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Capital Campaign Planning: A 9-Step Guide

15 min read
October 27, 2022
Courtney Chatterton headshot
Courtney Chatterton
Marketing Operations Specialist, Neon One
Capital Campaign planning event

Running a capital campaign can be daunting. Often, there can be six figures—or more— attached to an overarching goal. For many accomplishments campaigns, the end goal is a physical accomplishment like a new building or an extensive renovation.

On the other hand, if you find your nonprofit struggling most with interest on a loan or mortgage, a capital campaign could be a great way to get you out of the red. You may even choose to run a capital campaign to provide an endowment fund for the next generation of constituents. 

This can all be pretty overwhelming for any nonprofit, which is why we’ve rounded up some best practices for preparing and executing a successful capital campaign. No matter the type of campaign, these tips can help you.

But First, What is a Capital Campaign?

A capital campaign is a major fundraising initiative with a concrete goal and a defined timeline. Usually, organizations use capital campaigns to raise funds for larger projects like new construction, building renovations, or big equipment purchases.

Unlike other types of donations, capital campaigns are always linked to a dedicated project. Depending on the size of the project and the fundraising goal, campaigns might take place over several years and involve many phases. But donors will always know exactly what their donation is supporting.

These campaigns also differ from typical fundraisers in terms of scale. If your organization is looking to fund a large-scale expansion, a capital campaign is a great way to make that happen.

Creating Your Capital Campaign Plan

Capital campaigns are typically divided into two parts: The quiet phase and the public phase. 

During the quiet phase, you’ll reach 50% to 70% of your goal by asking your major donors for contributions. The public phase will occur when you’ve finally announced your campaign to the world. You can start collecting smaller donations from your broader pool of donors.

In this article, we’ll go over the key planning stages needed to successfully launch a capital campaign. Here are the steps we’ll be covering: 

Step 1: Do Your Research

Step 2: Conduct a Feasibility Study

Step 3: Create a Brand & Slogan

Step 4: Design a Campaign Specific Landing Page

Step 5: Launch the Quiet Phase

Step 6: Make Your Marketing Materials

Step 7: Plan Your Public Phase Launch Event

Step 8: Promote Your Campaign on Social Media

Step 9: Reach out to Donors Using Traditional Methods 

Let’s get into it.

Step 1: Do Your Research

There are lots of factors to consider carefully during the planning phase. Feasibility, timing, goal setting, and donor analysis all play a large role in carving out a worthwhile campaign.

Before diving in, make sure you ask the following questions:

Is The Timing Right?

If your organization is on firm footing within your community—or you’ve been in the game for a while—it could be time to fundraise for some capital.

If you’re just getting your organization off the ground, it may not be the right time for this type of campaign. Your efforts should instead go into bringing in new donors and building relationships with them to help build sustainable, long-term growth.

Are Your Donors Ready?

Knowing whether or not your constituents can contribute the amount of money you’re looking for can make or break a capital campaign. 

If you only raise a few thousand dollars annually, your donors may not yet be ready to support a campaign that needs to raise millions of dollars.

Segment Your Donor List

In your planning phase, you should segment your donor list. While your team will already know who your major donors are, segmentation will help you discover existing donors who have the capacity to increase their giving and deliver new major gifts. 

Mid-level donors, for example, often have major-gifts capacity: Creating a donor segment especially for that group will help you send tailored appeals that increase the likelihood that they’ll give larger gifts.

But donor segmentation isn’t solely focused on acquiring major gifts. It will also give you a good idea of your overall fundraising capacity. If you notice that your small-dollar donor list is five times the size of your mid-level donor list, that may help you determine how many dollars you’ll need to raise from each group. 

A fundraising strategy aimed at engaging a donor base that’s made up mostly of smaller donors will differ from a strategy aimed at engaging large numbers of major donors.
Segmenting out the larger donors from the smaller ones helps you craft a fundraising strategy while making sure you’re not overworking your team. Plus, it can help you determine if a campaign is sustainable with your current donor base.

Step 2: Conduct a Feasibility Study

If you’ve started planning your campaign, you’re probably familiar with feasibility studies. A feasibility study is used to help determine your fundraising goal and can also help you develop a strategy for your campaign. 

During a feasibility study, nonprofits will conduct interviews with supporters, current and previous board members, influential business owners, and volunteer leaders to see if they’d be interested in supporting the campaign.

Typically, nonprofits hire a third-party representative like a consultant to perform the interviews so that supporters feel comfortable giving their honest opinions.

Conducting a feasibility study will help you understand what your organization is capable of raising and determine what your pain points might be throughout the fundraising stages. As with any fundraising campaign, you need to be sure that your nonprofit has the infrastructure to handle this kind of long-term project.

If your staff alone cannot lead the campaign, consider selecting a board of constituents to help spearhead the fundraising efforts. Make sure that they are invested in the long-term plan and can dedicate enough time for meetings, though!

Step 3: Create a Brand & Slogan

Reaching your campaign’s goal could take years. Therefore, you want your campaign to be memorable so donors will share it with their friends and family throughout the duration of the fundraising period. And who knows? Your supporters may give more than once during your campaign.

To help create an impression that lasts, you may want to create a brand and slogan for your capital campaign. Even if you already have a well-established brand for your nonprofit, the campaign’s brand should be slightly different so as to separate your campaign from the rest of your fundraising activities.

Your brand should fit the theme of your project while complementing your nonprofit’s overall brand. You’ll also need a catchy slogan to capture your donors’ attention and encourage them to contribute.

Here’s an important tip: Figure out what your overall message is for the campaign before you create your slogan.

For your slogan, you should go for something that:

  • Is short and catchy: Create a slogan that’s quick and easy to read. Your phrase should stick in your donors’ minds.
  • Describes your project: Make it clear what your campaign is looking to achieve. That way, donors can gain information as soon as they see your slogan.

Think about your brand and slogan as the main point that you want donors to take away from your communications, remember, and share with their networks.

Step 4: Design a Capital Campaign Landing Page

To differentiate your capital campaign from the rest of your fundraising efforts, you should create a dedicated campaign donation page that you use exclusively to support your capital fundraising efforts. 

This page can include information about the capital campaign as well as details about the project the campaign supports. 

During the quiet phase of your capital campaign, don’t promote the page on your website’s homepage. Instead, simply share the link with interested donors. Once you launch your public phase, you can give it the prime real estate it deserves. 

Here are things you can add to your campaign page to build trust with potential donors:

  • A place for supporters to donate
  • Updates on the campaign’s progress
  • Consistent branding and a slogan
  • A section with donor FAQs

It’s important to have a well-designed website because it will be the place you direct donors to learn more about your campaign.
You should also pay close attention to your donation form, as the design and layout of your form can increase conversion rates. To learn more, check out our article on the donation form best practices that are built into Neon CRM.

Step 5: Launch the Quiet Phase

Immediately following the planning period, your team should begin seeking out key donors who may be willing to make sizable donations to your project. Typically, this is done before you officially announce the campaign to your wider donor base. 

Depending on the size of the organization, the length of this phase—not to mention the entire campaign—can vary from several months to over a year.

This phase is also about using your previously cultivated relationships with large donors by asking them to make the first donations to your campaign. 

Make sure you are offering adequate recognition to the major donors who support your initiative. This could be in the form of a plaque, named meeting room, or even an entire building, wing, or fund named after them, depending on your project.

The overarching goal of the quiet phase is to ensure that your campaign will be successful. You want to be able to raise the majority of your overall goal so smaller donors do not feel overburdened once the campaign goes public. Asking donors to help you raise the last $15,00 of a campaign, for example, feels much more manageable than asking them to help raise $2 million.

It also guarantees built-in goal protection—if you reach your goal before even leaving the quiet phase, you can easily slightly increase your goal to accommodate your donors’ giving.

In the quiet phase, you can build excitement in your entire donor base by announcing plans for a renovation, a building move, or the creation of an endowment. This is markedly different from launching the campaign publicly, though.

Begin including plans and other teasers into your ongoing communications, such as newsletters or bulletins, so that your constituents know what you’re thinking about. This can help build support before you ever make an announcement.

Step 6: Make Your Marketing Materials

It would be hard to raise awareness about your fundraiser without the right information and materials to give to donors. Marketing materials will help spread the word about your campaign. 

Your materials can be physical documents you send or hand out, or they can be content you post on your website and social media accounts. Ideally, they should be both!

We’ll go over a few marketing materials that you can use during the campaign.

A. Pledge Cards

A pledge card is a donation form you can give to donors in person or send via direct mail. The great thing about pledge cards is that donors can pledge a large amount that they can pay in smaller installments over the course of a few months (like monthly payments!). 

Your cards should match your capital campaign’s brand and have the slogan somewhere on the card. The card will be a place where donors can input their information including their name, address, and payment information.

B. Case for Support

If you’ve already started planning, you probably know how a case for support works. A case for support, sometimes known as a donor prospectus, explains your campaign and how you will use the funds. 

The case for support should answer the common questions donors will have about your project. You can send your case for support out with your appeal letters or make it a resource donors can access on your website.

C. Brochures

Your nonprofit can use brochures to provide donors with bite-sized pieces of information about your capital campaign. In fact, most of the information you include in your brochures can come from your case for support.

Like your other marketing materials, your brochures should match your campaign’s brand. They should include information about your donor giving levels, your incentives, and the different ways to give.

Step 7: Plan your Public Phase Launch Event

In between the quiet phase and public phase, there is a stage known as the “kickoff.” This marks a critical part of your campaign where you’ll announce your project to the world. After quietly soliciting gifts from your major donors, it’s time to let everyone know about your campaign.

Typically, this phase starts with an event that: 

  • Celebrates your campaign
  • Thanks the supporters who have contributed so far
  • Spreads the word about your campaign
  • Gains media attention
  • Inspires your supporters

Your event will give you a chance to interact with donors, get them excited about your campaign, and encourage them to give. 

Depending on the type of project for which you’re raising money, you might want to have a formal event to recognize your donors. You can also host a:

  • Charity Auction: You can host an auction as a part of a larger event or have it as a distinct fundraiser. Procure items from local businesses to auction off and raise additional funds for your campaign.
  • Raffle: This fundraising event is a simple (and inexpensive) way to raise funds for your campaign. Have your volunteers start selling raffle tickets and then host an event where you will announce the winner.
  • Walkathon: If you’re raising funds for a health-related campaign, a walkathon is a great option. You can raise money from your supporter’s pledges, through peer-to-peer fundraising, or by selling t-shirts and other nonprofit gear.
  • Fundraising Gala: This type of event is a great way to kick off your campaign and thank your major donors. They usually consist of an award ceremony and dinner.

Invite your major donors who have already made a contribution and other supporters who will just be learning about your campaign. Having a mix of supporters will hopefully lead to more donations.

Step 8: Promote Your Capital Campaign on Social Media

Engaging with your supporters on social media is a great way to spread the word about your campaign. Since social media is a popular way to interact with donors, you can use your accounts to promote your campaign and encourage supporters to give.

You can use social media to:

  • Share updates on your campaign’s progress
  • Thank donors for contributing
  • Post ways supporters can give to your campaign

When you make content for social media, make sure you use graphics or photos to make your posts more shareable. The more a post is shared, the more people will know about your campaign.

It’s also a good idea to keep track of the conversations surrounding your nonprofit and your campaign. You can do this by creating a campaign-specific hashtag. Use your hashtag on all the posts or tweets you create for your campaign and encourage donors to use it, too.

Plus, this will make it easier for you to thank donors when they make a contribution. If donors share their donations on social media with the hashtag, you’ll know about it.

Step 9: Reach Out to Donors Using Traditional Methods

Along with the other marketing tips we mentioned, you shouldn’t forget about the traditional methods of reaching out to donors. We’re talking about mailing letters, sending emails, and calling to ask donors to support your campaign.

These methods of communication are still great ways to reach out to your supporters. Not only do some donors prefer these methods, but you also have a chance to personalize your communications and explain why you need the money and what their gifts will support.

Make use of your volunteers, staff, and board members by asking them to get on the phone with potential donors. Speaking with people one-on-one will give your volunteers the chance to really convey their passion for your cause to potential donors.

Neon CRM Can Supercharge Your Capital Campaign

Now you have everything you need for successful campaign planning. Remember, acknowledging every donor—big and small—is a huge part of maintaining a successful and healthy campaign. Since capital campaigns can last from anywhere between one to five years in total, make sure you’ve already outlined the strategies for tackling this final phase.

With years of outreach and donor tracking to consider and plan for, a comprehensive donor management system like Neon CRM can make all the difference in your capital campaign and future initiatives. 

From segmenting audiences to building custom, branded donation forms and emails to tracking event attendance, Neon CRM has the tools and features you need to make your capital campaign a success.

If you want to learn more about Neon CRM, request a personal demo today!

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