Capital Campaign Prep – Questions to Ask Yourself

Recently, I have had the opportunity to work with several different groups who are considering Capital Campaigns. It’s surprising to see a rise in questions like this, which indicate agencies and departments are considering undertaking campaigns such as this to fund upcoming expansions and projects.

Capital Campaigns can be the right choice and an excellent source of funding for growth, if all of the important factors are in place and come together to have a successful campaign. One million, five million – that is a lot of money. What is the community currently being asked to support and how does your project fit into that?

In this post, let’s talk about assessing your readiness to plan and execute a capital campaign. When you have a project, a goal, designs and plans to explain that goal, and maybe even the start of some community excitement, here are some other questions I’d like you to ask yourself and your team (and your Board!).

How much money do you usually raise each year? How big is your donor list and your mailing list?

If you usually raise $20,000 per year, and are hoping to raise $350,000, you might be okay. If you raise $20,000 per year and hope to raise $8M, that gives me cause for concern. Where will these additional donors come from if they are not already connected to you?

Can you make a gift range chart work? Do you have enough leadership and launch gifts to get your campaign more than half way before you go public?

The silent and public phases are not set in stone, but if you do a gift range chart and stare at it wondering how in the world you will ever get that many prospects at those high numbers, better to face up to it now instead of mid-campaign.

Do you need a consultant? Do you need a feasibility study?

Yes and mostly yes. Okay, so I can see that you might think “of course, a consultant is going to say you need a consultant!”But, what I learned at the Lilly School for Philanthropy is that a campaign runs smoother and more efficiently with counsel to guide it, accurate and experienced advice, and most important – their ability to speak to your donors and explore the feasibility in a way that you cannot. Plus – let’s face it, a consultant is not going to take your project if they think it cannot be a success. They don’t want their name attached to that. So, at least talk to some as you explore your options.

How much money do you have to operate the campaign?

You have to spend money to make money. Campaigns are very expensive: consultant, studies, case statements, printer and postage charges, graphic designers. Also staff to lead the campaign, staff to process incoming donations and operate your CRM, staff to help with thank you notes, tax letters, pledge tracking, etc. Cost of lunches and dinners and other donor engagement… events like groundbreaking and public phase launch.

Do you have staff for this?

If the Director of your agency – who already does operations and oversight and everything else – is expected to be the main fundraiser AND the one who runs the campaign, this is a problem. No one can do everything and be everywhere. You need extra staff, even part time, who  can completely focus on the important tasks associated with the campaigning. Volunteers can help, but staff provide the structure volunteers work within.

Is your Board invested? Will they make leadership gifts in the silent phase? Will they create prospect lists, do campaign asks, solicit their social circle, and support the staff?

All of this is vastly important… One or two staff cannot do this alone, and the higher the goal, the more people are needed. Remember, you need 3 prospects for every successful gift. (See the gift range chart below). So, if you need two $100,000 gifts, you should have 6 names on your list that are capable and likely to make a gift at that size. In visiting the six, it’s statistically likely that 2 will go ahead and make that gift. Now, the good news is, if another person turns you down for $100k but offers $50k then that ripples down through your chart and is still a welcome gift. The 3:1 really helps with planning.

What other organizations are also doing capital campaigns in your community at the same time?

This is a big consideration. In my town, Penn State is always fundraising, and then you have the arts center and the science center and the volunteer/free health clinic all raising significant funds for expansion. Can the community sustain and support all of these projects at once?

A Gift Range Chart for $1 million, using the 3:1 ration for planning.

There is so much more for us to talk about, but these are some things to get you started. Capital Campaigns can be exciting and successful and transform a community resource through the generosity of many, so I do not mean to discourage you. Instead, to help you evaluate and consider the best way to move forward with the resources you have, and know how to talk to your board and directors if it’s not coming together. There are so many worthwhile projects; with the right steps, yours can be the next big funding success!

(If you need help, please reach out to the staff at PRPS. They can connect you to resources, provide expertise, and make note of your needs as they develop future programs and training sessions).


Fundraising Review – DIY consultation

I recently had the opportunity at the invitation of a Board President to visit a local non-profit and review their fundraising, in order to make suggestions and help them take their donations to the next level.

What I found was a wonderful warm group of people with a small overworked staff who does amazing work, a super marketing coordinator who puts out some of the best materials I’ve seen in a long time, innovative new programs, ongoing vital community services, and a really exciting new grant funded construction project.

They are rocking! They’ve got this, what can I possibly add to help?

Well, the need to increase their donors and find ways to encourage participants paying program fees to also make donations, plus engage a wider audience to attract new donors.

It occurred to me in sitting down to write this post that what I prepared for them might also work for you. Here are some things to consider:

  1. How is your social media?
    • Consider adding video or images that show how it “feels” to be a donor. Make it look really exciting and enticing to be part of that group
    • Consider using donor centered language. Instead of saying “Help us serve preschool children” say “You can raise up a child by supporting preschool programs” or “You can be the hero for a child!” (See below for more on this)
  2. Do you have a donor database or list?
    • Gather “everyone”: recent donors, old donors, sponsors, program attendees, vendors, grant coordinators, newsletter lists, etc – AND then ask your Board members to each provide 10 names who can be contacted. (They give their valuable time to your organization, why wouldn’t they want others in their sphere to know about your organization too?)
  3. Define Audience or Segments: who are your audiences, or communication segments, and is your message different or the same for each?
    • Insiders – those connected to and active with your programs
    • Connected – those who are familiar with your programs (think grandparents, teachers, etc)
    • Community – maybe these folks don’t know about your programs but wouldn’t it be great if they did?
  4. Make Donating Easy: I’ll say this simply: WHERE IS YOUR DONATE BUTTON? If I can’t click on your website and immediately see it, fix that first. Don’t lose people on their way to give because its not easy enough. After that:
    • Do you allow facebook fundraisers to be held on your behalf? (Awesome when someone chooses you to support during their birthday)
    • Can people set up a monthly gift? (excellent for cash flow)
    • Do you have a wishlist or list of programs/services they can support?
  5. Use Your Board:
    • Having an event? They get four extra tickets to bring people with them.
    • Having a fundraiser? They call people and champion your cause
    • Sending a mailing? They write a personal note on the mailing before it goes out AND write the thank you note when that person makes a gift.
    • (If they don’t or wont – explore why… consider bringing a consultant in to train them)
    • Ask the Executive Committee of the Board to start a “Give or Get” Policy. Each member has 12 calendar months to give or get $1000… if they want to write a check Jan 1, great. If they are not able to or don’t want to, they have 12 months to get creative with their kids, friends, church, pets, neighbors to raise $1000. Sounds fun, right??

If you don’t have time for all of this, then skip it and just read the rest because I want to talk again (like my last post) about Donor Centered Fundraising. In my experience and training, this has been my main focus. It’s a philosophy, a practice, a physiological exploration, and more. AND, it works.

This is the Very Best graphic I have ever seen to clearly show what we’re talking about. Read through – do you see the difference? Does it make you want to give? If you make no other changes, use this and change your wording. The donor wants to know where THEY fit in to the fantastic things you’re doing, not just about the fantastic things you’re doing. The full article that included this graphic is available here, authored by Cathy Elton.

I hope these suggestions were helpful! Please reach out and ask for help if you need it. You can improve your fundraising in small ways, even if it feels impossible now. Good luck!

Never Stop Fundraising…

We are all busy, so I will keep this post fairly short. What I have to say is easy to say, and repeat:

You Never Stop Fundraising. Your Board Never Stops Fundraising.

Now, if that sounds like the stuff of nightmares, I understand. It feels like a long road into the distance to crawl with your hand out and your brain weary from fundraising endlessly into oblivion.

Photo by Marta Wave on

It’s not so bad. Some people like to call it “Friend-raising” because it sounds hopeful and fun and better somehow. Sometimes fundraising isn’t the word to use, and your Boards – particularly tax supported entities – don’t really like that word at all. They prefer grants, stipends, and sponsorships.

That is all in the weeds, though. The reason I am bringing this up is from seeing people in non-profit and recreation settings really married to the budget. That little line item #107 says bring in $35,000 in sponsorships and donations this year, so Jan 1 the clock starts ticking and they get busy. (This definitely used to be me, I will admit!) If that amount is amazingly raised by April, they stop, thankful that this line item is met and they can take a break. Others labor away through the year until let’s say October it is finally met and then collapse in exhaustion.

Okay – it’s not that bad, right? The point is, if you meet the goal in April, don’t stop! Maybe you change directions, maybe you take a little break… maybe you pass the task to your Interns (Interns can come up with some amazing Gen Z style fundraising stuff that will blow your mind)… maybe you ask the Board to start Friend-raising for next year’s campaign… maybe you ask a Sponsor for a different type of partnership or to suggest another sponsor. But don’t stop. Your organization needs the money, so keep the momentum and the process going.

In this way, you’re not looking at that line item so much as you’re seeing what you can do. What can the people around you do? With curiosity and a fresh approach, there are a lot of possibilities based on the relationships you’ve created in the community and the willingness of others to give to support your cause. From small opportunities like Facebook birthday fundraisers or a single giving day to bigger opportunities to raise for a park or crowdfund a new feature, there are a lot of chances throughout the year to keep up the communication and momentum with people in the community. This will gather more people and keep your fundraising going without feeling like such a long challenging road. Good luck!

%d bloggers like this: