Capital Campaigns: When the Going Gets Tough

The launch of a capital campaign is exciting and filled with hope. Six- and seven-figure dollar gifts are being solicited pushing you quickly towards your financial goal. Like my clients, I am inspired during this time and caught up with the fever of success.

At a certain point, the large donations have all been solicited and the campaign isn’t operating at the same fever pitch. At this time, the goal may be continuing to increase but at a much slower pace. This is where I am often brought in as a consultant to be the “clean up hitter” on the team.

Based on my experience, here are some ideas for pushing forward during a capital campaign:

1. Make new friends.

Once you have solicited your inner circle of donors, you are going to need to cultivate additional donors by expanding to your outer circles. Ask you current donors to host small receptions in their homes with their group of friends and neighbors. This exposes your organization to potential donors they would have never had the chance to meet. Additionally, ask you inner circle to bring their friends out for a tour of your facility or join you at lunch to learn more about the capital project.


2. Look to different sources of funding.

As you near the end of your campaign, private foundations are often interested in helping through grants for specific projects within the campaign. The Kresge Foundation was infamous for its matching challenge portion of its grant making. When I worked with both the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwest County and The ARC of San Diego, they successfully applied and received funds from the Kresge Foundation. This match funding, gave both organizations an opportunity to solicit donors to give to the match. When donors know their money can be matched 1:1, they are more likely to give. (Note: Unfortunately, Kresge doesn’t make capital grants any longer.)

3. Re-visit your donor list (again).

Often names on a donor list get pushed down to the bottom because we are unsure of their capacity to give or how to engage them as potential donors. So, do your homework either through free online resources or software like Wealth Engine to determine each individual’s capacity to give. Once you have an idea of who could make a significant gift, prioritize those who have the closest relationship to your organization. Next, determine what cultivation each individual needs in order to be solicited. Let no individual go untouched. Reach out to everyone, but in priority order starting with those individuals who have the best relationship with your organization, followed by propensity to give.

4. Ask your inner circle to give again.

Re-soliciting campaign donors who have already given is a harrowing thought. Many fundraisers worry if they will offend their current donors and ultimately jeopardize a current pledge. Let me share two successful stories of a re-solicitation in a campaign.

At the Colorado Rocky Mountain Schools “Forging the Future: Preserving the Past,” one of the Board (and capital campaign committee) members was eager to see the next phase of the campaign completed and knew that her increased pledge could make it happen. She generously offered to double her half million donation for a total of one million. She then went and asked two other Board members to join her by giving again.

On the homestretch to raising the last one million of a $17 million campaign for on the Boys and Girls Club of Southwest County’s “Campaign for Kids”, we solicited the Board to make an additional donation to the campaign by adding one more year to their pledge payment. If they had committed $50,000 over five years, we asked for $10,000, adding one more payment onto their pledge. In the end, we were able to raise an additional $250,000 towards the campaign.

Above all, stay positive. Jim Lord, author of The Raising of Money, says, “For people to work effectively within our structure, we also want to create a positive climate – a climate of optimism, enthusiasm and confidence. Good things rarely happen in a bad atmosphere.”


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