Your Guide to Capital Campaigns


Looking to launch a capital campaign? There are a few basics you’ll need to know before you get started to guarantee you achieve all your nonprofit organization’s goals. From the basics of a capital campaign to how to build the right team, our crew at iWave will take you through everything you need to know about this fundraising strategy.

Related: Get the Capital Campaign Cheat Sheet

Capital Campaign Definition: What is a Capital Campaign?

In order to accurately plan and run a capital campaign you first need to understand the definition of a capital campaign. This type of fundraising is a targeted effort occurring within a strict time frame. Capital campaigns are unique in that they are broken down into two distinct phases:

  1. The Quiet (Private) Phase

This initial phase is when the majority of the fundraising is done. At this time, you and your team will reach out to major donors with large gift asks.

  1. The Public Phase

This final phase of funding essentially fills in the gaps by asking for donations from a larger public pool of donors to reach your goals.

Why Launch a Capital Campaign?

This type of fundraising is typically used to fund a major expansion that will help your nonprofit grow over the years. Capital campaigns have earned the nickname of brick-and-mortar campaigns since they are traditionally used to raise money for concrete projects.

If your school needs a new science wing or your hospital wants the latest cancer imaging system, then consider funding through a capital campaign.

Who Uses a Capital Campaign?

Since capital campaigns are traditionally used to get funding for structures, mainly healthcare organizations and education organizations use this type of funding.

Any nonprofit with large needs and major projects on their docket can launch this type of campaign though. For example, if you run an afterschool program for children from underprivileged areas, a capital campaign could help you build a new recreational center, so you no longer have to rent your space.

How Do You Make a Capital Campaign Successful?

No matter what reasons you have for launching a capital campaign, you obviously want to make it successful. A new building or equipment will help your organization grow and accomplish so much good for your community for years to come. For a successful capital campaign, consider some of these factors.

A Focused Team

As a member of a nonprofit you know you’re nothing without a strong team beside you. When it comes to capital campaigns this holds true. Before you get started, take the time to assemble a hardworking and dedicated team with the following members:

  • Campaign Chair

Your campaign chair is one of the most important team members and will oversee all committees. In the community they’re an ambassador for your campaign, so make sure you choose the right person to be the face of your organization.

  • Board Members

The board members are at the forefront of big picture decisions and are in charge of day to day planning and execution. These members provide approval for any spending, so choosing strong leaders is crucial.

  • Planning Committee

Your planning committee should consist of about 10 to 15 members who help to plan and establish a timeline for your campaign, meaning they need to have strong organizational and time management skills.

  • Steering Committee

After your planning committee sets up a timeline for your capital campaign, your steering committee then keeps the campaign on track. This committee can have the same members as the planning committee, but make sure to add in a few more key players as well.

  • Staff

Other staff members you’ll need: major gift officers, prospect researchers, volunteer coordinators, event planners, and marketing coordinators. Choose these positions based on experience and dedication to the cause.

  • Volunteers

Volunteers are the heart and soul of any nonprofit, and no fundraising endeavor would be complete without them.

A Targeted Plan

Before you begin fundraising sit down with your team and come up with a targeted plan. Make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to the goal of your capital campaign as well as what the strict deadlines and concrete end dates may be.

Sit down with your planning committee and come up with attainable and accurate deadlines throughout the campaign, especially for the private phase. Everyone on your staff as well as the community should be updated on your goals as you achieve them to maintain interest through every stage of fundraising.

A Quiet Phase for Major Gifts

Since 50 to 70 percent of funds are raised through major gifts during the private phase, it’s vital you’re reaching out to the right people with the right gift asks. Make sure you’re looking for candidates who not only have the ability to present you with a large gift but have an affinity for your cause as well.

For example, if you’re launching a campaign to build a new wing in your hospital, you may want to look through the records of past patients to see who would want to make a donation to your cause. Such patients may be the foundation for a grateful patient program as well, setting you up for more success in future fundraising endeavors.

One of the best ways to ensure successful fundraising in the quiet phase is to consider utilizing software that can perform wealth screenings for you. This helps save time and uncover the right supporters for your mission.

Once you’ve found great potential donors, the next step is to reach out to them. The more exciting you make this part, the more likely you are to engage potential donors. Consider offering naming rights to the bricks, benches, pillars, and even the building itself.

A Public Phase for all Gift Types

The final phase of your capital campaign is public fundraising. Again, engage your audience during this time. Host online events, contests, and even auctions of donated items to help reach a wide range of donors. Social media is especially helpful during this phase since it can reach a large population easily and quickly. Spread your organization’s message across the globe!

Why Perform a Feasibility Study?

Before you launch your capital campaign, it’s a good idea to perform a feasibility study. This resource is useful for gauging whether or not you’ll be able to meet the end goal you hope to accomplish. Typically, these studies are conducted by outside consultants through various surveys and are extremely helpful in knowing whether you should launch your campaign.

Prior to the quiet portion of fundraising, the consultants will interview 20 to 40 board members within your community to see if they would be willing and able to financially support your cause. At the end of the study, the results will let you know how much your existing donor pool can realistically contribute to your cause.

If your feasibility study results are not what you were hoping for, this doesn’t necessarily mean your campaign is over before it even began. Instead, it means you need to consider conducting a wealth screening to see who you can include in your donor pool.

How to Set a Capital Campaign Budget

As we mentioned before, a targeted plan is essential for a successful campaign. In order to accurately set up goals along the way, you first need to establish a capital campaign budget.

Obviously, the overarching goal of a capital campaign is to fundraise for a specific cause, but there are a few times when you may need to spend some money to generate awareness for your cause. You can also host an event—online or in-person if you’re able.

On average, a capital campaign will cost an organization about 10 percent of the end goal. For example, if your team determines it’ll cost $10 million to build a new science center at your university, expect to spend $1 million throughout the campaign.

From hiring consultants to direct mail materials, have your team meet and decide where you want to allocate your funds to. This will help you stay under or within your budget. Make sure to also account for any unforeseen circumstances. Having extra money built into your budget ensures you won’t overspend if an issue were to arise.

In some instances, creating a budget requires you to go outside of your organization and hire a finance expert. Make sure you’re considering all your options to ensure you have the most successful capital campaign possible.

Create a Gift Range Chart

Another great resource to help you stay on track throughout your campaign is to create a gift range chart. A gift range chart is your organization’s way of mapping out future gifts. It works by breaking down your fundraising goal into more manageable chunks, so you can set smaller milestones throughout the campaign.

In this chart, you’ll list out how many gifts of a certain size you’re hoping to receive. The larger the gifts you receive, the less donors you’ll need to reach your goal.

In your chart, you’ll want to list not only the gift amount, but also the number of prospective donors you can reach out to in order to reach your gift goal. Then provide a total gift amount, so you can easily add up to the total you need to meet your fundraising goal.

Gift Chart Break Down

  • Gift Amount: What is the value of your target gift?
  • Number of Gifts: How many of these gifts do you wish to receive?
  • Number of Prospects: How many potential donors can you reach out to?
  • Cumulative Total: How much money have you raised in gifts thus far, adding your current donations to all preceding gift donations?

Gift Amount

Number of Gifts

Number of Prospects

Cumulative Total






























Be conservative when you put together your gift range chart. You may ask 24 potential donors to make a $15,000 donation but only have eight people interested in your cause, so by underestimating you’ll be better prepared for setbacks.

On the other hand, in the same situation, 10 donors may offer their support instead and you’ll receive more donations than initially expected, which leads to a more successful campaign overall! You never know how your donations may pan out, so it’s best to be prepared.

How to Get a Campaign Grant

When launching a capital campaign, you have the option to apply for a grant. A grant is a large contribution to your campaign to help propel fundraising forward and enhance your mission. Grants are a great way to help set you up for more major gift donations for the rest of your campaign since they bring awareness to your cause.

These differ from challenge grants in that you don’t need to complete a challenge to receive the money. However, in certain instances a capital campaign may also be a challenge grant, so it’s a good idea to consider all the options available to you.

How Do You Find Grants?

In order to secure a grant for your campaign, you first need to seek out organizations that provide grants to nonprofits like yours. Each grant has specific qualifications, so you’ll want to make sure you’re applying to the right ones. One of the best ways to do so is to use fundraising platforms that screen for grants that suit your organization.

Then, you want to craft a proposal stating why you deserve the grant and what you plan on achieving with the grant money. The person who writes this proposal needs to be a strong writer who can embody the passion and heart of your nonprofit. If your budget allows, you may want to consider hiring a grant writer who has experience obtaining grants for organizations similar to yours.

How to Kick Off Your Capital Campaign?

Now that you know the best steps to take when it comes to your capital campaign, you’re ready to get started. Some of the final steps you need to take to kick it off successfully include:

  • Invest in software for donor information: As we mentioned before, there are many platforms you can invest in to do the hard work for you when it comes to finding the right donors for your mission.
  • Conduct a wealth screening: Once you find the best software to assist in finding donors, use it to perform a wealth screening that examines propensity and inclination to give.
  • Set goals and a timeline: Work with your planning committee to craft a timeline and strict, immovable dates for fundraising goals to be achieved.
  • Craft a campaign slogan: A slogan is a crucial way to let everyone know what your organization and capital campaign are all about. Also, at this time, you’ll want to set up a website, craft brochures, write letters, and come up with pledge cards.

What Capital Campaign Marketing Materials Do You Need?

Once you’ve crafted your mission statement and campaign slogan, you’re ready to start preparing your marketing materials. These materials will help to spread awareness for your mission and are a crucial part to support both the private and public fundraising phases.

Some of the most popular materials you’ll want to build into your budget include:

  1. Website

Your website is one of the best ways to convey your mission, interact with the public, and keep everyone updated on the progress of your campaign. Make sure you’re posting weekly or monthly updates to your site and set up a way for the public to make online donations if they’d like.

Also, on your site, make sure to have plenty of engagement materials such as videos and photos. You should link to your social media accounts where you can more directly interact with your audience.

  1. Brochures

Brochures are a great way to provide in depth material on the mission of your capital campaign. Your brochure can be a quick way to engage private donors and should include donor incentive levels.

Have you set up naming rights for various aspects of your building depending on donation level? Include this information in your brochure so a potential donor can quickly view it.

  1. Letters

Letters are another way to reach out to private donors. Direct mail should be personal and appeal to the specific donor.

Make sure to be genuine in explaining your mission and why a major gift could really propel your cause forward. End the letter by thanking the potential donor for their gift in advance.

  1. Pledge Cards

Pledge cards can also be sent via mail or given out at events and meetings. On this card there should be space for the donor’s name, contact information, donation amount, and payment schedule. This is a quick way to raise funds over the course of your capital campaign.

Best Practices for Capital Campaigns

Before you officially launch your campaign, during fundraising, and after your mission has been achieved, there are certain practices you want to employ. Some of these best practices include:

Before the Campaign

  • Conduct a Feasibility Study: Determine if you have the support to launch your capital campaign or if you need to uncover other major gift donors.
  • Invest in Fundraising Software: Fundraising software is a great way to figure out grants available to your organization as well as what potential donors have the biggest inclination and ability to support your mission.
  • Assemble a Team: Build a team surrounding your specific mission and hire any outside consultants that may be needed.
  • Establish a Timeline: Work with your team to determine an end goal and then construct smaller milestones with a clear timeline of when these goals should be achieved.
  • Craft a Campaign Slogan: Work with your marketing team to develop a campaign slogan and then implement this on all your marketing materials.

During the Campaign

  • Offer Incentives to Major Donors: Determine what incentives you want to offer your major donors and provide a list for them to view on a brochure or in a letter.
  • Get Full Board Participation: Always lead by example. Make sure everyone on your board is committed to making a donation to your campaign.
  • Maintain a Consistent Brand: Consistency is a major key to success. Stay on brand throughout your campaign and tie all your efforts together.
  • Keep Supporters Updated: Make sure your audience is aware of all your successes along the way.
  • Vary Fundraising Efforts: Capital campaigns can last months and even years, so it’s important you’re spreading out your various fundraising events. Diversifying your efforts not only maintains engagement with your cause but provides consistent fundraising throughout your campaign as well.

After the Campaign

  • Host a Wrap Up Event: After the close of your capital campaign, it’s important to thank your supporters. Host an event to wrap up your goals and publicly thank major supporters. Such an event can be held virtually!

Additionally, send out personal letters of gratitude. Grateful donors will continue to support your cause and any future fundraising efforts your nonprofit engages in, so this is a crucial final step.

How our Fundraising Software can help Your Capital Campaign?

The quiet phase is crucial to the success of your capital campaign and the proper fundraising platform can help you make more successful donation asks. Our next-generation platform is built on billions of datapoints and can help you quickly scan potential donors to uncover the right match for your mission.

Not only will iWave show you who is most likely to make a contribution to your cause, but we’ll also depict how much to ask for as well, helping you walk away from a gift ask with no money left on the table.

Our fundraising software can also be accessed on your smartphone device, allowing you to view vital information before entering a meeting. We’re committed to building our fundraising platform around  your nonprofit’s specific needs, so a member of our team will work one-on-one with you show you how you can best utilize our software for a successful capital campaign.

See iWave in action today. Contact us to request a demo or a free fundraising assessment!


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