Planning a Capital Campaign? Why You Should Engage Your Major Donors Early On


Planning a Capital Campaign? Why You Should Engage Your Major Donors Early On Is your organization planning a capital campaign or a major new funding initiative? We hear many questions about how to prepare properly for a capital campaign. As far as we are concerned, it’s what you do ahead of the campaign that can set the entire initiative up for success – or failure.   The steps you take early in the game can help to bring in those early lead gifts in quicky. Here is our guidance to make the most of the planning stage, when everything is still pending, and not yet finished. 

When is the right time to engage major donors in the proposed campaign project? 

Should you wait till the strategic plan is fully laid out? Should you wait until the drawings, sketches, building footprints are all completed?  Do you wait for the 4-color brochures, for the campaign website, for the campaign logo and branding all to be completed? Do you need all this stuff to have early conversations with key donors?   No!  Don’t wait. Here’s why: the process of thinking through your organization’s exciting future is a unique opportunity to engage important donors. You want those donors to buy in to the proposed campaign’s vision early in the game.

When you are planning a capital campaign, engage your major donors in your vision – now.

The time to discuss your campaign vision with hoped-for major donors is now – even when the possibilities for the future are just a happy vision. Why is this the case?  It’s because the vision stage of your capital campaign is the most exciting stage of all. It’s your moment of greatest power. This is where all the energy is.  Your team is living in a place of possibility – considering new paths to take. This is the place where people (your major donors) can get most excited. It’s when you envision a better world. 

Live in the space of vision and possibility because that’s where the power is. 

Martin Luther King didn’t say, “I have a strategic plan.”  Instead, he said, “I have a dream.”  And it was his dream – his vision – that captured the imagination, and the participation of millions of people both in the US and the world.  When you are planning a capital campaign, It is the dream and the vision that can raise the most money.

We have raised millions for capital campaigns with just an idea and a vision. 

We’ve raised millions of dollars without four-color brochures or fancy materials. With just a powerful, galvanizing Big Idea. You can too.  We’ve discussed seven and eight figure gifts with engaged donors, using only drawings on the back of a napkin. With only an exciting conversation and the power of possibility.  

Here’s the conversation to have with your most important major gift prospects: 

“We’re thinking of expanding our scope by adding xxxxxxx. This new bigger vision would allow us to have a much greater impact. We could achieve yyyyy.” “This is the way we could change our community, (our region, the world) for the better. We think we can pull it off. We have the power and the track record to take this next step.”  “What do YOU think, Ms. Donor? What are your impressions of these ideas, this possibility, this expanded vision? “ Could we pull it off? Who would need to be involved? What do you think it would take?”

Invite your donors in

Inviting a prospective major donor to share their opinion and perspective in helping to shape your vision is the highest compliment you can give him or her. It gets the donor in on the ground floor.  She feels like she’s in the know. Even more, she feels that she’s in the inner circle.  As fundraising consultants, we are often engaged in planning a capital campaign. We ask donors all the time how they feel about projects, how they feel about prospective campaigns, and what their thinking is on how to raise the money. It surprises us that so many nonprofit leaders are reluctant to have these kinds of conversations with their potential major donors.  We recommend that you don’t wait until all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed. Yes, we understand that you want to present your institution to the donors as smart and businesslike, but you can and should move forward while you are still in the visioning process.

There is a distinction between your Vision and your Plan. 

The vision comes first. Every strategic plan starts with an expanded vision.  You engage your donor with the vision and the power of possibility. Then you can follow-up as you flesh out the details of the plan. 

Bottom Line: Planning a capital campaign? Then stand in the space of vision and possibility. That’s where the power is. 

As always, it is a pleasure to share our weekly insights with you as we cover important fundraising strategies.  If your organization is planning a capital campaign or expanding your major gifts program – we can help. Send an email to if you’d like to schedule a free strategy call with us.