13711645_m-2The economy has improved and nonprofits and social enterprise organizations, particularly ones that were being especially cautious with their funds, have once again started to look at investment and capacity building. A very good way to accomplish these goals is with a capital campaign.

When a charity is considering embarking on a campaign, it needs to consider a number of issues in order to achieve preparedness. Most organizations will hire outside counsel and conduct a planning or feasibility study in order to assess the appetite of its constituents related to the case for support, leadership, the financial goal, etc.

That said, the success of any campaign rests on these three foundational principals:

  • Realistic Prospect List – During a planning study, those interviewed will be asked the gift range at which they would consider supporting the campaign. During these studies, organizations should be prepared to potentially surface lead or advance gifts. Those who are executing the study will ask opinions about other potential prospects and the circumstances under which those people might give. One of the primary objectives of a planning study is to identify and develop a list of prospects who have the capability to give at least fifty percent of the goal, if not more. Another key objective for those conducting a study will be to determine a list of individuals who could potentially become leaders and would consider: 1) serving on the steering committee; 2) lending their names and influence to a campaign; 3) helping open doors to other potential donors; and, 4) supporting the campaign with a significant financial lead gift of their own.
  • Effective Campaign Leadership – As the planning study is done, those interviewed will be asked to assess their interest and ability to actively participate in the campaign. This is an exciting time because you will find volunteer leaders within your organization who will self-identify and will also provide names and strategies to help get others on board. Typically, prospective volunteer leaders will be ranked by the consulting firm in terms of desirability based on the input provided during the confidential interviews. It is important to remember that during the course of a planning study, the process is about identifying potential, not necessarily willingness at that time.
  • Persuasive Case for Support – During the interviews that take place with leaders and top donors to the organization, a key aspect of the study is to gauge support for the intended case. It is during this time that quantitative and qualitative information is gathered. Once the planning study is completed, the nonprofit will have the opportunity, based on concrete information, to determine if they need to modify or adjust their case according to the needs and interests of those who will determine the success of the campaign.

There are occasions when an organization decides that it wants to launch a capital campaign without a planning study. However, there are definite benefits to this approach, which make the investment of time and money worthwhile.

  • Helps pre-sell the campaign – by informing those being interviewed about the proposed campaign and the reasons why the organization believes the time is right to execute it. Again, it is not unusual to receive firm gift commitments during the planning study.
  • Helps strengthen relationships – especially if an interviewee has not been a particularly strong supporter of the organization, but is an important member of the local community. Additionally, it allows a nonprofit to make new friends because individuals are being asked for their opinions.
  • Serves as a process for change – by helping people adjust to new ideas. In addition, those invited to participate in a planning study interview are typically pleased to do so because they believe it provides them an opportunity to give meaningful input. 
  • Helps raise sights of everyone involved – because it underscores the fact that this will not be a “business as usual” type of campaign. It helps ensure and firm up in people’s minds that they will be asked for substantial gifts, more than they are likely used to making on an annual basis.

Author of “The Rise and Fail of Charities In the 21st Century: How The Nonprofit World Is Changing And What You Can Do To Be Ready”.


© 2015 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.