Five Steps for a Successful Capital Campaign
By Charles MacKenzie

Capital campaigns are on everybody’s minds these days. The last few years have seen a pandemic, rising cost of living, and an economic slump. This has laid bare a lot of hard truths for organizations across the country. Some need to restructure, some need to expand, but all of that costs money. I myself spent the bulk of that time at a food security organization, and we saw an explosive demand for our services, as well as ever evolving operational challenges.

While there is a lot of interest in capital campaigns, which have the potential to bring in tremendous revenue as well as generate new and exciting interest in our causes, there is a lack of knowledge (particularly amongst non-fundraising staff) about how to prepare for such an undertaking. They require careful planning, strategic thinking, and a clear understanding of your organization’s goals and needs. Here are five key steps to take when getting ready for a capital campaign:

  1. Assess Your Readiness: Before launching a capital campaign, you should carefully evaluate your capacity. This includes existing staff expertise, volunteer support (including your Board of Directors), and the necessary campaign infrastructure. Externally, you need to assess your donor base to determine if you have a sufficient pool of potential major donors to support the campaign. It’s one thing for donors to support your regular fundraising program, but large capital projects may require more convincing. If you haven’t gone to campaign before, consider a feasibility study. Even a limited one can helps organizations gain a deeper understanding of their donor base, evaluate fundraising capacity, and identify potential challenges/opportunities before launch, maximizing your chances of success.
  2. Develop a Campaign Plan: All capital campaigns require a detailed strategy that outlines your goals, strategies, and tactics. A solid plan should also identify your fundraising goals and timeline for the campaign. Another important step is the development of a Case for Support that clearly articulates the need for the campaign and the impact of donor contributions. Remember: donors don’t give to you, they give through you. As my first boss in fundraising used to say, “put a face on the case,” and don’t just show them what they are supporting, show them who. Create a campaign budget that outlines your anticipated expenses and projected revenue. Develop a communications plan to engage donors and the community throughout the campaign, and keep them engaged after the campaign comes to a (successful) conclusion.
  3. Build the Leadership Team: A successful capital campaign requires strong leadership. Recruit a campaign chair and committee members who are committed to the campaign’s success and have the expertise and networks to help you reach your fundraising goals. They all need to be active, involved, and committed to providing leadership and financial support. Don’t just pick some big names with no context, or simply because they have some public profile. This is how you end up with people just looking to burnish their own resumes. Take the time to find people who have influence, affluence, and a connection to your cause and organization.
  4. Strategic Prospect Engagement: Building strong relationships with potential donors is key to a successful capital campaign. Identify and cultivate major donors who have the capacity to make significant contributions to the campaign. This should begin early in the planning process to garner their support and input; remember, it can take anywhere from 12-18 months on average to cultivate and engage your highest-level donors. Authenticity is also important here, and can be fostered by developing personalized cultivation strategies based on donors’ interests and motivations.
  5. Implement a Multi-channel Fundraising Strategy: A successful capital campaign utilizes a multi-channel fundraising strategy to reach donors through various channels, including direct mail, email, social media, events, and personal solicitations. This is bolstered by a donor recognition and stewardship plan that acknowledges and thanks donors for their support. Government and foundations can also be great supporters of a campaign, so don’t neglect them even though they may take a little longer to secure.


I’ve spent a large part of my career as a fundraiser working on capital campaigns, from feasibility studies to providing campaign counsel. In fact, the first project I ever worked on at the very start of my career was a capital campaign. There is tremendous potential to bring in significant amounts of revenue, and also to grow your public profile. But without careful preparation, you are setting yourself up for disaster. A poorly executed capital campaign can jeopardize your financial stability, harm your reputation, and hinder your ability to advance your mission and serve your community.

Is your organization ready for a capital campaign?

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The Cool Cats like Charles, Kat, and John have the expertise and have worked on a variety of capital campaigns and they are here to help you and your team get started.