3 Tips to Stay on Track With Your Capital Campaign

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by Andrea Kihlstedt

Capital campaigns are complex, multi-year endeavors. They require many team members, multiple phases, and without a well-developed plan, they can easily run astray even in ideal fundraising conditions. And the conditions we face in 2020 are far from ideal.

In this ultimate guide to capital campaigns, written by the team behind the “Capital Campaign Toolkit,” you will find out what should be in a capital campaign plan that will help your campaign stay on track even during these challenging times. A well-conceived plan will guide your team through the campaign and ensure you have the tools you need for success.

What Is a Capital Campaign Plan?

If your nonprofit’s executive director has asked you to create a comprehensive capital campaign plan, you may wonder what should be included in that plan. Don’t feel ashamed if you aren’t sure how to create a campaign plan. For years, nonprofit professionals just like you have relied on capital campaign consultants to create their campaign plans.

We believe that you should be equipped to create your campaign plan yourself rather than having a consultant do it for you. You may need some sample materials and advising support, but it’s not rocket science. And if you play a big role in creating the plan, you’ll be more likely to follow it!

According to this guide in the “Capital Campaign Toolkit,” a capital campaign plan is a collection of essential information that will serve as the underpinnings or bones of your campaign. You will organize it into one document that you and your campaign leaders can refer to throughout the campaign.

The plan will include these items: the fundraising goal, a campaign timeline, the organizational structure of your campaign staff and volunteers, a campaign budget, campaign policies, donor recognition plan and more! This plan is constructed during the planning phase of your campaign, in preparation for the launch of your quiet phase.

A campaign plan is not just a document that will sit in a folder on your desktop. It will guide your campaign and must be accepted and approved by your board and campaign planning committee before it is finalized. There are a few steps you can take to give your team the best chance of abiding by your capital campaign plan:

  • Get buy-in for your plan before the quiet phase begins.
  • Keep your focus on the gift range chart.
  • Revisit your campaign plan as the situation evolves.

Are you ready to craft a plan that empowers your team to conduct a successful capital campaign during the pandemic? Let’s dive in.

1. Get Buy-In for Your Plan Before the Quiet Phase Begins

Capital campaigns involve many team members — fundraisers calling donors, board members scheduling one-on-one meetings (likely via video conferencing software in 2020), communications directors finalizing campaign materials, and volunteers acting as boots on the ground. We could go on!

Keeping so many teams in sync is no small feat, and it’s nearly impossible when you don’t have a clear plan that everyone can work from.

Whether you’re creating a new capital campaign plan or revising your plan to restart your campaign with a strong foundation, you should make sure that everyone who will be working on the campaign understands the key elements of the plan. This is especially important considering your team may be working remotely for the duration of 2020 and beyond. According to this blog post, keeping your team “in the know” is key in these situations!

Write up your plan, share it across your team, welcome feedback and incorporate relevant suggestions. When you do, make sure you communicate clearly that you solicit feedback from many team members.

2. Keep Your Focus on the Gift Range Chart

Right now, nonprofits are conducting capital campaigns in a perfect storm. COVID-19 has sent the economy into a freefall, and the election year has diverted what may have been funding for your nonprofit toward political campaigns.

When so much is uncertain, keep your focus on the fundamentals.

Your gift range chart will serve as the road map for your campaign. That chart shows how many gifts you need in each giving level to reach your campaign goal. The gift range chart sets the levels for giving and establishes the basis for a top-down order of solicitation.

Using the gift range chart levels, you can create a depth chart that enables you to add prospect names to each gift level.

What’s the difference between the two? Well, consider the following:

  • A gift range chart tells your organization which gifts you need to secure during your capital campaign and how many prospects you should reach out to to do so. For example, to reach a goal of $1,000,000, you might need:
    • One gift of $150,000.
    • Two gifts of $100,000.
    • Four gifts of $50,000.
    • Eight gifts of $25,000.

Each of those gifts will require two to three times more prospects than the number of gifts needed.

  • A depth chart helps you organize the donors you will solicit for each giving level in your gift range chart.

According to this Capital Campaign Toolkit guide, filling out a depth chart involves evaluating each of your prospects based on their current giving capacity and their affinity to give. Once you have evaluated each of your prospects and organized them according to ask levels on your depth chart, you will be able to organize the solicitation process, so you bring in the largest gifts first and then move on to soliciting smaller gifts. This approach will help you home in on the best opportunities to raise funds, focus your efforts and be more successful as a result.

3. Revisit Your Plan as the Situation Evolves

Even in normal circumstances, your capital campaign plan may change as you solicit the largest gifts and learn what you can actually raise from the top donors. You may have to reevaluate your goal or your timeline occasionally during the campaign. The likelihood of having to adapt your campaign plan is even greater now in this environment of economic and political uncertainty.

Prepare your board, steering committee and staff team for changes by keeping the plan in draft form until the official campaign kickoff. Let your team know that your plan may change along the way.

Consider Using an Experienced Campaign Expert to Guide You

Expert consultants or advisors with a great deal of experience can help you navigate the shifting campaign plan throughout your campaign. Those outside campaign experts can help develop effective campaign strategies and build the confidence of your team.

That said, it’s important to understand the limitations of campaign consulting. A capital campaign consultant isn’t carrying out your plan — they’re helping you make informed decisions along the way.

We’ve found that many nonprofits don’t actually need a full-service capital campaign consultant to create their campaign plan. Instead, they can work with a campaign advisor to help guide them as they develop a plan best suited for their organization. This strategy is often more budget-friendly, flexible, and allows nonprofit professionals to take full autonomy over their campaign.

Your capital campaign plan is the guiding document that keeps your team and campaign on track for the duration. A well-conceived campaign plan is even more important during these uncertain times.

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