Have you ever wondered whether your non-profit was ready for a capital campaign? It’s one of the most common questions I get asked by small non-profits that are looking to grow.
There is a myriad of reasons for wanting to launch a capital campaign. Perhaps you want to buy a new building or improve your current facilities. Maybe you are looking to launch a new program or build an endowment. Whatever your reason, the truth is that not every organization is ready to run a successful capital campaign.
In this article, I’m going to show you the five questions you need to ask yourself to determine if you’re ready to launch and fully fund a capital campaign. The good news is that even if your non-profit isn’t ready to launch a campaign today, you can use these questions to figure out what you’re missing, and put those ingredients into place so you’re ready for a campaign in the near future.
Here are the five questions you need to ask to figure out if your non-profit is ready to launch a successful capital campaign:
#1: Does your non-profit have a good strategic plan in place?
If you want to launch a successful capital campaign, you need to have a strong strategic plan in place for your organization. Capital campaigns are meant to be transformational events for your non-profit. They’re designed to help you raise a significant amount of money so that you can make significant leaps forward in your strategic plan.
Donors to your campaign will want to know that you have a clear vision for the future. They’ll want to hear how the campaign fits into that vision, and what outcomes you are expecting from the successful completion of your campaign. If you don’t have a good strategic plan in place, you’ll need to complete a strategic planning process for your non-profit prior to launching a capital campaign.
#2: Does your non-profit have strong base of donors that is growing year over year?
Every organization is different, as is every campaign. For that reason, I can’t give you a hard and fast rule that says you need X number of donors in your database in order to run a successful capital campaign. What I can tell you is this, though: you need a large base of donors in place prior to launching your campaign… and you almost certainly need a base of donors that is growing year over year.
Remember that the majority of donors to your capital campaign will be people your organization already knows – your current donors, lapsed donors, and those in your prospect pool. Having a large base of donors in place will help you have a large universe of potential supporters for your campaign. Having a growing donor base also proves that your organization’s development program is healthy and that you have a donor message that people find compelling.
If you don’t currently have a strong and growing base of donors, work on your donor prospecting and cultivation pipeline before you launch a capital campaign for your organization.
#3: Does your organization have a history of significant major donor support?
Capital campaigns rely on major donor support in order to succeed. If you’ve never run one before, you may not realize just how top-heavy capital campaigns can be. For example, if your campaign goal is $1 million, in order to be successful, you will likely need to raise 90% of that amount from just 8-12 major donors, with a top gift of around $250,000.
To learn more about how to create a gift range chart (donor pyramid) for your capital campaign, read our article How to Create and Use a Donor Pyramid for Your Non-Profit.
Many non-profits think they can launch a capital campaign even though they don’t currently have a significant major donor program at their organization. This is almost certainly false. As you think through the gift sizes you will need to receive in order to successfully complete your campaign, you need to think through which of your current or past donors have the capacity to give at that level.
If you don’t have a history of major donor support at your non-profit (or you can’t identify current donors who have the capacity to give the size gifts you need to complete your campaign), then spend time building your major donor program before you launch a capital campaign.
#4: Does your non-profit have a board that is engaged in and successful with fundraising?
Fundraising starts with your board of directors. This is true in general, and it is particularly true for a capital campaign. In order to succeed, you’ll need a board of directors that is engaged with your development program and willing to open up their own personal networks to help your campaign succeed.
Simply put, if the current culture on your board is to say “we’re not a fundraising board,” or “I don’t really know anyone else who can give” then you’re going to have a hard time fully funding your capital campaign. Work on building a better culture of philanthropy on your board (and identifying new board members who can help with fundraising) before you launch a campaign.
#5: Does your organization have a strong fundraising staff in place?
Your fundraising staff is the backbone of your capital campaign efforts. Running a successful capital campaign requires great planning and strong management, not to mention the ability to work well under pressure. Your staff will need to be dealing with not only your board, but a campaign leadership committee… all while running both the campaign and your normal annual fundraising efforts simultaneously.
If your organization doesn’t have a strong fundraising staff in place, it is unlikely your campaign will succeed. Focus on building your development team, no matter how small or large your team is. Make sure you have the right people on the bus and offer them the training and growth opportunities they need prior to launching your capita; campaign.
Getting Your Non-Profit Capital Campaign Ready
The good news is that even if you answered “no” to some of the questions above, you can still be ready to run a capital campaign within the next 1-2 years by making the necessary changes at your organization. If you want to run a campaign but aren’t yet ready, you need to be deliberate about putting your non-profit in the best possible position for success. For that reason, I suggest you develop an action plan with deadlines in place for implementing each item that you need based on the questions above. Once you're ready on all of the above, you'll be able to write a capital campaign plan for your organization.
The Best Resource for Running 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!