How to start a capital campaign


For most nonprofits, a capital campaign is the result of many months, if not years, of strategic planning and preparation. Typically, an organization has established some long-term goals and projects that are too large to be funded through normal operating revenue.

Now, what are the next steps? How do I start a capital campaign?

Here are the five key steps in transitioning from strategic planning to conducting a campaign:

Identify your organization’s needs:

Before moving forward with a capital campaign, you should be able to answer “yes” to this question: Is the need – as defined by leadership – real? Or is it merely a want?

If you can answer affirmatively, you’re ahead of the game. If your answer is “no,” or somewhere in the middle, it’s important to define your organization’s true needs.

Prepare your database:

Aside from quality leadership and volunteers, an updated database is one of the most critical elements for a successful campaign. Accurate contact information and giving history is invaluable in a campaign.

Prior to every planning study, the Steier Group conducts a database cleanup process for our clients to attain updated addresses, phone numbers and email addresses for their constituents. Considering that 11 percent or more of the U.S. population moves each year, and many more disconnect landlines, this makes a significant difference.

If it’s been a while since you’ve updated your database, conducting a census of your organization is a perfect way to start.

Conduct a planning study:

A planning study is the ultimate litmus test to see if your organization is ready for a capital campaign. Through personal interviews and a series of surveys, your constituents will share their views on your organization, the potential campaign goals and the level at which they might support the campaign, should you move forward.

Additionally, a professional study will set you up for success by identifying major gift prospects, securing leaders and volunteers, and building awareness for the upcoming campaign.

Solidify campaign goals:

The feedback you receive from the planning study should guide this process. The study results will help refine your campaign goals and prioritize them, separating the wants from the needs. Perhaps what your organization’s leadership deems to be needs are not viewed as such by the rest of your community. You’ll want to select campaign goals that are supported by your constituents.

The study results will also include a projection of how much a campaign is likely to raise. If you’re not able to raise enough to completely fund your projects, perhaps you can establish tiered goals or work with your architect to develop a plan that addresses all your needs at a lower cost.

Receive approval:

The last step before launching a campaign is typically receiving approval. For Catholic churches, this might be from both the parish council and the diocese. For schools and community organizations, it might be from the board of trustees. Once you’ve received approval, you’re ready for a capital campaign.

Since 1997, the Steier Group has assisted nonprofits of all sizes with conducting capital campaigns, raising more than $1.6 billion for our clients. If you’re considering a campaign for your organization, or if you have any questions regarding the professional services provided by the Steier Group, I encourage you to contact me at any time. We’d love to help you reach your development goals.

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