How to Execute a Capital Campaign


When your nonprofit desperately needs a new facility, costly equipment or an endowment, a capital campaign can be the best way to raise funds. But to be successful, a campaign requires strong leadership, extensive planning and dedicated participants.

Leading the Troops

Capital campaigns generally are long-term projects — often lasting three or more years — and they can be grueling. To carry yours out, you need a champion with vision and stamina. Consider current and past board members or look to leaders in the greater community with qualifications such as:

  • A fundraising track record,
  • Knowledge of your community and local issues,
  • The ability to motivate others, and
  • Time to attend planning sessions and fundraising activities.

Most capital campaigns require a small army to raise funds through direct mail, email solicitations, direct solicitations, special events and other methods. In addition to staff and board members, reach out to current volunteers, like-minded community groups and, if applicable, clients who’ve benefited from your services. You might also decide to hire new staff, such as a professional fundraiser and administrative personnel. Seek a mix of talents and personal qualities among your volunteers, staff and new hires.

Approaching Donors

To ensure staff and volunteers are focusing on the most promising donors, identify a large group — say 1,000 individuals — to solicit for donations. Draw your list from past donors, area business owners, board members, volunteers and any other likely prospects. Then narrow that list to the 100 largest potential donors and talk to them first. Secure large gifts before pursuing anything under $1,000.

Most people don’t like asking other people for money. So be sure to train team members on how to solicit funds and provide them with sample scripts. To help volunteers make effective phone solicitations, record a few calls and play them back for the group to critique.

Focus on Execution

To raise as much money as possible, you need to plan and prepare. This starts with ensuring that key constituents share your fundraising vision and strategies for reaching the campaign’s goals. Break down your overall goal into smaller objectives and celebrate when you reach each one. You’ll want to regularly report gifts, track your progress toward reaching your ultimate goal, and measure the effectiveness of your activities.

Also pay attention to how you craft your message. Potential donors must see your organization as capable and strong, but also as the same group they’ve championed for years. Instead of focusing on what donations will do for your nonprofit, show potential donors the impact on their community.

Traditional fundraising wisdom holds that you shouldn’t go public with your campaign until you’ve secured significant “lead gifts” from major donors. The percentage varies, with organizations commonly waiting until 50% of their fundraising goal is reached before announcing the campaign. As the campaign progresses, publicly recognize your donors in your newsletter and thank them at public events.

Many Measures of Success

You’ll know you’ve reached your goal when you’ve raised a certain dollar amount. But don’t forget about other measures of success such as return on investment, percentage of past donors contributing or amount raised from particular activities. Your financial advisor can help you identify the most valuable metrics.

BPM for Nonprofits

BPM is one of the largest California-based accounting and consulting firms, ranking in the top 50 in the country. It has served the San Francisco Bay Area's emerging and mid-cap businesses, as well as high-net-worth individuals, since 1986. Our Nonprofit services group, one of BPM’s most established practice groups, consists of over sixty professionals across our tax, assurance and consulting practices. One of our founding goals was to make a difference in the manner nonprofits were served by our profession. Each member of our group brings differing expertise from our tax, audit, consulting and accounting departments - together we provide a comprehensive understanding of the functions needed to operate a nonprofit organization. For more information, contact Daniel Figueredo at (415) 288-6284 or Shannon Winter at (408) 961-6308.