Capital Campaigns: More Than Just a Phase

Feb 22, 2017

So you’ve decided to embark on a capital campaign. Congratulations! This is a huge step for any organization. You’ve probably done your strategic planning, outlined tasks and set goals, and determined what direction your organization will move in over the next 3 to 5 years. The need for a capital campaign often arises as a result of strategic planning. At this juncture, it’s important to assess organizational capacity and inventory the existing and needed resources to carry out the campaign (like staff, donors, and volunteers who can champion this cause). Once you have a handle on these items, the real work can begin.

But where do we begin? Well, is this feasible?

Capital campaigns have four phases, but before you jump into the direct solicitation portion of the campaign it’s important to conduct a feasibility study. A feasibility study will help your organization gain an understanding of how you’re perceived by your key donors and other relevant external stakeholders. Convene your constituents and get to the heart of their feelings about the campaign as well as the organization’s visibility and leadership. A preliminary case for support is useful at this time, and if you have it ready it would be wise to share it with the group you’re interviewing.

Oftentimes organizations will bring in a consultant for the interviews as donors and others close to the organization may not feel comfortable giving critical feedback. The results gleaned from the interview process will help you strengthen your case for support and thus make a greater impact as you begin through the active phases of this campaign. Additionally, this part of the process will enable your organization to assemble a working committee of prominent, engaged individuals that can assist with solicitations.

So what are the “active phases” of a capital campaign?

Quiet Phase

At this stage of a capital campaign, an organization will approach its strongest donors for the larger types of gifts that really get the campaign moving. Typically an organization will attempt to raise between 30-50% of its goal. When the campaign moves into the next phase, the public phase, a moderately funded project holds a more favorable position of success and helps rally the support of smaller donors.

Public Phase

The public phase of a capital campaign begins after the project is about halfway funded. To enter the public phase, an organization will announce that it has launched a campaign for a specific capital project and that it has already raised a certain amount of money. Organizations at this part of a capital campaign seek out smaller but still leadership level gifts in the low tens of thousands, as well as other amounts. Like many fundraising components, capital campaigns can also employ special events to garner support and raise awareness of the cause. Events are also a great way to leverage the connections of your committee and meet new prospects. Public events are excellent opportunities to generate excitement and help the public realize the “why” behind the organization’s project. Bonus Pro Tip: Articulate the need for support in a way that demonstrates how the completed project will affect people’s lives.

Winding Down

The wind-down portion of a capital campaign, which occurs after an organization has raised 90% of its goal, is one of the most difficult phases to get through. After potentially years of aggressive fundraising, the struggle to raise the remaining 10% of funds needed can be quite challenging as many resources are thought of as being exhausted. Many fundraisers recommend approaching a donor to make a challenge grant where contributions are matched dollar for dollar. If this is not an option, consider testing out other incentive-based tactics like new recognition opportunities.

Announcement of Completion

You’ve made it to the finish line! It’s time to get loud and proud. Once you have met the goals of the campaign, organizations should make bold and formal public announcements about the completion of fundraising. In addition to press releases or other marketing, organizations can hold a big event that thanks and recognizes donors and other major funders.

The Wrap Up

Capital campaigns present the opportunity for organizations to generate a lot of awareness and garner a large portion of public visibility. It’s important that the strategic aspects of capital campaigns are not rushed and that adequate time is given for planning as these tend to be more public initiatives than traditional annual fundraising. Now that we’ve provided a general overview of how capital campaigns are structured, it’s important to gain an understanding of how they’re visually realized. Check back next week when we make the case for capital campaign branding.

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