Capital fundraising is not rocket science, but it’s not a day in the park either. For many nonprofit staff and volunteers, the prospect of a capital campaign can be daunting. Are they ready? How can they know they will be successful? What are they getting themselves into?

At the risk of over-simplification (because let’s be honest, no two campaigns are the same), we have identified three key building blocks for a successful campaign (and by successful, we don’t just mean reaching your financial goal. We also mean campaigns that make your entire fundraising program stronger and more sustainable.)

  1. A great case narrative. This is not a project description or an impact statement. A campaign needs stories that inspire people to partner with the organization to meet their own goals. Remember, 80% of giving is emotional, so the narrative needs to move people to action by appealing to their hearts, not their heads.
  2. Not just some people, but enough people who can give at the levels necessary to meet the campaign goal. Win the campaign on paper first by identifying the people who can make the gifts at the top half of the Standards of Giving Chart. If that can’t be done, the campaign cannot be successful. If it can be done, the next step is to enlist volunteer leaders who have and are willing to leverage relationships with the people on the prospect list. Be specific about what they can do to help with particular prospects and be realistic about how many volunteers will be needed to create the momentum that campaigns need.
  3. A plan, and not just any plan, but one that is both operational and strategic. The actual campaign plan covers the basics: who is going to do what and when. It will be filled with policies and guidelines; timelines and job descriptions. It is the campaign’s skeleton, but campaigns need more than structure. They need substance. That’s where the strategies come in. They reflect what is unique about your campaign and are driven by the priorities of the people on the prospect list. Campaign activities should be designed to engage donors, not just solicit them.

Once an organization decides to have a capital campaign, it’s easy to jump the gun and plow right into solicitation mode. The better idea, however, is to STOP and make sure that there is an inspiring story to tell, enough of the right people to tell it to, and a good plan and strategy for sharing it. When you do that, reaching your capital campaign goal becomes as easy as 1, 2, 3.