News & Press: Member Insights

10 Capital Campaign Do's and Don’ts for Better Fundraising

Thursday, November 16, 2017  

By Bob Happy, President, Averill Fundraising Solutions, LLC 

Your capital campaign is perhaps the most intricate fundraising project that your nonprofit will take on. Spanning the course of several years and with fundraising goals in the six-to-eight figure range, your capital campaign isn’t a typical fundraiser.

Nearly every nonprofit institution struggles when it comes to successfully executing capital campaigns. However, with a few crucial do’s and don’ts to guide your way, it’s never been easier to carry out your campaign like a professional.

 During your nonprofit’s next capital campaign:


  • Let past success set your capital campaign fundraising goal
  • Allow your capital campaign time to gain traction
  • Include important insiders in capital campaign planning
  • Develop a compelling case for support for your campaign
  • Be proactive when soliciting gifts for the capital campaign


  • Set a fundraising goal based on your project’s price tag
  • Keep your capital campaign running indefinitely
  • Decentralize leadership with too many cooks in the kitchen
  • Spend unnecessary time developing collateral
  • Resign yourself to failure by not going for your goal

Ready to get more out of your nonprofit’s next capital campaign? Let’s dive right into these important best practices.

Bonus! Looking to learn more about how to make your next capital campaign a huge success? Head over to Averill Fundraising Solutions for an in-depth look into setting the right fundraising goals for your capital campaign.


One of the biggest mistakes that nonprofit institutions make when planning their capital campaigns is setting a fundraising goal that’s chosen arbitrarily. In fact, one of the worst mistakes organizations can make is setting a capital campaign goal that isn’t shaped by your fundraising history.

When you set your fundraising goal with the help of your capital campaign consultant, it should be a multiple of what your last big campaign earned or a multiple of your annual fund. This way, your capital campaign will be building off of your previous fundraising successes.

When it comes to fundraising, your 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.

Similarly, another crucial misstep that many organizations make is setting their fundraising goal based on the price tag of their 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 once you’ve set your fundraising goal.This way, you’ll never take on more than you can handle and you’ll (ideally) never fall short of a fundraising goal due to being too ambitious.

Another way that your nonprofit can guarantee failure is by not giving your capital campaign enough time to reach its goal. This might occur by not spending enough time during the planning phase, jumping too quickly from your last campaign into your current one, or by calling it quits at the first sight of fundraising difficulties.

As a general rule, your capital campaign plan should span 3-5 years. In between campaigns, take a few years to steward donors, conduct prospect research, and build the necessary base of support to serve as a foundation for your next capital campaign.


At the same time, there’s nothing worse than a campaign that goes on forever. The longer your capital campaign goes on, the harder it will be to convince donors that it’s worth supporting.

The most important thing to consider when deciding when to close out your capital campaign is this: how much money are you leaving on the table?

If you end the campaign too soon, you may miss potential future donations. If you end it too late, you may be wasting precious time that you could be using to plan your next capital campaign (and thus, begin fundraising with the benefit of a fresh start).


One aspect of capital campaigns that is often overlooked is how useful the planning phase is for building your community of support, both internally and externally. When setting the stage for your capital campaign, your organization should loop in key stakeholders from the very start of the process.

These individuals include your staff, board, volunteers, and important prospects. People like to be insiders, and the closer they are to your campaign, the more dedicated they will be to seeing that it’s a success.

In addition, be sure that internal members of your organization, from your development team, to your marketing team, and more, all have a voice in the campaign planning process. The most successful capital campaigns are ones that benefit from diverse perspectives behind the scenes.

Bonus! One phase of the capital campaign that offers an excellent opportunity to connect with supporters is during your nonprofit’s feasibility study. Get more out of your capital campaign’s feasibility study with Double the Donation’s helpful steps to success!

However, this doesn’t mean that your campaign should be run in bits and pieces by as many individuals as possible. In fact, to be a success your capital campaign should benefit from strong, centralized leadership.

When everyone does something, no one does anything. This means that you need to have a dedicated capital campaign director running the show.

This individual shouldn’t already have their plate full with other projects; for the course of the capital campaign, the campaign should be their main responsibility and number one concern.

The most important part of securing donors for your capital campaign will always be having a compelling case for support on hand. If you can’t provide prospects with a reason to donate, they simply won’t contribute to your campaign.

Developing your case for support during your feasibility study is also a great opportunity to include prospects in the planning process. The greater a part these individuals have to plan in developing your case for support, the more likely they are to be there for you when it comes time to give.

Even better? When you include important prospects in the case building process, they are also more likely to advocate for your campaign among their networks of friends and colleagues (meaning your capital campaign can reach even more eyes).

Although case building is important, many nonprofit organizations spend too much time developing collateral related to their case for support, such as brochures, solicitation packets, slideshows, and more.

The fact of the matter is, these materials serve as great “leave behinds” to give to prospects when introducing them to your capital campaign, but once your conversation ends it’s unlikely that they’ll revisit them.

Don’t overspend your money or time developing case for support materials like these. Instead, focus on having the right elements in line to convince prospects to give: a reasonable fundraising goal and a clear alignment of your institutional mission and the project’s outcome.

Another way nonprofits risk capital campaign failure? They don’t commit to actually reaching their fundraising goal.

As long as your team has set a reasonable goal based on past success, and as long as you have ensured that the necessary support is aligned, you need to be prepared to be proactive towards reaching your fundraising goal.

This means that you will commit to facing pushback head on and that your institutional leadership is committed to soliciting on behalf of your campaign. High-impact donors will want to speak directly to your president, executive director, CEO, headmaster, etc., so these individuals should be out there actively making connections and securing gifts for your capital campaign.

Finally, your capital campaign will never be a success if your team doesn’t throw its full support behind it. Even after the planning process, internal members of your organization should see supporting your capital campaign as one of their ongoing fundraising priorities.

Too many nonprofits fail to reach their capital campaign’s fundraising goals by tacitly giving up early and not seeing the campaign through until the end. These campaigns are long-term projects for a reason: they take time!

The biggest factor in the success of your institution’s capital campaign is simply seeing it through. When you encounter rough fundraising patches, double down on the campaign by reevaluating your fundraising strategy with your fundraising consultant.

Make your nonprofit’s next capital campaign your most successful one yet! With these tips in mind, your team is ready to take on this ambitious fundraising project. Good luck!

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