Is Your Nonprofit Ready for Capital Fundraising?

Fundraising Ideas

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Mary Sumners, Vice President of Annual Giving, Kennari Consulting – Mary’s areas of expertise include annual giving strategies, capital campaign management, and board and volunteer committee support. She has tremendous knowledge on managing the day-to-day challenges of fundraising and enjoys facilitating the decision-making process with clients. She is especially passionate about helping boards become more inclusive and intentional in representing the communities they serve. She is also BoardSource certified, which has given her greater insight into how nonprofit boards can best support their organizations.

We’ve all been there.  We’ve outgrown our space, we need a bigger endowment fund, we need to serve more people – it’s time for a capital fundraising campaign.  Enter any number of musical themes (does anyone hear the Jaws theme?) to describe the development team’s feelings, but the question they all have is: “Are we really ready to do this?” 

Capital campaigns can be a really exciting tool for nonprofits to fuel their growth.  If they are truly successful, they not only set up the organization to better meet their current needs, but they also set a new fundraising pace for sustaining the future of the organization at its new level of operation.  Not sure your organization is going to experience these results? Here is a list of what successful campaigns have in common: 

1. A Clearly Defined Project  

Your strategic plan should point to the need for the main component of your project.  It should also help guide you to identifying other related pieces that will deepen your organization’s impact on the community once your project is complete. For instance, if your project is a building, understanding what the needs are outside of bricks and mortar will set you up for long-term success. Adding in appropriate staffing, programming, or endowment dollars can be a great way to ensure that you can not only build a building, but also ensure the best outcome for your constituents once it is complete.  

2.   An Inclusive and Realistic Budget 

The budget.  Seems easy enough to put together based on conversations and what we know about the price of lumber, but without careful work based on real-time estimates, the budget can make or break the success of your campaign. Setting it too low can lead to frustration for staff and volunteers when it needs to be increased later.  A budget that lacks planning is a red flag for supporters and volunteers alike.  

Your campaign budget should include real estimates, campaign costs (consultants, materials, recognition signage), and programmatic or endowment elements. Additionally, you will need to develop the timeline for realization of gifts, investment revenue, and construction plans to be sure that cash flow matches the timing of expenses.   

Lastly, develop a pro forma budget that shows what impact the completed project will have on your organization and how you will continue to sustain the growth you achieved during the campaign. 

3.  A Strong Case for Support 

A strong case for support is the best tool for compelling donors to the project.  It also serves as a framework for your campaign materials and talking points for donors.   

A strong case for support begins with highlighting the main initiatives in your strategic plan and details not only how the project will impact your organization, but how it impacts the community.   

It should use relevant data, input from end users, and your history of success to prove that there is an issue that needs addressing and that not only do you know how to address it, but that you are the best organization to do so.  Each component of the campaign should be identified and verified in this way, pointing to a clear need for your campaign.      

4.  A Cohesive Fundraising Leadership Team 

The leadership team, and its ability to carry out the project, is a major factor for any donor.  This includes both staff and board leadership.  When all leaders are working together and have developed the project and plans collaboratively, it inspires the rest of the team to move in the same direction.  

5.  A Prospective Donor Pool 

An exciting campaign can certainly attract new donors, but it is important to understand just who those prospects are and if you have connectivity to those prospects before you begin.  This is most systematically done through feasibility study work. You should also review your current base of supporters and determine their capacity for increasing their support.  The increase factor is essential because you need to make plans to meet your annual fundraising needs before you make campaign plans.   

6.  Engaged Fundraising Volunteers 

A strong fundraising development team and executive director certainly can be very effective in meeting a campaign goal but engaged fundraising volunteers can greatly improve your results.   

Having a group of community leaders championing your project and bringing their networks to the table ensures that you are reaching donor prospects you might not have connected with otherwise.  Many donors see active fundraising volunteers as a sign of strength for the project – and they certainly are! 

7.  A History of Previous Support 

The best indicator of success for the campaign you are beginning is the completion of a previous one, or strong annual giving over time.  Not every organization has had the opportunity to show success in campaigns specifically, but regular annual giving or grant successes can show the community that you are poised for success also. 

8.  An Appropriate Timetable 

The number one issue that I see organizations have trouble with when it comes to campaigns is creating a realistic timeframe.  Whether it is an ambitious board member heading straight to feasibility, a CEO wanting to quickly show impact, or an exciting real estate opportunity, many outside factors can push organizations into a campaign too quickly leaving themselves short of either their goal or their needs.   

An appropriate timetable includes plenty of time for planning and donor cultivation before the shovel hits the ground.  Donor cultivation in particular takes time.  Failing to allow for it can be the difference between a $10,000 gift and a $1,000,000 gift.  In the end, it will take you the same amount of total time to get to the goal.   

9.  Staffing Capacity to Match the Capital Fundraising Goal 

There are very few nonprofit teams out there that just aren’t working hard enough, right?  Adding a capital fundraising campaign to the already challenging annual goal without increasing staffing capacity is a recipe for disaster.   

Whether you add capacity in administration to allow more time for your gift officers to build relationships, or you add capacity to build more relationships – something needs to be added.  

Often this new capacity level is the right one for maintaining growth once the campaign is complete. And there’s nothing more frustrating to a fundraising volunteer than a lack of staff support of the process.  Increased capacity will pay for itself and more! 

10. Strong Records and Research Procedures 

Data care and good research are critical to capital fundraising success and are a key piece of infrastructure that cannot be overlooked.  Investing in not only the right system for data management but also in the staffing structure to use it to its highest potential will translate into better communication with and care for your donors. 

11.  Motivation 

A campaign will not be successful through motivation alone, but it will most certainly fail without it.  A motivated board and leadership show their true commitment by implementing all of the above components well before the first dollar is raised.  A motivated board ensures the resources needed to meet the goal – and those resources include organizational capacity and infrastructure in addition to financial resources.   

Final Thoughts on Capital Fundraising

This list is not in order of priority and it doesn’t all need to be done in linear order, but the most successful capital fundraising campaigns have all of these things in common.

Whether you are the leader of your organization, or a member of the team being charged with your new campaign, use this list as a checklist to evaluate when your organization is ready to move forward.  With all these pieces in place, you are sure to succeed! 

For additional resources to help with fundraiser planning, please check out the articles below:

About Kennari Consulting

We value relationships and are proud to connect nonprofits to our partner network and hope this helps increase your nonprofit ‘s effectiveness and success. Kennari Consulting helps nonprofits build relationships with donors by creating passionate advocates.

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