Determine what everyone’s roles will be.
- Research and choose fundraising consultants who understand your needs, but will also be able to tell you the truth, no matter how hard it is to hear!
- Successful campaigns will benefit from an outside fundraising and strategic planning expert or group of experts.
- Fundraising consultants generally offer assistance with fundraising, strategic planning, and training leaders. Fundraising solutions and strategies generally include fundraising assessments, feasibility studies, and capital campaign management.
- Even if there’s an expert on your board or executive committee, if they are too close to the project, or emotionally involved, they will not be able to accurately and dispassionately gage how much you will be able to raise.
- Determine your nonprofit’s needs and goals together with the fundraising consultant. Fundraising consultants generally offer assistance with fundraising, strategic planning, and training leaders. Fundraising solutions and strategies generally include fundraising assessments, feasibility studies, and capital campaign management.
4. Perform a feasibility study
- Phase one of a successful capital campaign will include a feasibility study to determine if your organization will be able to raise the funds you seek.
- Simply wanting (or even needing) to raise a certain dollar amount isn’t enough to justify setting that as your fundraising goal.
- Prepare your case, learn your capacity, and prepare your donors and leadership for the campaign.
- Be willing to alter your plans based on the results of the study and the advice of the fundraising professionals you’ve contracted.
- Don’t have architectural plans drawn up until you know how much you can successfully raise from your capital campaign.
5. Leverage the power of matching gifts.
It’s important to ask for both lead gifts and major gifts.
- Everyone loves matching campaigns. Matching campaigns create win-win situations.
- Does your organization have any members or businesses who contribute large sums annually? Ask them if they would be willing to match contributions up to a certain dollar amount as part of their annual giving.
- Matching campaigns promote a sense of urgency and immediacy.
- Have a deadline for the matching campaign.
- Large donors often feel burdened, like they are carrying all the weight of insuring that the organization meets its financial obligations. They can get behind incentivizing others to give more.
- Matchers along with grant funders, want to be sure that there are people who will step up to help the nonprofit in times of need and that they will not be expected to sustain it forever.
- People who can only afford smaller donations are motivated to give more when they know their contributions will be doubled, tripled or quadrupled.
6. Ask companies for donations.
- Choose the right people to be involved in the ask. Do they have a connection with a certain company, or are they well-known influencers? Corporations will be happy to give if they are asked by a familiar name.
- Provide the talking points and information to your fundraisers and donation solicitors.
- Donations requested can be straightforward contributions, matching funds, in-kind donations, or a combination of these.
7. Apply for grants.
Part of your overall strategy can include supplementing your capital campaign funding with grants. GrantWatch lists grants for capital campaigns under the capital funding category.
- It’s not always clear from the name and initial description of the grant whether it can be used to fund a capital campaign.
- To find grants for your capital campaign, look under grants in your state. Get creative and look under other categories as well, depending on the nature of your organization.
- Don’t rule out in-kind grants.
Here are some grants available on GrantWatch for capital campaign funding.
Grants to Central Indiana nonprofit organizations and cultural institutions for activities in the areas of education, community development, health, and human services. Funding may be requested for either capital campaigns and operating support. As an Indianapolis-based organization, the Foundation predominately makes grants to Central Indiana organizations as well as a few national medical research institutions.
Grants of up to $50,000 to Massachusetts nonprofit organizations to improve the quality of life for residents in Hampden and Hampshire counties. Prospective applicants must prequalify prior to submitting an application. Proposals may be in the areas of youth development, education, health, arts, religion, environment, and education. Capital Campaigns, building and renovation, land acquisition, and annual campaigns are all causes of particular interest to this Foundation.
8. Hire a professional grant writer.
A capital campaign is not the place to scrimp and save. Don’t be pennywise and pound foolish. Getting a grant can make a huge difference for your capital campaign’s success.
- If your nonprofit doesn’t have a development director with grant writing experience and you don’t have anyone on your team with grant writing skills, we recommend that you hire a professional grant writer.
- To find an experienced, professional grant writer, put up a request for a grant writer on GrantWriterTeam.com. Our experienced grant writers will bid on your request and then you choose the grant writer who best suits your requirements.
9. Get commitments in writing and follow up on all pledges.
Who will be responsible for making sure that all pledges are paid-in-full, quickly? Collections can be tricky and very delicate for nonprofits who count on maintaining good relationships with all donors. Life-circumstances can change and people are sometimes not able or willing to follow through on what they’ve committed to contributing. These can include any number of unplanned, unfortunate events including economic downturns, recessions, divorce, major illnesses, hospitalizations, and even unfortunately bankruptcies.
- Allow for a certain amount of leeway and wiggle room in your budget so you will not be caught in a bad situation if pledges promised don’t materialize.
- Make sure you have a system in place for collecting the funds, and a back-up if people don’t follow through on their commitments.
- Invest in up-to-date donor management software for proper record keeping, accounting, to provide evaluations and feedback, and to help you get you poised for your next fundraising project.
10. Express Your Gratitude
Be sure you thank all your contributors. Not enough can be said about the importance of making sure that each donor feels appreciated, included, and knows that you are grateful for their support.
- Send written thank you notes and letters.
- Make it a point to express your thanks to donors at meetings and events and in your newsletters.
- Have a special event to thank major donors.
- Acknowledge donations through permanent reminders such as plaques on doors or wings of buildings.
- Be sure to thank volunteers as well for all their sweat equity support.
And for even more resources, here are two highly recommended books on the subject include Andrea Kihlestedt’s, Capital Campaigns, strategies that Work, and Are You Ready for a Capital Campaign?: Assessing Your Nonprofit’s Ability to Run a Major Fundraising Campaign by Linda Lysakowski.
Find grants for your capital campaign on GrantWatch.
About the Author: The author is a staff writer for GrantWatch.