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Keys to a Successful Capital Campaign

By its simplest definition, a capital campaign, or any major fundraising campaign, is an intensive fundraising effort conducted over a specific period of time (often 3-5 years) with the goal of raising a significant amount of money for one or more well-defined priorities.

There are MANY reasons to launch a campaign. Major campaigns have the power to transform organizations. They can raise record-breaking amounts of money for a nonprofit, and strengthen overall fundraising and communications for years beyond the campaign.

BUT not every organization with an amazing project is ready to launch a campaign. In the 20+ years, we've worked on major campaigns - including ones up to $300 million - we've identified the key factors that are essential for success at large, well-resourced organizations, lean-and-mean community nonprofits, and everything in between. What are they? Read on!

Key factor #1 - Prospects to solicit

It seems obvious, but having enough donor prospects, both individual and institutional, to support your campaign is REALLY important. While you will inevitably acquire new donors during a campaign, most major gifts will come from individuals and organizations who already have a strong relationship with your nonprofit. Assessing your pipeline prior to launching a campaign to determine the quantity and quality of your prospects is critical.

Key factor #2 - People to fundraise

Campaign dollars don’t raise themselves! Every organization needs an engaged, enthusiastic team willing to cultivate and solicit donors. Unless your nonprofit has a large development team to do all of the fundraising, you’ll need effective volunteers to help with this key activity. Ideal campaign volunteers are those who are passionate advocates for your organization, model philanthropy by making a stretch gift to the campaign, actively cultivate and solicit donors in your pipeline, and are willing to tap into their networks to identify new donors. Choosing the right campaign committee makes all the difference!

Key Factor #3 - Systems to support a campaign

A major campaign is a huge undertaking! In order to gain the traction you need to run a successful campaign, organization is key. From coding, tracking and managing prospects and volunteer activity to executing a multi-channel communications plan for both the quiet and public phases of the campaign, you need internal processes in place to support a campaign. There are events to plan, invitations to send, and lists to rate and review. Data and gifts need to be entered into a CRM, and reports need to be run to track your progress. Good systems create the bandwidth your organization will need to run a campaign. Without them, your campaign will likely flounder.

Key Factor #4 - A compelling case for support

You can’t have a successful campaign if you don’t have a compelling case for support. That means having a clear vision of what your campaign will accomplish, understanding why it is so important, and effectively communicating this to donors. Most philanthropy is driven, at least in part, by emotion. Make sure that your communications not only inform, but also inspire donors to act. Remember, non-verbal communication is just as, if not more, important than the written word. Investing in a campaign video and professionally designed campaign materials has a high ROI.

Key Factor #5 - Data to guide you

Before your organization invests in a major campaign, doing a feasibility study will equip your organization with lots of valuable data that will inform your campaign. A feasibility study won’t just test how much your organization can reasonably expect to raise during the campaign. It will also engage and cultivate your best donors and help you identify campaign volunteers and major donor prospects. You'll also be able to test the campaign messaging, and learn about any questions or concerns your closest supporters may have.

Key factor #6 - Engaged board

Running a successful campaign with a disengaged board is really, really difficult! A lackluster board can drain organizational resources by limiting bandwidth. The board has an important role to play in your campaign through their contributions of time and treasure. Beyond vocal support for your nonprofit’s mission and work, board members should be prepared to make a generous stretch gift to the campaign (commensurate with their capacity). They should be able to identify campaign prospects, and participate in key campaign events and meetings - at a minimum. If your nonprofit has board members who are not willing or able to help your organization raise money, directly or indirectly, it might be time for them to move on.

Sage Advancement Group works closely with nonprofit clients to ensure their campaigns are successful both financially and organizationally. Do you need expert guidance on campaign planning, acampaign feasibility study, or campaign counsel? Contact us at 978-237-2812 or


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