These five capital campaign tips keep your focus where it needs to be — on impact. The bigger and more exciting the impact, the more inclined your donors will be to make extraordinary gifts.

1. Capacity, Not Capital, Stupid!

The phrase “capital campaign” is a misnomer! That is, the name doesn’t capture the reality of this remarkable model of fundraising. More appropriate would be “capacity building campaign.”

Why? Because the common thread that unifies this fundraising model is that you can and should use it to increase your organization’s ability to carry out its mission.

Often capital campaigns are used to raise money for capital improvements such as new buildings or renovations, but not always.

Organizations can invest in many other things that might increase their capacity. Consider, for example, upgrading development systems, starting a new program that will generate revenue, a better website that generates more traffic, more efficient scheduling systems, and staff training.

You might raise money to ramp up staffing in key components of your program for a defined number of years until the annual revenue increases can pick up the ongoing costs.

See Social Velocity for an excellent e-book specifically on capacity campaigns.

2. Big Gifts Will Come from Current Donors

Chances are good that the largest gifts to your campaign will come from people who are already your donors.

Why should they give more?

Because, you can make the case that a large, short-term infusion of funds will greatly increase your organization’s ability to make a bigger impact.

Don’t assume that your $1,000 donors are giving at their capacity. Some percentage of them will give more if they believe that a larger gift for a specific project will have a big impact.

So what?

Occasional large capacity building campaigns provide wonderful opportunities to identify and engage the people who can give you big gifts. Many donors give at one level for annual solicitations but have the capacity to make a larger gift for a special request.

3. Impact Drives Investment

Many organizations fall into the trap of thinking they have to know how much they can raise before they make their campaign plans. But in truth, the bigger the impact, the bigger the investment from your donors is likely to be.

Don’t get me wrong about this. A very big, grand idea without a sound basis in planning won’t get very far. But a big idea — even a Moonshot idea — that is based on a credible plan developed by a credible organization has a great chance of being funded.

But a timid concept that won’t have much impact is likely to fall flat. Because, as my friends at ForImpact articulate so very well, impact drives investment, not the other way around.

So what?

Every few years, take the opportunity to plan boldly. Encourage your staff and board to think about what might be possible if money were no object. Then consider carefully how you might fund at least some of those plans through a capacity campaign.

4. Capital Campaigns Can be Very Large or Very Small

You can adapt the strategy for a capital campaign to campaigns of any size. The qualifying factor is not size but impact!

So, you might conduct a campaign for $20,000 to purchase a piece of equipment that will expand your patient services. Or, you might conduct a campaign for $20,000,000 to build a new hospital wing. Both can work very well.

So what?

Consider adding a small capacity campaign to your plans every year or two in between your larger campaigns. It’ll add some excitement to your annual fundraising and build some campaign skills!

5. Capital Campaigns Aren’t a Great Way to Raise Endowment Money

While some organizations do launch specific campaigns to increase their endowment, it’s not the best strategy. Why? Because while having an endowment provides a financial safety net of sorts, the impact of endowment isn’t great.

You might include a small endowment component in your campaign goal so can ask your older donors for planned gifts along with their campaign gifts.

But don’t be lured into thinking that you can go to your largest donors for big endowments gifts. You’re likely to be disappointed. The impact simply isn’t exciting enough to motivate donors. The same goes for repaying debt!

So what?

If you have some board members who are keen to launch an endowment or debt repayment campaign, get some experts to help set them straight. Get them thinking about high-impact, shorter term goals and then add a small endowment or debt repayment component to your campaign.


Whether you refer to them as Capital Campaigns or Capacity Campaigns, fundraising based on a special infusion of money that will make an out-sized difference in your organization’s ability to provide more service should be a regular part of your fundraising strategies.

If you want to explore ideas for a capacity campaign for your organization, apply for a free Strategy Session with one of our experienced campaign experts.

1 Comment

  1. Kelly Grattan

    I find #5 really interesting, at least in the independent school space and especially in schools that are very mission-driven. I mostly work with faith-based schools, and when we conduct campaign planning studies for campaigns for endowment or an endowment component, something around 80% of interviewees will put endowment as their top priority. More and more we’re seeing schools that are doing endowment-only campaigns very successfully. The impact may not be the same, but donors like to view themselves as investors, and investors want sustainability. Additionally, mission-driven schools attract donors who want things like diversity, which is enhanced by scholarships the endowment can provide to attract diverse populations.

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