Capital campaigns are the most cost-effective form of fundraising. For many campaigns, the cost of the campaign itself is approximately 10% of the money raised. When compared with more expensive types of fundraising, such as direct mail and fundraising events, the ROI is remarkably high.

Of course, that number will vary according to the size of your campaign and the culture of your organization. The smaller the campaign, the higher the percentage. And the more elegant the culture of the organization, the higher the costs.

But 10% is an easy number to start planning a campaign budget.

4 Ways to Anticipate Overlooked Campaign Expenses

Again and again, organizations don’t do a good job of budgeting for their campaign expenses ahead of time. Here are four important things to keep in mind as you develop a budget for your campaign.

1. Include the cost of your fundraising in your campaign objectives.

Add it as one of the things you will raise money for through your campaign. For example, if you are planning to raise $5,000,000 for a new building, program start up and some endowment funds, you should also add 10%+/- of that amount ($500,000) to your campaign goal.

Though early expenses will have to be drawn from your organization’s reserves, if you include your campaign expenses in the money to be raised, you can pay that account back from campaign revenues when they come in.

2. Budget for the full duration of your campaign.

Most campaigns take at least 3 years to complete. When you develop your campaign, project out over those years and think through the expenses you will have for all of the phases of your campaign.

Typical categories for campaign budgeting include:

  • Consultants/Advisors
  • *Staff
  • Entertainment
  • Travel
  • Website
  • Graphic design
  • Printing
  • Postage
  • Office expenses
  • Prospect research
  • Video
  • Events (kick-off event, groundbreaking, final celebration)
  • Donor cultivation
  • *Donor recognition and stewardship

At least two of these categories (*with asterisks) require a bit of careful thinking.

3. Adequately budget for campaign staff.

You will want to add development staff to help with your campaign. It makes no sense to imagine that you can conduct your campaign with the same level of staffing you have now. Think carefully about what will be appropriate for your organization.

Will you need a campaign manager or a very good administrative assistant to support you and/or your ED?

Then, consider that both your ED and your DD are likely to put significant amount of their time and energy into the campaign.

Should a portion of your ED’s and DD’s salaries come from your campaign budget during the years of the campaign?

There’s no right answer to that question. But if you do offload some expenses from your annual budget, be sure to shift them back gradually over the years of the campaign.

4. Carefully consider donor recognition plaques.

Plaques mounted in your new building to honor campaign donors can be costly. As you build your campaign budget, consider whether those are campaign costs or part of the building expenses. When the donor recognition is an architectural feature, as it sometimes is, the answer to that question is not so clear.

What matters is that you consider it and make decisions about where the expense belongs as you develop your campaign budget.

Campaign Budgeting Tip: Always Err on the Side of Plenty

As you develop your campaign budget, don’t skimp!

You should overestimate campaign expenses and plan to come in under budget rather than skimping and finding that you must make cuts that will undermine your campaign. You also don’t want to go back to your board again and again for additional funds.

Remember, even if your campaign costs 15% of the campaign goal, the return on that investment will be significant!


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