Why do capital campaigns fail?


Everyone likes to be part of a winning team. Be it sports or politics, we all want to support a winner. That attitude is alive in the fundraising world, too, as people like to know their investment is paying dividends. The payoff is delivered by seeing their nonprofit of choice continuing its mission.

But, just as our favorite sports team doesn’t always win the big game, sometimes capital campaigns fail. It’s an unpleasant reality that CEOs, board members and donors occasionally must face. It can be avoided with proper planning.

Why does an organization sometimes fall short of its campaign goal? What steps need to be taken to ensure campaign success?

Here are five keys to avoiding a capital campaign failure:

  • Good leadership. This starts with the CEO and trickles down the campaign organization chart to the general chairs. The individuals serving in these roles must be willing to accept the responsibility associated with the position. They set the example for other board members and volunteers. If they aren’t entirely supportive, both financially as well as with their time, they cannot expect dedication from others.
  • Define an attainable goal prior to the start of the capital campaign. Regardless of the dollars raised in an effort, if it fails to reach its publicly stated goal, it is deemed a failure. That’s true even if it raises 95 percent of its goal. It’s wise planning to have a professional projection of how much you can raise before you ever reach the public kickoff.
  • Know what your people think before you start the campaign. Are your constituents in favor of a fundraising effort? How do they want to spend their money? Who may make the largest gifts to the effort? Answering these questions prior to the start of a campaign provides you with the knowledge you need as you move ahead to cultivate and educate your donors. A comprehensive campaign planning study is critical in acquiring this knowledge and using it to conduct a successful campaign.
  • Clear, concise communication. Don’t leave your constituents in the dark or confused by poor communication. Frequent, clear communication is a must. This happens through a strong case statement and consistent campaign updates through personal letters, telephone calls, newsletters, social media and communication forms unique to specific types of nonprofits, such as bulletin inserts or pulpit announcements at churches.
  • Stick to the campaign timeline. No one wants a campaign dragging out well beyond its lifespan. Be it 20 weeks or multiple years, it is imperative that leaders and volunteers work hard to complete their tasks as scheduled.

I encourage you to contact me if you have any questions regarding capital campaigns or the professional services of the Steier Group.

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