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How-to Library • Featuring articles from past issues of Contributions

Capital Campaign: Ready or Not?

By Jeri Alcock

The current economic climate has given many nonprofit leaders reason for pause as they plan for expansion and future facilities needs.  Some are simply putting capital campaigns on hold, hoping for clarity in the future. While the context in which we are raising money has become more challenging and complex, the basic rules of successful capital campaigns remain the same.  So how can you be sure your goal of a capital campaign is realistic?   Will the same donors who invest in your core mission be eager to fund your facilities needs? Given current economic forces, are you ready?  The answer is it depends…

It depends on your leadership 

Capital requests are scrutinized much more thoroughly than project requests.  One of the key differences is that your leadership and your leadership’s ability to carry out the plan will be more rigorously tested.  You’ll be evaluated twice: once on the merits of the project and again on the strength of the organization to lead the campaign.  

Here are some common questions funders and donors will likely ask:

  1. Why is this effort critical at this time?
  2. What makes your leadership outstanding?
  3. How does your strategic direction inform this effort?
  4. How have you prepared for this effort?
  5. What will happen in the community if this facility is not built?
  6. What potential challenges do you anticipate and how will you overcome them?
  7. What scenario planning has your leadership done in the event fundraising for the building fails to meet the goal you have set?

It depends on planning

A feasibility study will determine how much you can reasonably expect to raise so that your project’s scope fits within the reality of your fundraising ability and your community’s ability and willingness to support the project.  Think you can’t afford a campaign feasibility study?  In today’s economy, organizations cannot afford to proceed without one. 

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When done properly, the feasibility study will test the case for support, reveal sources of likely revenue and inform changes to assure success in the public campaign. Simply put, a good feasibility study will give you the information you need to succeed.

It depends on your fundraising skill & capacity

Capital fundraising is all about timing.  The right actions, carried out at the right time, can help you to avoid costly errors.  Once you break ground, you will be committed to building the facility whether or not your fundraising is successful and once the building is complete, the fundraising opportunities become increasingly limited.  If your organization is not skilled in capital fundraising, consider retaining professional council.  Even a small investment upfront can pay for itself in avoiding costly mistakes. 

Successful fundraising campaigns share common qualities

  1. The need for the facility is well researched and clearly stated
  2. The fundraising goal is realistic for the organization, project and community
  3. Sources of revenue are diverse - there is no over reliance on foundation support
  4. Long-term financing scenarios are well thought out and contingencies are built in
  5. A thorough feasibility study informs scope of the project and fundraising strategy
  6. The board champions the cause and inspires others to give – leading by example
  7. Adequate time and money are allocated to fundraising activities

Capital campaigns by their very nature are transformative.  You will be asking your community to take a leap of faith with you and envision what could be.  Allow plenty of time to prepare your leadership and complete the extensive planning necessary. Then, go forward and build the future you envision for your organization, your constituents and your community.

Jeri Alcock, CFRE, founded On Course Consulting in 2006.  Alcock is based in Hillsboro, Oregon and specializes in board development and capacity building for community based organizations.  She has worked in the nonprofit sector for fifteen years as a manager, development officer, consultant, trainer/facilitator and writer. For more information, visit www.oncourseforsuccess.com



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