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Build Off What You Know: Tips For Capital Campaign Success

The very first capital campaign I ever worked on is still a vivid memory. I was 25 years old and very green. It was my first full-time development position and my first capital campaign. The vision was compelling: help a lovely nonprofit organization raise millions of dollars for a new facility that would benefit underserved kids. But, at that moment, I was stuck. I felt so unequipped.

As I look back now, I realize that things could have gone a lot more smoothly if only I had started with the foundations I already had.

Here's what I wish I had known at the time:

  • Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. There are well-established best practices that have stood the test of time. Use them. Every nonprofit says, “But we’re unique…That won’t work for us.” In a way, you’re right: customize the best practices to suit your situation. But, from a broader perspective, the best practices are BEST PRACTICES precisely because they work in many situations with many types of organizations during many economic times over many years.

  • You’re more prepared than you think. The campaign lingo may be strange, but the concepts are familiar. Capital campaigns use the same fund development concepts that your organization deploys but with a little extra strategy and intentionality that will help you reach a larger financial goal. For example, just like preparing for grant opportunities, a capital campaign requires preparing a budget, drafting a case for support, and honing the right messages for the audience. A capital campaign also relies on careful relationship-building, just like major donor development: to gather input from stakeholders, source campaign leadership, and solicit lead donors. Your development team has the skills needed to do this work.

  • Take time in the pre-campaign phase to prepare your systems, team, and volunteers. Campaigns can be daunting because there is a big financial goal and lots of moving parts to get there. But you’ll do yourself—and your organization—a huge favor if you take the time to plan well. Candidly assess your weaknesses. Take time to cultivate and equip volunteers who will be champions for your campaign. Make sure your donor data is “clean.” Tighten up your stewardship and communication processes so you can keep donors feeling engaged. Quality pre-planning is critical to campaign success. All of this should sound familiar as these activities help you implement your annual fund development plan as well.

  • You are not expected to know “all the things.” The right advisors—both formal campaign counsel and your network of peers—make all the difference. Too many people think campaign counsel costs thousands of dollars a month and involves people in fancy suits telling the board and staff what to do. Instead, the right partner should align with your organization culture, share your passion, and provide best practices guidance to suit your unique situation. And don’t forget to tap into your networks through professional development organizations, LinkedIn, and mentoring opportunities.

Interested in learning more?

Read the ultimate capital campaign guide Capital Campaigns: Strategies That Work by Andrea Kihlstedt (now in its 4th edition because it’s really that good)


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