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Preparing For A Capital Campaign

I would venture to guess that every day there is a nonprofit somewhere in the U.S. that is in the beginning stages of preparing for a capital campaign.

A key in making sure you have a successful capital campaign is knowing in advance that the organization is actually prepared and ready to raise money.

So how do you know you are prepared?

Many organizations start by having an outside firm do a feasibility study. Any good study should not only point out the positives of the organization but it should identify its weaknesses as well. However, feasibility studies generally are not cheap and can range from thousands of dollars to the tens of thousands of dollars or more depending on how much money is projected to be raised.

Having broad base community support i.e. people willing to give you money for general operations requires that individuals and businesses in the community actually have an understanding of what your organization does and why it is important to support your organization. Just because you have been in the community for “x” number of years does not mean folks know who you are or care about what you do.

Most studies boil down to open-ended questions to see if the organization has done their homework and is, in fact, ready and prepared for a successful fundraising campaign.

Depending on the results of the study, a nonprofit then decide if they should, in fact, move forward. Nothing is worse, however than when a study is done and the results are discounted and ignored. Consultants are sometimes blamed for the message that is delivered. True feasibility studies are not sugar coated but are based on facts and opinions from the leaders in the community.

Ok, say you have the green light!

Another huge factor in determining if any capital campaign is a success is finding the right individuals that can go out and not only help in identifying potential prospects but have the developed relationships where they can “make the ask.”

It has been said many times: “People give to people first before they give to the cause in question.” It is sad but you would hope that the nonprofit already had those “relationships” in the first place, but many times they don’t.

A word to the wise: When you think about building your winning capital campaign fundraising team you need to think clearly before you go after that high-profile individual in the community. This notoriety can be for a number of reasons but normally it boils down to one of two things: either the person has their personal money or is connected with corporate money or the person yields some type of influence or both.

However, asking to use someone’s name can be considered either an insult or honor depending on how the person might view your intent. If the person has never had a connection with the organization in the past, asking them to give you their name to use to raise money is not where you normally begin a relationship. Think about what you are asking before you ask.

You should also spend some time to determine if you have any “secret” large donors in your member-base or constituency.  I’m sure you are well aware of the CEO, celebrity or venture capitalist that donates to your organization, but you may be surprised about what you DON’T know.  Consider running your database through a wealth screening tool like Wealth Engine to see if any of your members are large potential donors but weren’t on your radar!  These tools comb through public records to see if any or your potential donors have a high net worth, make large donations to political candidates, own large shares or publicly traded companies or exhibit any other trait of a potential big fish.  Fundraising CRM tools, like DonorPerfect,  may integrate with wealth screening tools – this will make your capital campaign much smoother. And remember, just because you identified a donor via technology doesn’t mean your entire relationship should be conducted over a computer.  Figure out which board or committee members are best suited to make the ask.

In general, it is wise to have a system in place to manage fundraising activities.  This is never truer than when you are running a capital campaign.  The information and pledges you gather during this campaign will need to be managed for years to come.  People that didn’t give now, may give later to a different effort.  People that made large pledges now should be handled carefully in the future.  Investing in a fundraising management system, like DonorPerfect,  now, will pay dividends later.  Check out our list of nonprofit software or learn about key software features  to keep an eye out for at the Fundraising Software Guide.

Major capital campaigns do take a lot of time and effort and are definitely something that you don’t need to mess up. Nothing is worse than a campaign that has flopped or drags on forever and having to deal with donors that have already committed only to find that the program was not successful in meeting the stated goal.

Lastly, taking a queue from Clint Eastwood’s character Dirty Harry: “You’ve got to ask yourself one question.” Well, in this case, it is actually three questions! First, what does the community think about your organization? Second, who are the leaders that know of your organization and would be willing to lead your campaign and do the work necessary to make it successful? Finally, where is money located that could fund your campaign? Who has it, and would they be interested in what you are doing?

If you take the time and really focus on theses questions you will be well on your way to finding out the valuable information you need to determine if you are ready for a successful capital campaign.

DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended to provide legal or accounting advice, or to address specific situations. Please consult with your legal or tax advisor to supplement and verify what you learn here.