What should count toward a campaign goal?

In addition to capital gifts, should you count gifts made to your annual fundraising program? How about gala revenue? And planned gifts? Or should you only count gifts made specifically to your building fund?

This is a hotly debated topic.

People familiar with college and university campaigns often include all of the fundraising they do over a certain period of time. They include money given specifically for buildings and new programs. But they also include money given toward annual fundraising and endowment and planned gifts.

On the other hand, many smaller organizations focus their campaigns on a specific project — perhaps a building or new program — but they don’t include money given toward annual fundraising.

The All-Inclusive Comprehensive Campaign Approach

To better understand the broader comprehensive campaign approach, I invited Capital Campaign Toolkit member, Mindy Weixelman, Vice President of Campaign Strategy of the Kansas 4-H Foundation, to give me her thoughts.

Mindy has worked on campaigns for universities and for smaller organizations. She has deep experience in both types of campaigns, and clear opinions about which approach she prefers. I asked her a number of questions so she might share her experience.

Comprehensive Campaigns vs. Capital Campaigns

Andrea: What really is the difference between a capital campaign and a comprehensive campaign?

Mindy: When I think about a capital campaign, I generally think of an initiative targeted at responding to a specific need. A comprehensive campaign is a more inclusive fundraising initiative that allows an organization to count the majority, if not all, gifts.

As a fundraiser, I always prefer a comprehensive campaign as it allows everyone, at all levels of giving, to feel that they are participating in the campaign. Further, it sets the stage for donors to see how their giving can grow with the organization in the future.

Combining Annual Fundraising and Capital Asks

Andrea: What are the benefits of combining annual fundraising and capital asks?

Mindy: When I visit with donors, I want them to understand the impact they can have on the entire organization. (We don’t want one part of the organization to thrive and another starve, right?)

While annual campaign gifts allow the organization to meet the immediate needs of the organization, we want donors to feel that the vision and planning are equally as strategic as the capital campaign. We want all areas of the organization to thrive, so I ask for multi-year commitments.

In short, we can meet the immediate needs while also being mindful about how we can sustain valued annual programs. (I sometimes use an example that we use our monthly paychecks to pay our on-going / monthly bills and the earnings from our investments to pay for major purchases.)

I’ve always believed joint asks are a far more efficient use of staff time. We can focus on stewarding multi-year annual donors rather than spinning our wheels re-soliciting them every year. This also sets us up to have timely renewal conversations and hopefully they become natural upgrades.

Additionally, I use a capital campaign ask to possibly upgrade annual commitments. This allows for meaningful conversations about what the organization looks like when we are thriving in all aspects and leads to a natural conversation about planned gifts!

Asking Donors to Pledge Annual Gifts Over Many Years

Andrea: What do you think of asking donors to pledge their annual gifts over a number of years?

Mindy: Always! Again, this is a far more efficient use of staff time and allows us to focus on delivering more meaningful stewardship. As an example, I can pull a list of multi-year annual donors who designate their gifts to the greatest need and then share personal and detailed messages about the impact they are having on the organization.

We want development staff qualifying, renewing and upgrading. If we spend the majority of our time on renewing annual donors, we are missing lots of opportunities to qualify new prospects and upgrade current donors.

Asking Donors for Multiple Gifts at a Time

Andrea: Do you recommend asking major donors for more than one kind of gift in the same ask? How does that work?

Mindy: Sure… with that said, I had better have done a good job of qualifying the donor first. I need to make sure that the donor has the capacity and the affinity to the projects for a dual ask. If they are already annual donors, I want to secure a multi-year. If they jumped ahead to a major gift, I want to have a conversation about the importance of annual support.

I should also be qualifying and possibly introducing them to at least the idea of a planned gift. Many donors have multiple interests. It’s not unreasonable to ask them to make a major gift that is designated to more than one area. It doesn’t necessarily need to be equal. We need to determine the level of impact they want to have while also defining the needs of the respective areas.

Planned Gifts and Endowment Gifts in the Same Ask

Andrea: Do you incorporate planned gifts and endowment gifts in the same ask?

Yes, ultimately, I believe we should always be reinforcing the importance of all different types of gifts. Sometimes it’s as simple as thanking them for their annual commitment and showing how their philanthropy is growing with the organization.

I have two former colleagues who are my mentors in planned giving. They both taught me early in my career that we should always introduce planned giving and annual giving together. If the donor is an established annual giving donor, then we should present major gift / endowment opportunities as well, assuming we have qualified their capacity appropriately.

If stewarded well, planned giving donors who make current gifts should have tremendous confidence that their future gift will be managed in a manner that would make them feel proud.

Sharing examples of donors who are contributing at multiple levels is critically important. Donors need to see themselves in those examples. Another critically important strategy is engaging professional advisors — like wealth advisors, attorneys, and accountants — to share messages and strategies with donors.

On Stewarding Donors with Long-Term Pledges

Andrea: How do you steward a donor who has made a long-term pledge for operating funds?

Mindy: The opportunities are endless. The Kansas 4-h Foundation recently implemented a comprehensive stewardship plan that mirrors our development calendar.

Admittedly, it was initially pretty overwhelming to see all the awesome strategies in the plan. We had invitations, phone calls, personal notes, impact reports, VIP days, personal visits and so many more strategies in the plan. We’re a small shop so we frequently remind our team that it’s everyone’s responsibility to facilitate stewardship strategies. We review the plan along with our development calendar at the beginning of each month. We’ll make adjustments as needed but ultimately, the plan brings focus to our efforts.

We are currently implementing a new stewardship strategy called Coffee with the CEO where we invite targeted small groups to join the CEO for a virtual coffee. We sent special invitations to groups like our annual giving society members, planned giving donors, professional advisors, young alumni, retired trustees and corporate partners. The frequency will vary by group. We’re kicking off our first one next week!

The Importance of Documenting Gifts

Andrea: How do you keep your donors from being confused by what they’re giving to when?

Mindy: The process of documenting gifts is critically important. Oftentimes, we make the mistake of rushing the process so we can simply get the gift closed. I prefer to have a couple rounds of conversations with the donor to make sure we are establishing the gift the way they want while also meeting the needs of the organization. This also allows the donors to ask questions, clarify, speak with their family, etc.

I once had a donor tell me she didn’t want to complete the paperwork to document her gift. When I asked why, the donor said:

I don’t want our conversations to end.

Those kind words made my heart so happy.

We both enjoyed the process of discussing how their personal philanthropy could help the organization achieve its goals. When she said that, I giggled, acknowledged the joy I found from visiting with their family, and reassured her that our relationship was only beginning! There would be lots of meaningful conversations ahead about the impact her family is making on the organization.

Dedicating efforts to creating and distributing impact reports is hugely important. Earlier this month, I sent a draft of our newly revised impact report to a handful of corporate donors to review. We asked them three questions about the draft and told them their feedback would inform the strategy we use for reporting. We wanted to know what information is important to them, who reviews the impact reports, and how they use the information to make decisions regarding future giving.

This approach is not only excellent stewardship, but it takes the guess work out of the asking process. It’s definitely worth the investment of time and energy.

Comprehensive Campaigns Aren’t for Everyone

While Mindy makes some compelling arguments for the use of a comprehensive campaign approach, there is also a strong case to be made for the simpler, more targeted approach to capital campaigns. For some organizations, a comprehensive campaign may not be the right approach at all.

In a future post, we’ll share the reasons you might want to your campaign simpler and more narrowly-focused.

If you have any questions about comprehensive campaigns vs. capital campaigns, be sure to leave a comment below.

Mindy WeixelmanMindy Weixelman has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience in health agencies, higher education, and most recently youth development. She currently serves as the Vice President for Campaign Strategy for the Kansas 4-H Foundation, where she provides leadership to the development operation including annual and capital campaigns.


  1. A kagan

    This was very timely for our organization as we are embarking on a mini capital campaign but have yet to formalize our annual giving and was debating combining both and how to make it work best. I’d live to here more on this topic

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      I’m so glad the post was helpful. There’s lots to know about this important topic of what to include in your campaign. We do plan to write more on the subject. Thank you for your comment.

  2. Ivette Greenblatt

    Would you recommend including foundation gifts that you normally receive in a comprehensive campaign?

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      Yes, I would. Most comprehensive campaigns count pretty much everything, though some count government funding and others don’t.

  3. Lorraine

    How does a gift table work in a comprehensive campaign

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      We created the gift table to reflect the entire comprehensive goal. And then worked to make sure you had enough qualified donors for each giving level.  Having set a comprehensive goal and developed the gift chart, you then sorted donors by interest areas and developed sub-goals for each of those areas.


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