When is a good time for a capital campaign?

I was asked some years ago by the leadership of an organisation to give my view on whether they were ready for a capital campaign.  I gave a resounding ‘no the organisation wasn’t ready’ as they still had not established a solid major gift programme.  They were even more surprised when I said they were at least three years away from this.

We worked together and established their first major gift programme and now five years on, they are still not ready.  So what can we learn from this?  Well firstly, capital campaigns need some pretty hefty gifts to launch the campaign, a minimum of 20% from one donor to give confidence to others, often called a ‘lead gift’.  If you don’t know who that will be then lots of preparatory work still needs to be done.   You need many ‘lead gift’ candidates and preferably individuals who already know you and love what you do.

Once you have developed relationships with major givers and developed a successful major gift programme, in turn there are many potential ‘lead gift’ candidates and many hands make light work of the fundraising.  Particularly as capital campaigns rely heavily on volunteers.

Developing relationships with wealthy individuals takes time, perhaps even a year or more before you know what they love most about your organisation, their passion and you are able to present to a potential donor a proposal for funding that meets their need to make a difference.  Once this is successful you can begin to build the relationship further by feeding back on what their gift has achieved.

A capital campaign gift can be much higher than a major gift as it is seen as a ‘once only’ gift even though it might span a number of years.  It is a specific amount of money to fund a specific capital target whether for a building or a capital project of some kind.  A capital campaign can work if built on the foundation of a successful major gift programme and I would suggest that this is the only successful way to proceed.

It is extremely hard for a charity to achieve a successful outcome for a capital campaign without this preparation.  The exception might be a university or hospital that enjoys a high profile and where a particular cause is close to a donor’s heart.

However setting up a major gift programme (see previous blogs at www.ascentphilanthropy.co.uk) whilst undertaking some long term planning for the capital campaign can be highly fruitful.

What is your experience?

Ruth Irwin’s new book:  ‘Major Gifts Unwrapped – Book One – 39 principles for the Successful Major Donor Fundraiser’ released November 2017
Available Now from Amazon!
UK :From here  USA :From here and also across Europe

Ruth is the principal and founder of Ascent Philanthropy, author of two books and passionate about helping non-profits with their major gift programmes by offering advice for introducing a new major gift programme or enhancing the productivity of the philanthropy team

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