If your non-profit wants to run a successful capital campaign, the first step is to write a capital campaign plan to guide your efforts. Whether this is your first capital campaign or your seventh, every non-organization (large or small) needs a written capital campaign plan in order to succeed.
In this guide, we’re going to tell you exactly what you need to put into your capital campaign plan in order to launch and run the most successful capital campaign in the history of your organization.
What is a Capital Campaign?
Before we begin, it is important to understand what we mean when we say, “capital campaign.” A capital campaign is a targeted fundraising campaign that your non-profit launches to raise money for a specific (and usually large) project. Thus, capital campaigns are often used to raise money for things like new buildings or new pieces of equipment, major renovations, and large purchases for your organization.
There’s no need to be intimidated when it comes to running a capital campaign for your non-profit. While you may be aiming to raise a significant amount of money for your organization, the general rules of fundraising still hold true. If your non-profit is capable of raising money through your annual fund, major gifts, events, and board fundraising, you’re capable of raising money through a capital campaign. There is a science to capital campaigns, though, which is why a strong capital campaign plan is so important for your success.
Understanding the Phases of Your Capital Campaign
In order to write an implement an effective capital campaign plan, you need to understand the two primary phases of successful campaigns.
The first phase is called the Quiet Phase. During this phase, your non-profit will do all of its planning work, and will prepare to roll out the campaign fundraising efforts. During this phase, your organization will also build out a leadership structure for the campaign, as well as raise leadership and major gifts to support your work.
This first phase is called the Quiet Phase because you aren’t doing public events or general solicitations to support your campaign, but you are still fundraising from those who are already connected to your non-profit.
The second phase is called the Public Phase. During this phase, your non-profit will be doing wide scale public solicitations, events, and media efforts to support your capital campaign efforts. As a general rule of thumb, your non-profit will raise somewhere between 60%-80% of your funding goal in the Quiet Phase (primarily from major donors) and the remaining 20%-40% during the Public Phase. Your capital campaign plan should detail all of the fundraising tactics you will use during both of these phases.
The Components of a Successful Capital Campaign Plan
A successful capital campaign plan lays out all of the strategies your non-profit will use in order to successfully complete your campaign fundraising efforts. Remember, the goal of your plan is to fully fund your campaign… thus, every strategy and tactic you include should be squarely aimed at that goal.
Like all fundraising plans, your capital campaign plan should include firm deadlines and set responsibilities. This means that your plan should clearly define who is responsible for each of the included action steps, as well as when those tasks should be completed. Including firm deadlines and set responsibilities will help your entire team stay focused and will ensure the highest likelihood of success.
Your capital campaign plan should include the following components:
1. Campaign Goal
The first part of your capital campaign plan should clearly identify the goal for your campaign. This includes why you are planning to run a campaign (e.g. we need a new building for our school), as well as how much you will need to raise in order to achieve that goal. This amount will become the overall fundraising goal for your capital campaign.
Remember to include not only building costs but also some operations costs to get your new building or project off the ground, as well as all of the costs for running your capital campaign (staffing, fundraising, marketing, door recognition, etc.)
2. Campaign Background
Next, include some brief background on your campaign. What is the current state of fundraising at your organization? Why have you decided to run the campaign now, instead of next year? What resources does your non-profit have at its disposal to help it run a successful campaign? Use this part of the plan to make sure that anyone who reads your capital campaign plan has a basic understanding of the current situation at your non-profit.
3. Campaign Committee & Consultant
The third part of your capital campaign plan should lay out a strategy for building a capital campaign committee and hiring a campaign consultant. Your capital campaign committee will be the leadership and steering committee that will help guide the campaign. Perhaps more importantly, the committee should be composed of people who not only support your non-profit but who have lots of connections (a large network) that they can reach out to on your campaign’s behalf. Your committee should be comprised of some board members, some community leaders, some of your key volunteers, some donors and prospects, and several of your staff members.
Additionally, use this section of the capital campaign plan to detail whether or not you plan to hire a consultant to help plan and executive your campaign. The vast majority of non-profits should hire a consultant that is well-versed in capital campaigns to help guide their efforts, but some smaller organizations running small campaigns may be able to do so successfully without using a consultant.
4. Feasibility Study
Use this part of your capital campaign plan to detail your strategy for running a feasibility study for the campaign. Feasibility studies are an essential part of successful campaign… they not only provide valuable insights into your campaign’s prospects for success, they also help you connect more deeply with donors in order to prepare them for making an investment into your campaign.
Generally, if you hire a campaign consultant, they will perform the study for you by connecting with several dozen (or more) donors, board members, community leaders, and prospects to discuss your non-profit and your upcoming campaign. These interviews will allow your non-profit to gauge the level of support your non-profit can expect once it launches the campaign.
5. Capital Campaign Case for Support
Just as with any fundraising effort, your capital campaign will require a written case for support that tells donors why the campaign matters and why they should support it. Your capital campaign plan should designate a person to write the case for support, a deadline for its completion, and a process for approving the case statement for wider distribution.
6. Gift Range Chart
Every capital campaign needs a gift range chart (sometimes called a gift pyramid or donor pyramid) to guide its efforts. Your capital campaign plan should detail how many gifts are needed at each level of giving in order to reach your campaign fundraising goal.
For example, a simplified gift range chart for a $1 million capital campaign may look like this:
Gift Amount # of Gifts Cumulative Total
$200,000 1 $200,000
$100,000 1 $300,000
$50,000 3 $450,000
$25,000 8 $650,000
$10,000 15 $800,000
$5,000 25 $925,000
$2,500 30 $1,000,000
The gift range chart you create for your campaign will depend on the amount you want to raise and your current donor base. As you create your chart, remember that successful capital campaigns are top heavy, meaning that the highest tier donors will give far more than the lower tier donors, even though there are far more lower tier donors. Thus, in the example above, the 55 donors in the lowest two tiers donate the same amount, combined, as the sole donor in the top tier.
Also, as you create your capital campaign plan, remember that as a general rule of thumb, you will need 4 prospects for every donor who actually gives, at each and every tier. Thus, if your gift range chart says that you will have one donor at the $200,000 level, you will need to approach at least 4 donors at that level, who already are familiar with your non-profit (or become well acquainted with your organization during the campaign) in order to successfully solicit that one gift. To help you with figuring out the correct levels for your campaign, check out this Gift Range Calculator. Remember to round up or down to make your gift levels match standard giving levels (for example, if the gift range calculator tells you to have a level at $23,000, make it $25,000, because donors are much more accustomed to seeing that number on gift solicitations).
7. Campaign Prospect List / Screening
The next section of your capital campaign plan should detail the process you will use to segment your donor base (including current and lapsed donors, as well as prospects already in your donor funnel) in order to assign them to different giving tiers for the purposes of your campaign.
This may also include using a wealth screening tool to help asses a donor’s giving capacity. This section should also include a plan for adding new prospects to your capital campaign cultivation efforts, based on their interest in your work. Finally, this section should include criteria for determining which person from your staff and campaign committee will be responsible for soliciting each level or category of donor.
8. Campaign Budget
In this section, outline your budget for running the capital campaign. Your budget should include the costs that you will incur for marketing, fundraising, public relations, donor recognition, and your capital campaign consultant, if you are using one. Don’t forget to also include the costs for the staff time and other organizational overhead that will go into running your capital campaign.
9. Quiet Phase Strategy
This section of your capital campaign plan should provide an overview of the strategy for the Quiet Phase of your campaign. It is particularly important to include deadlines and assigned responsibilities in this section of your plan.
Remember, your non-profit will need to raise between 60%-80% of your overall campaign goal during the Quiet Phase. This phase includes all of your planning work, as well as a significant portion of your major donor efforts for the campaign. Thus, this section should detail your solicitation strategy for each of the largest and mid-level prospects for your campaign, and include a strategy for using your board, campaign committee, and other key volunteers to help cultivate and solicit funds for the campaign.
10. Public Phase Strategy
Next, your capital campaign plan should detail your strategy for the Public Phase of the campaign. Again, be sure to include deadlines and assigned responsibilities in this section of your plan. The Public Phase includes the public announcement of your campaign, as well as your public relations and other general marketing and solicitation efforts, campaign mailings, public events, and online fundraising efforts. Generally, the gifts raised during the public phase are low-dollar and mid-level gifts.
11. Campaign Wrap-Up and Stewardship
Once you reach your campaign goal, your work is not done! The final portion of your capital campaign plan should lay out a strategy for what you will do once the campaign is done. This includes thanking and recognizing your donors (including fulfilling any benefits or public recognition opportunities that you offered to donors). You should also have a plan in place to transition campaign donors back into your general / annual fundraising efforts. Be sure to also include an event to celebrate the successful campaign (and the donors who made it possible) in this section.
It's Time to Write Your Capital Campaign Plan!
Writing a capital campaign plan can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t need to be. Your non-profit does great work, and deserves to raise the money it needs to thrive. Use the outline presented above to create a plan for your next capital campaign, put the right team together to lead your efforts, and get started on your next capital campaign!
If you’d like a comprehensive overview on how to run a capital campaign for your non-profit, my top recommendation is a book written by my friends Andrea Kihlstedt and Gail Perry: Capital Campaigns: Strategies that Work. (Note: this is an Amazon affiliate link, and we may earn a small commission if you purchase this book).
The book is on the pricier side, but it is well worth it (it’s very comprehensive). I always recommend it to clients thinking about launching a capital campaign!