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The Do’s and Don’ts of Capital Campaigns

Samantha Hunter
Published:  08/28/2021
Cup of coffee sitting on a day planner.
Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Capital campaigns are intense fundraising efforts designed to raise a specific amount of money within a defined period of time. Typically the money raised is to fund acquiring or renovating a building, buying an expensive piece of medical equipment for a hospital, or building an endowment for the future. 

Some organizations shy away from capital campaigns because they can disrupt the day-to-day routine of the development office. They also impact the entire organization because they require extra effort for often two years or more, depending on the size of the campaign. But capital campaigns have several great benefits, which can offset the work involved. Some key benefits are:

  • They provide a marketing opportunity as well as fundraising opportunity: During a capital campaign, there is a ton of publicity and advertising for your organization in the community. The publicity helps your organization’s future fundraising efforts by raising awareness and adding new donors to the major donor pipeline. 

  • They provide naming opportunities for major donor recognition: These naming opportunities are important because major donors expect them. It also allows you to frame a large ask with a clear donor benefit. Naming opportunities make asking for major gifts from individuals, corporations, and foundations easier. 

  • They are the best way to raise a substantial amount of money for capital needs: This is probably the most basic advantage, but it shouldn’t be discounted. Capital campaigns are the best way to raise a substantial amount of donations in a short period of time. Plus, the results of the efforts directly support the community served by your organization.

Now that you’ve decided to move forward with a capital campaign, there are a few basic do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when getting started.

Do:

Let past success help set your capital campaign fundraising goal. 

One of the biggest mistakes that nonprofits make when planning a capital campaign is setting an arbitrary fundraising goal. You shouldn’t ignore your fundraising history when you’re planning a new campaign. 

When you set your fundraising goal, it should be a multiple of what your last big campaign earned or a multiple of your annual fund. This gives your capital campaign a good benchmark and allows you to build off previous successes. 

When it comes to fundraising, the goal only matters when you fall short of it. With this in mind, it’s best to set the bar within the range of what you’ve already proven you can raise.

Get the campaign timing right.

Make sure you are thoughtful when you set the timing of the campaign. Give yourself enough time to reach the goals you set. If you end the campaign too soon, you may miss potential future donations. It can also be tempting to end a campaign early at the first sign of fundraising difficulties. You need to give your campaign enough time to gain traction.

At the same time, campaigns that go on too long aren't effective either. The longer a capital campaign goes on, the harder it can be to convince donors that it’s worth supporting. And if you end it too late, you may be wasting precious time that you could be using to plan your next campaign. It’s all about finding the right balance.

Launch a public or community phase. 

Often, organizations only focus on reaching campaign goals through major gifts, and they don't try a community or public phase. That's a mistake because it leaves money on the table.

A public or community phase is an opportunity to engage with new donors. You can add new donors to the pipeline or use it as an opportunity to re-engage with lapsed donors. Like I mentioned before, capital campaigns are as much a marketing opportunity as a fundraising opportunity, so make sure you take advantage of it. 

Don’t:

Make the campaign only about the item. 

While it is important to have a set goal in mind, the entire campaign focus shouldn’t be on one single item like a new building or piece of medical equipment. You need to make sure that the messaging is focused on the benefit to the community.

Communicating the goal you are working towards is important, but you should really highlight how the donations will be used. People like to know exactly where their money is going and want to feel connected to the impact of their gifts.

Set a fundraising goal based on your project’s price tag. 

Similarly, another easy trap to fall into is setting fundraising goals based on the price tag of the upcoming project. Your capital campaign’s objective will by nature be to raise funding for a high-dollar amount project. However, simply wanting (or even needing) to take on that project isn’t itself enough to justify a fundraising goal.

Instead, decide how to allocate funds after you’ve set your fundraising goal. That way, you’ll never take on more than you can handle and ideally, you’ll never fall short of a fundraising goal due to being too ambitious.

Don't underestimate the power of peer-to-peer fundraising.

One of the reasons capital campaigns are effective is because they provide the opportunity for Board members and other volunteers to raise money on your behalf. Especially when raising funds for a hospital or health system, there’s often a direct line tied from a fundraising campaign to the community it serves. Nothing beats a team of motivated and connected volunteers working in partnership with dedicated staff. 

If you want to learn more about capital campaigns and where to start if you’re thinking about planning one, check out this webinar.

NEWS  /08/16/18
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NEWS  /07/14/21
Why simply achieve your campaign goal when you can structure them to be an immediate and lasting force multiplier for your community and your mission?
NEWS  /02/03/21
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Meet The Author

Sam Hunter headshot
Samantha Hunter
Association for Healthcare Philanthropy

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