Nonprofit Capital Campaigns: Five Secrets of Success

Nonprofit Capital Campaigns: Five Secrets of Success

What does it really take for a successful nonprofit capital campaign? Many institutions are raising millions, hundreds of millions and even billions for major institutions like universities. All this funding seems to just like flow into the organization like a river of gifts, grants, and contributions. Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

How can your team pull off big-time results like these?

Here are our top five secrets for a super successful nonprofit capital campaign. We find that when organizations follow these simple steps, they are able to land transformational gifts to expand your organization’s good work.

1. For a successful nonprofit capital campaign, allow enough time for campaign pre-planning.

We find that the most successful organizations really take their time planning and strategizing. They survey their donors via a smart feasibility study. They hire capital campaign consultants to add strategy and experience to the team.

In addition, they evaluate their internal development office to see what resources may need to be added. Another key step is to engage key donors early, because this can often make or break a campaign’s success.

When important donors are involved in pre-campaign discussions, to offer advice and input about the proposed project and plan, then they are often enthusiastic enough to step up with a major, lead gift.

Often a Pre-Campaign Planning Committee composed of key leaders and donors can even jump-start a campaign by involving them in key strategic decisions.

Here’s your winning strategy for capital campaign pre-planning:

Take your time, perform due diligence with a feasibility study, hire smart capital campaign consultants and engage key donors and leaders as early as possible.

2. Successful capital campaigns focus on a very few large donors.

We all know that only a very few people give major and principal gifts.

And, yes, your capital campaign can be wildly successful with a few very large gifts. In fact, high-dollar capital campaigns are almost always built on a very few lead gifts. Many of the campaigns we are counseling are reaching and exceeding their goals with a fewer number of major gifts.

Success in nonprofit capital campaigns depends so much on identifying the right donors, and pulling them closer to your organization. Many people don’t realize, too, that it takes time to identify those donors and engage them deeply.

If your team tries to move forward without intensive attention and time devoted to your top donors,  you won’t be successful. Don’t spread yourself too thin, trying to work with too many donors.

If you do, you’ll never develop the strong, deep, meaningful relationships you need with the right few.

Here’s your winning strategy:

Narrow down your focus. Spend ample quality time with a few True Believers who have deep financial capacity.

Find out what makes these donors tick. What do they want to accomplish with their philanthropy? You can even slather attention on those special folks. Listen! And listen to them some more. Because they believe in your vision and are willing to partner with you and your leaders to achieve it.

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3. It’s not about you. It’s about the benefit to your community.

It’s time to stop talking about your organization and its needs. Instead, start focusing on what your community needs.

This is a huge shift of perspective. And it’s a hard one to nail, because it doesn’t come naturally.

Your team and your leadership instinctively talk about the good work your organization does, your grand plans, and what you need to pull them off.

But be warned, donors want to make gifts to benefit the overall community and create social good. It’s rare that a donor will give just because your institution is asking.

They have to believe that they are making a difference. It can’t be about you. Even more, your case for support and messaging can’t be all about your organization. You have to be talking about benefit and impact in the greater world.

Here’s your winning strategy:

Shape your organization’s messages and case to be about what your community needs, not about what your organization needs.

Your donors will be more interested in you if you show them how their gifts will serve the greater good.

4. Make sure your board members are fully in agreement with the plan for the campaign.

Do all of your board members agree on where you are headed? Do they understand the new initiatives your organization is undertaking? 

Don’t be surprised to find that some people either don’t understand the new vision, or don’t agree with the direction. Campaigns are inherently risky.

For one thing, they can make board members feel uncertain and unsure. You may find that risk-adverse board members need data, more and more information and coaching.  

For a successful capital campaign, you’ll need everyone buying into this new vision and how you’ll achieve it. Check to find out if everyone is on board.

Here’s your winning strategy:

Spend the time and energy to make sure that all of your board members enthusiastically buy into the big new vision.

Set up opportunities for your board to discuss your vision and plans.

Help them understand the direction forward. And they’ll start considering why and at what level they should support that vision.

Don’t miss that step. Without a shared vision, you may be herding cats, trying to create momentum and support where there is none. 

5. For a successful nonprofit capital campaign, apply the conversational approach to asking.

The idea of asking for a major gift capital campaign gift creates fear in a lot of people’s stomachs.

It’s so important to remember that the ask is not about money – instead it’s about the donor’s big heart and vision.

We’ve found a kinder, gentler, much more successful way to approach asking for major campaign gifts.

This approach has donors actually saying to you “how can I help?” In fact, many of our clients are reporting that donors are simply offering major campaign gifts to them, without an ask.

Here’s an example of this approach.

Here’s your winning strategy for a Gift Conversation: 

Use a conversational approach to bring up the topic of a gift:

Why do you believe so much in our work?What area of our campaign case and vision most interests you? What’s your vision for your own philanthropy and what you want to accomplish? If you ever made a gift to the campaign, what would you most like to accomplish? 

And all of a sudden, you are in the middle of an asking conversation. In test cases, the donor feels engaged and in charge. It’s all about their big heart and personal values – that’s the key to a mega campaign gift. 


BOTTOM LINE for a Super Successful Nonprofit Capital Campaign

Just take your time and plan carefully, focus on the few best donors, frame your need in terms of community benefits, get everyone in full agreement, train people on conversational asking.