If you’re thinking about a capital campaign, you probably want to know how long it’s going to take. Eighteen months? Two years? Three years?

Of course, in part, how long your campaign takes to complete largely depends on when you start the clock and what you consider to be part of your campaign.

When Does Your Capital Campaign Start?

We often get asked about campaign timelines. And everyone wants a simple, clear answer. But the reality is — it’s complicated. One thing we know for sure:

Your campaign starts long before you think it does.

In fact, the success of your campaign depends on how well you set your campaign up for success. The sooner you start planning for a campaign, the more successful you will be.

So, when does a capital campaign actually start?

  • Is it when the board votes to approve a strategic plan with significant growth?
  • Is it when a very small “core” committee meets for the first time to discuss campaign objectives?
  • It is when the board approves initial funding to hire a campaign consultant for a feasibility study?
  • Is it when the board approves the consultant’s recommendation to move ahead with a campaign?
  • Is it when the first gift comes in that you count toward your campaign?
  • Or is it when the campaign is announced to the public?

Well, let’s approach this question from a different angle. There are the things you need to do first — prior to even asking for a single campaign gift.

6 Things You Must Do Before Your Campaign Starts

Do not begin asking for campaign gifts until the following six items are complete:

  1. Clarify your campaign objectives — make a list of all the things you’re going to raise money for through the campaign.
  2. Make a best-guess at how much those campaign objectives will cost — this will be your initial working goal.
  3. Outline a gift range chart and depth chart for an early indicator of whether you can achieve your working goal.
  4. Draft your initial case for support in bullet format — the case should answer the question why people would want to give and why your organization is suited to this task.
  5. Conduct a feasibility study — we strongly suggest doing a Guided Feasibility Study to build relationships with key donors before finalizing your campaign plans.
  6. Develop your campaign plan, including a budget, timeline, campaign policies, donor recognition plan and more. A Capital Campaign Toolkit advisor can help you with all of these items — click here to learn more.

Premature Asks Are Often Under-asks…

If you have an eager board member or executive director who wants to ask for gifts prematurely, channel their energy into helping with the tasks above. Premature asks are usually under-asks. That means they ask a potential lead donor for a gift of $100K when you really need a $1 Million from that donor for your campaign to succeed.

If the gift range chart and depth chart aren’t complete, it’s too soon to ask for gifts! Those elements establish the context for asking. They show the donor what gifts your campaign will need if it is to reach the goal. And that will help donors determine their giving amount.

Once you’ve completed the six tasks listed above, you’re ready for the quiet phase. In other words, it’s time to start asking for gifts.

Download our Step-by-Step Campaign Checklist and Guide

This intuitive free guide breaks down each step of your campaign, and the timeline allows you to visualize your whole campaign, from start to finish!

Download the Step-by-Step Checklist »

Your Campaign Starts Long Before the “Kick-Off”

You may also be confused by the term “kick-off”. The official “kick-off” of your campaign is not when the campaign starts.

Rather, the kick-off marks the start of the public phase when you announce that you’ve already raised 60% or 70% (or even more) of your campaign goal and you’re ready to ask the public to help you raise the rest.

The Real Start of Your Campaign is Earlier Than You Think

At the Capital Campaign Toolkit, we think that a capital campaign starts when your organization has decided to move forward with a specific plan to grow to the next level of operation. You may arrive at that moment through a strategic or long-range plan. Or external circumstances (like your lease getting cancelled) may push your board to make decisions for future growth.

However you arrive at the moment when you know that your organization will have to raise significant money to accomplish a specific set of objectives that will move your organization forward, THAT’s the moment that your campaign really starts.

Why do we pin the start date of your campaign so early in the process?

Because the very best opportunities to engage and cultivate the people who have the potential to be your largest donors happen while your plans are still in their early stages.

10 Large Gifts Dictate Your Campaign’s Success

The success of your capital campaign will depend on approximately 10 large gifts. And if right off the bat — as soon as you know that you are going to have a campaign — you make a list of the people who might make those gifts, then you can involve them in some aspect of the planning process.

You might invite them to a visioning meeting. You might seek their advice about an aspect of the project that they are qualified to help you with. You might ask them to serve on an ad-hoc planning committee.

While this early pre-campaign planning phase is not an official start of your campaign, if you consider it the beginning and get yourself into a campaign mindset, that early work will inevitably set you up for success!


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