Donor Readiness: The Secret of All Successful Capital Campaigns

Recurring Donors Are Worth the Investment
Capital Campaign Success: Assess Donor Readiness | GPG
By Chuck Davis, Senior Consultant at The Gail Perry Group.

All successful capital campaigns have one basic thing in common:  They have donors of means who are willing to invest in the campaign.   

Campaigns of every size will rise (or fall) based on the right number of lovely people with a passion for your cause and a pocketbook to support it.   

How can we ensure that this basic factor is in place?

Donor Readiness is a Factor Many People Overlook. 

We’ve all been there.  There’s that humbling moment when you review your Campaign Gift Table that outlines the gifts needed to reach your goal. And you see that you need 4-5 times the number of prospects for each gift range. 

This is the moment when many nonprofit leaders step back and start worrying: “Do we have enough donor prospects for each gift needed?” 

While gift tables are a planning guide and often do not reflect the reality of many campaigns, they do highlight the need to prepare more donors for campaign solicitations.

We Ignore Donor Readiness at our Own Peril.

What happens if you rush into the campaign without evaluating your donors’ readiness? It often turns out that your donors are simply not ready for a conversation about a gift. 

It can create a huge pain point; you start off with vigor by raising your first lead gifts from donors who are ready. Then . . . you run out of prospects for the remaining gifts. 

Why did this happen? Because the rest of your identified major prospects were not ready to discuss a gift. 

They needed more time to get to know you, to build trust, and most of all, to understand your campaign objectives. 

How Do You Evaluate a Donor’s Readiness for a Capital Campaign? 

Many factors can contribute to a donor’s readiness to make a gift – a personal wealth event, a life changing experience, financial planning, and more.  

While these things are beyond our control, we can take specific steps to ensure that our key donors are ready and willing to discuss a gift as our campaigns advance. 

This requires strategy, focus, and a bit of fun!

Three Steps to Develop Donor Readiness

Here’s our proven three-step approach that we recommend to our clients to ensure that their donors are ready:

1.     Conduct a donor Opportunity Scan. 

Where are your most enthusiastic prospects? And where are your sleepers? Get started with a deep dive into your data with some smart prospect research strategies. 

Look carefully at your major donor data for specific groups of prospects to better understand their giving trends over the past several years. 

Try segmenting prospective donors into different groups and design customized plans to engage them in your mission.

2.     Conduct some key “Influencer Interviews.”  

Spend some time with your best current and potential donors, and engage them in conversations about their perceptions of your organization. You really want to know how they feel and what they think of your organization’s “big plans!”

In these conversations, you will raise awareness about your potential campaign and start to generate enthusiasm. 

Even more, you can ask them about people in their circles who might be interested in your mission and brainstorm about the most effective ways to engage them. If you just ask, these influencers may be willing to share some helpful donor cultivation approaches.

3.     Engage your prospects with fun “Small Social” events.   

Leverage your board members and friends to host small gatherings that allow your potential donors to learn more about your organization, what it does, and how they can help. 

Consider a small social event held by the right trustee or donor. With a small guest list of important prospects, you can easily work the room and accomplish so very much. 

How I Prepared Donors for a $100 Million Capital Campaign 

Years ago, while running a $100 million campaign to raise money for a university, we were very excited to welcome a new family to our community whose child was a freshman.  

The family was well known for both their wealth and their philanthropy.  As our campaign planning advanced, my relationship with the family grew. 

I recall vividly one important conversation which ensued when I used a meeting with the family’s patriarch to engage in what I would now call an “Influencer Interview.” 

As the conversation progressed that evening, I shared with him where we were in our campaign plan and I asked him for advice on how to best engage our prospects.  

Build Donor Readiness with a “Noodlers Group.”

Without hesitation, he offered up an interesting strategy. He simply said, “Noodlers Groups.”  

“What is a Noodler?” I thought to myself. Then I realized he was suggesting that we give our key donors a chance to think and “noodle” about our university’s future opportunities. 

Together, we created a plan for our closest friends and family. Our aim was to increase donor readiness by engaging them in special, intensive, day-long sessions around the region. 

This would allow them to “look under the hood” at all aspects of our operations and to noodle on solutions to the issues ahead.  

Our “Noodlers Groups” created donors who were ready, willing, and able to consider a gift conversation at the right time.  Their generosity shined through, once they got more involved. 

And, given that we hosted them at lovely venues with engaging group activities, it was a lot of fun for all!

If you’re in the beginning stages of your campaign and want to bounce around some ideas, reach out for a free strategy call. Send an email to to schedule a time.