Preparing Your Organization for a Capital Campaign

It’s been building for awhile. You knew it was going to happen. How could it not? Your organization is bursting at the seams! You and fellow leaders know your organization needs a significant capital investment to retool and be what it could and should be. A capital campaign is imminent. You and key trustees have been asking peers about fundraising counsel, who have they worked with, who do they recommend? You may have been searching for fundraising counsel on the Internet. Perhaps you’ve even initiated the first few requests for proposals (RFPs) or interviews. Formally or informally, the selection process has begun. But in the meantime, what can you and your colleagues do to prepare your organization for a major campaign?

There are four general components of any capital campaign: (1) The case for support, (2) Leadership, (3) Donor Prospects, and (4) the Campaign Plan. Your fundraising consulting firm will provide your plan, here’s what you can do to begin to strengthen the foundation for an ensuing capital campaign.

Define what is unique about your organization. How is it transforming the lives of the people you serve? Beyond general and often vague mission statements, define specifically how your organization is making an impact on the lives of your constituents:

  • Prepare several individual profiles to illustrate successful program outcomes.
  • Prepare a fact sheet with statistics on who you serve, where they come from, what types of programming they seek and why, success rates, etc.
  • Identify your opportunities for program expansion and/or improvement and the added impact they could make. Quantify your statements with informed projections.
  • If new or renovated facilities are a part of the plan, take steps to select an architect and begin discussing conceptual plans.
  • Improve the appearance of your facilities and grounds. Show good stewardship of past giving and pride in your appearance—it matters.

Maybe you have 30 years of solid donor records or maybe you are starting from scratch. In either case, you should improve your records as much as you are able and seek additional information. Trustees, staff, and select volunteers should undertake the following steps.

  1. Update donor records and mailing addresses. Is the information you have complete? Is it easily accessible, accurate, and informative? Can you run reports? Do you need a software upgrade or just software?
  2. Identify current and potential donors capable of making generous major gifts. Who are they? What is their association with your organization (if applicable)? What types of organizations are they involved with? Who knows them? What other types of general information would be helpful? (Focus on what is relevant. Although this information is strictly confidential, do not include private or very sensitive observations). Find out as much as you can about your volunteers. Your best donor may be the least assuming and one of your most loyal volunteers.
  3. Make a list of your top 5, 25, 50, and 100 donor prospects. Include addresses and telephone numbers. Who would be a good contact? This will give your campaign director an immediate starting list of people to interview in the Feasibility and Planning Study while helping prepare your trustees and development staff (if applicable) for the campaign work ahead.
  4. Consider seed-money for your campaign. If you don’t have as much as $50,000 to $100,000 in cash reserves, identify several people close to your organization who might be capable and open to providing the start-up money you will need to hire architects, fundraising consultants, etc.
  5. Step up your stewardship activities. Have key staff and trustees visit with current and past donors to thank them for their support, to talk about the good work that you are doing, and to discuss the organizations vision of the future. Strengthen your existing relationships—they will be the foundation of all future ones.

As with any project, you must have the right timing, the right plan, and the right people behind you to be successful. Encourage trustees and select staff to begin identifying leadership candidates for each constituent group you serve. Promising leadership candidates should be:

  1. Well-known and connected among their peers
  2. Well-regarded
  3. At least sympathetic to your organization’s work and approving of your successes
  4. They must have the capacity to make a generous gift

Never forget, this is a capital campaign to raise millions of dollars, your leader must be able to inspire peers with active involvement and generous financial support. Celebrities and star athletes are no exception (you are running a capital campaign not an advertising campaign!). Your leader must have all four components to be successful. Identify leaders from among your board of trustees, key volunteers, constituent groups, and community leaders. Remember, you are identifying your “dream team” to lead the campaign. Keep it real, but think big!

If you want to increase your fundraising potential, begin making preparations now. No matter if you are a small community service office or a large international relief organization, the fundamental elements of your fundraising success will depend on your 1) Case for Support, 2) Leadership, 3) Donor Prospects, and 4) Campaign Plan. If you want to reap a great harvest, acquire the tools, and take action to cultivate the field. Make conscious steps to improve your knowledge of your organization and those who could help you realize your vision for tomorrow. You don’t have to have every detail in place to proceed with an effective capital campaign. However, the more you are able to prepare, the more dollars you will be able to raise in the course of your campaign.

Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is among the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada.  If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to