Raising money year in, year out for on-going operations feels like a slog. I get it.

Every year, you raise your goal by the deadline and then, the next day you start again back at 0. It’s essentially starting from scratch with an even bigger fundraising goal for the next year. That’s your reward for success!

Might it be possible to get off the merry-go-round of annual fundraising?

Is there a way to breathe new life into your fundraising by using capital campaign strategies to raise money for, let’s say, the next five years?

That was the question posed to me by a very smart development director whose organization is not planning a capital expansion or a campus master plan.

Make Special Major Gift Asks Now and Again

Some percentage of your recurring annual donors could give much larger gifts if they thought their increased giving would make a bigger difference. It’s up to you to frame the opportunities donors have to make a bigger difference.

Take a look at your operating budget and see what you might pull out and package differently. Instead of asking for money for staff, ask instead for money that will make possible a specific project or program your staff members are working on during the coming year or even a longer period. Ask for a special gift for that program that’s over an above the donor’s regular annual gift.

The very same donors who give you recurring gifts year may well be interested in giving more in response to special requests. All you have to do is to ask.

That’s not a capital campaign, but it is a great way to increase your revenue and strengthen your relationships with your annual donors by taking the time to ask them for something special. All it takes is a bit of creativity in the way you think about your operating budget and a willingness to reach out to a few donors.

It’s good for your donors and good for your fundraising. Make this reframing practice a regular part of your annual fundraising.

Build Capacity Using the Capital Campaign Model

Even if your organization isn’t planning a new building or capital improvements any time soon, you can (and should) plan a special campaign to increase your organization’s capacity every few years.

Think of it this way — ongoing revenue is the money you need to run your programs. Capital is a special infusion of money that enables you to grow to the next level. Capital money provides a springboard for growth. And the very same people who give to help run your programs will also invest in your growth.

Investment in building capacity can take many forms. Here are five of the most common items you might ask donors to invest in to help increase your impact.

1. Fundraising:

For many organizations, fundraising is the only program that actually makes money for the organization. It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that wise investment in fundraising will increase revenue which, in turn, will increase impact.

Fundraising investments range from donor databases, prospect research, capable development staff, and other fundraising tools and expertise.

2. Equipment and Technology:

Outmoded technology and equipment cause service delays and inefficiencies. Upgrading systems every few years is an important and effective way to increase your capacity.

3. Start Up Funds for New Programs:

New programs usually require an infusion of cash to support the initial years of operation. Over time, as the new programs take hold, the cost of running them can be picked up by increases to annual fundraising or other sources of income. But the initial investment and the first 1 to 3 years of program cost often require an infusion of capital.

4. Evaluation, Analysis and Planning:

Smart nonprofits invest in professional expertise to help evaluate the effectiveness of their programs and determine the ways in which they could become more efficient and effective. This is likely to require high quality outside expertise.

5. Communications and Outreach:

Finally, you might invest in branding and communications as a way of increasing the reach and effectiveness of your organization. Old fashioned and outmoded ways of contacting people limit the scope and scale of your impact. Occasional investment in this aspect of your program can transform your reach and impact.

Think from Abundance rather than Scarcity

To shape a capacity building campaign, start by gathering key stakeholders together and ask them to think seriously about what it would take to increase the impact of what your organization does. What holds you back? What might you invest in that would make you more efficient and effective?

You may be surprised by the ideas that come up. Together, they might well serve as the basis for a capacity building campaign that will unlock your organization’s potential.

So, back to the original question…

Can you raise money for capacity building through a special campaign?

Yes you can! And yes you should!

Donors don’t care as much about buildings as you think they do. They care about having their investment make a difference.


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