25 Tips and Ideas for Organizing a Capital Campaign

capital campaign, fundraising, donors, donation management, project fundraisingCapital campaigns are an effective way for nonprofit organizations and other groups to raise money they need for new or updated facilities, equipment, endowments and much more. Collecting a lot of money or pledges in a short window of time can be intimidating at first, so try these 30 tips and ideas to organize a successful capital campaign. 

Prep for the Campaign Launch 

  1. Gauge Your Needs - Talk to your team (this could include staff, volunteers and a board of directors) about their “wish list” for projects to promote in the campaign well before its launch. Then collaborate to assign priorities.
  2. Set Your Goal Carefully - It’s tempting to set a fundraising goal based solely on the amount of money needed for your project, but you’ll also need to consider your ability to raise the dollars needed. You want to set your organization up for success.
  3. Conduct a Feasibility Study - Whether you hire a consultant or have your own staff conduct the review, you’ll benefit from this information. Good questions to ask include how other local nonprofits are meeting their fundraising goals, whether the community is likely to see the need to donate to your project and the donor population’s size and willingness to give.
  4. Make a Gift Table/Chart - It may seem elementary, but a physical depiction will help you visualize how close you are to your fundraising goal. You could even divide it up by creating a goal for each “gift level,” but be aware you might get one donor who blows the whole plan out of the water (a great problem to have!).
  5. Don’t Jump the Gun - Sometimes organizations start paying architects for design plans or even begin construction before getting the ball rolling on the capital campaign. This could be a crucial misstep if the goal isn’t met and building plans stall. Plans and renderings make a difference to donors though, so make sure funds for architect fees, etc. are available WITHOUT the use of dollars from the capital campaign, just in case.
  6. Identify Big Donors (and Know Them Inside and Out) - You want to know almost everything there is to know about the donors you expect to provide major gifts. Research foundations or even individuals and their past donation habits by using public records searches, email newsletters or word-of-mouth. And remember, big donors often hang around with other big donors. Once you have a couple on board, consider putting them in charge of a “fundraising committee” that could bring in other people from their network who would be willing to give.
  7. Go Corporate - Corporate donation and employee matching programs are great ways for nonprofits to tap into more fundraising dollars. You can get information through companies’ philanthropic or community outreach programs or through subscription websites that match organizations with corporate donors.
  8. Consider Crowdfunding – It’s not just for entrepreneurs or people trying to pay medical bills — “crowdfunding” is for anyone trying to raise money through smaller, individual donations. It’s a great technique to reach out to donor populations who might not consider giving the traditional way. Genius Tip: Collect money for your capital campaign by integrating SignUpGenius Payments onto your group’s online sign up.

Form a capital campaign committee with an online sign up! SAMPLE.

Create a Marketing Strategy 

  1. Get Social - If you don’t use a social media platform, now’s a great time to start. And no, a Facebook page isn’t enough. Consider creating Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat accounts as well so your message will reach as many different people as possible.
  2. Pick a #hashtag - Once you have your social media pages up and running, select a short and catchy hashtag and use it in all your social media posts about the campaign. This will make it easier to track what you’ve said (and what others are saying) about your fundraising efforts.
  3. Collaborate with the Media - Talk to local reporters and bloggers about stories that could get your campaign in front of as many eyes as possible. People may get bored with the headline “Organization raising money for capital campaign” —  can you take a different angle? Consider featuring people who have been helped by your nonprofit and talk about how the campaign will help others like them.
  4. Go Viral - This is easier said than done. But look at the success the ALS Foundation had with its #icebucketchallenge video. Can your organization come up with a fun challenge, video or post that will encourage others to share and alert their friends on social media?
School carnival festival fundraiser volunteer sign up form

Running the Campaign: Quiet Phase 

  1. Prioritize the Quiet Phase - Many nonprofits raise 50 percent or more of their capital campaign funds during the “quiet phase” — before a big public announcement. It’s a great opportunity to solicit donors close to the organization, gauge others’ feelings on need and more. Make this phase a high priority because it will likely determine how well the rest of your effort will go.
  2. Coddle Your Big Donors - If you’ve got a few people with deep pockets and a lot of love and respect for your organization, you might meet your goal sooner than you think. It’s much easier to focus on a few large donors than dozens of tiny ones. Make sure they’re aware of your needs — take them on tours of your facility and introduce them to people helped by your group to show them exactly how their dollars would provide assistance.
  3. Incentivize Major Gift Donations: Some potential donors don’t care about notoriety, but others live for it. Consider hanging a plaque, naming a room after or otherwise recognizing major gift donors (or all donors, if you’re able).
  4. Set a Separate Goal for this Phase - Do you hope to raise at least half your funds before the campaign goes public? More? Make your team aware of your quiet phase goal, but don’t get too worried if you don’t hit it exactly.

Organize your school's capital campaign efforts with an online sign up! SAMPLE.

Running the Campaign: Public Phase

  1. Think Outside the Box - If you mix old-school methods like direct mail and telemarketing with newer methods such as social media and crowdfunding, you’ll reach a much wider audience. Talk with your marketing team about creative ways to solicit donations.
  2. Be Aware that Big Donors Might Go Dark Now - Lots of big donors either want to kick off the campaign or give the final gift to meet your goal at the end. It can be tough to get major gifts at this time, so momentum for medium and small gifts is key.
  3. Build Momentum by Promoting Progress - You’ve seen those giant thermometers, and while they may be cheesy, they’re a visual explanation of how close an organization is to its fundraising goal. Social media and email blasts are also great ways to keep everyone updated.
  4. Master the art of the “ask” - If you don’t ask, you won’t receive. But a good “ask” is definitely an art form. Help your team come up with a successful pitch to potential donors, and then have them rehearse it with other staff members or even in front of a mirror. When one of your team members sits down with a potential donor, the speech should feel familiar and comfortable.
  5. Don’t Make Donors Do the Work - That means come up with a donation amount for them (but of course be flexible), arrange to come pick up the check or get the online transfer set up and have any reading material about your organization/campaign available for them to look at immediately.
  6. Give Donors a Say - Asking for advice on how to improve your organization will make your donors feel invested in the cause. Don’t be afraid of the feedback you’ll receive — you may even hear an idea you wouldn’t otherwise have considered.

Collect money for your capital campaign with an online sign up! SAMPLE.

Follow Up 

  1. Send Thank You Notes to Donors of Every Level - Make your grandma proud by sharpening those thank you note skills. Donors should receive something telling them how much you appreciate their generosity.
  2. Be Specific in Your Thanks - Tell donors how their money will be put to use to help them feel more connected to the organization (and they’ll be more likely to give in the future). Try something like “Your generous $1,000 donation will go toward new beds for the shelter’s sleeping area, giving a community member in need a safe, comfortable place to spend the night.”
  3. Keep Following Up - Once your initiative is complete, invite large donors for a private tour or plan an open house event. If they helped fund a scholarship or another project, send them photos and information. Think of creative ways to keep donors in the loop, and they’ll be more likely to give the next time you need it.
Take one step at a time toward launching your capital campaign, and you’ll be more likely to succeed. Plus, once you’ve got a template in place, it will be easier to replicate in future years. 

Sarah Pryor is a journalist, wife, mom and Auburn football fan living in Charlotte, N.C.