Capital Campaigns for Community Organizations

23 Mar 2022 By Amy Eisenstein

Capital Campaigns for Community Organizations: Crash Course

You might think that capital campaigns are only for big organizations. Or for organizations that are building new facilities. Or for organizations that have very wealthy people on their boards.

But in reality, the capital campaign model can be used successfully for smaller community-based nonprofits like schools, too.

The model works not because of the size or scale or scope of the project. It works because of the structure of the campaign. You can use the capital campaign model to raise $10,000 for a small project or $10 million for a very large, multi-pronged project. And while it may seem

unlikely to you that both of those campaigns are based on the same model, they really are.

Below are the eight steps that define the capital campaign model. And while large campaigns may seem more complicated and take longer, once you pare away the extra things, the model is the same.

Step 1: Clarify Your Fundraising Goals

What would you like to raise money for? The answer to that might begin with a list of the items you would have to have to move your mission ahead. Perhaps it’s something tangible like renovations to your facility or new equipment. Or perhaps it includes startup costs for a new extracurricular program you are planning to launch.

You might have been thinking about paying for these items out of your cash reserves, but why not conduct a capital campaign to pay for them?

Some of the other items often included in capital campaigns are 2-3 years of staffing for a new program, upgrading systems, staff training, and other capacity-building investments.

Once you’ve made a list of the items you wish to fund and have attached dollar goals to each of them, you will have a good start at a campaign working goal. Be sure to mark every document as a DRAFT and date it, as your plans are likely to shift some through the campaign process.

Step 2: Write a Clear and Compelling Case for Support

The next step is to be able to articulate why raising money for those goals matters for your school. In capital campaign language, that’s referred to as the “case for support.” And a good case for support highlights how the investments will benefit the people you serve.

In developing the list of items you wish to raise money for, you listed features rather than benefits. But to create a powerful, compelling case for support, you will write about how the money you raise will make a difference in the lives of the people you serve. For example, don’t just detail the costs associated with expanding your afterschool programming—explain how and why expanded programming and capacity will help students, parents, and the community.

**Don’t worry about creating a fancy brochure. Instead, just write a simple but powerful document. **Once again, be sure to mark it as a DRAFT and be ready to invite comments from many people, including those who are likely to be among your largest donors.

Step 3: Develop a Gift Range Chart

When you added up the costs of the things you want to raise money for through your campaign, you’ll have your campaign goal. Now, you can break down that goal into the number of gifts of what sizes it will take to reach that goal. You may know this chart as a donor pyramid.

The top gift on your chart should be at least 20% of your campaign goal. If your organization has a narrow base of support, that top gift should be 25% or even 30%.

Then, map out the giving levels and gradually increase the number of individual gifts at each level. Use simple numbers. If your model shows a few gifts at the top and lots of gifts at the bottom with some sort of reasonable order in between, you’ll have your gift range chart. And then, if you use that chart as your campaign road map, working toward bringing in those gifts, that’s what you’ll be likely to get.

Step 4: Make a Depth Chart

Once you know how many gifts you need at each giving level, the next step is obvious—you now need a chart that shows the names of potential donors you have at each level.

Because not every donor will necessarily give at the level you have in mind for them, you will need more names at each level than the number of gifts at that level. If you assume that you need three names for each gift, then when you ask those donors, it will be likely that one will give at the level and the other two will give at lower levels.

**Keep in mind that the people whose names you put on your chart should be qualified prospects. **They should be people who have the ability to give at that level, a belief in your mission, and direct contact with you or your organization.

Once you’ve finished these four steps, you’ll be ready to move into the active part of your campaign.

Step 5: Solicit Your Top Prospects First

One of the most effective capital campaign strategies is having a strategic order for soliciting gifts—from the top down. Once you’ve got your depth chart, it’s time to start contacting the donors who you’ve identified as prospects for the top gifts.

Those top gifts may take longer to secure than you might imagine. But be patient and don’t

start asking for the small gifts until you’ve raised at least 60% of the money from those large gifts. In our experience, your early success with the top gifts will create the excitement that will make the other donors more likely to give.

Step 6: Announce Your Campaign

Once you’ve brought in those largest gifts and have raised well over half of your campaign goal, you can announce your campaign publicly.

**This shift to a more public portion of your campaign is particularly important in community-based campaigns. **For smaller organizations, community groups, and schools, public sentiment often matters more than in larger campaigns that are geographically diverse.

You can stage an event to celebrate your early success and publicize your campaign goal and then launch as broad a fundraising campaign as possible to raise the rest of the funds. Just be sure to effectively promote your event in advance so everyone knows when and how to join.

Step 7: Solicit the Broad Base of Your Donors

Use this final piece of your campaign to give everyone a chance to give. You can combine multiple solicitation strategies at this phase, including online giving, direct mail appeals, a phonathon, and whatever other fundraising mechanisms are appropriate for your organization.

Once it appears that your campaign will be successful, people will want to give. And in asking broadly for small gifts, you have an opportunity to build relationships with people who are likely to continue to give to your organization in the future.

Step 8: Celebrate Your Success

Of course, once you’ve gone over your goal, you should celebrate and thank every donor for making your campaign successful!

A Final and Important Campaign Strategy

Through the process outlined above, you will find many opportunities to involve volunteers. You can recruit them to serve in leadership positions for your campaign. You can ask them to serve on ad hoc committees to accomplish some of the work described above. Or they might help take the reins of virtual fundraising during the campaign’s public phase.

When volunteers are involved in your school’s campaign, they will give and give more generously than if they were not involved. So look for opportunities to create ad hoc committees to involve them in the campaign process.

**The bottomline: Don’t wait for something big—try it now! **

You don’t have to wait until you have a big project to apply these campaign strategies. Consider identifying some projects you know your organization wants to do next year and use those as the basis for a small campaign.

Capital Campaign Readiness Assessment

Is your organization ready for a capital campaign? This simple assessment tool will help you find out. You’ll assess six key areas of your organization. Take this free assessment now and find out if you’re truly ready for a campaign.

Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, and Andrea Kihlstedt are co-founders of the Capital Campaign Toolkit, a virtual support system for nonprofit leaders running successful campaigns. The Toolkit provides all the tools, templates, and guidance you need — without breaking the bank.