Everything Fundraisers Are Afraid to Say About “Capital Campaigns”

Throw a verbal grenade in your next Board meeting by announcing, “Let’s start a Capital Campaign to raise huge amounts of money!”


Everyone in the room will flashback… usually to a bad capital campaign experience.  They remember the fundraising guru who insisted upon a feasibility study to kick off the campaign.  Tom Suddes wrote about the dark origins of said studies – he was right on point!

  • Internal staff get together and agree they need more money.
  • An internal group decides to do a campaign to raise more money.
  • Internal leaders enlist external consultants to do a feasibility study for justification, CYA, and backup.

Consultant conversation with a prospect goes like this: “If XYZ nonprofit org were to do a hypothetical campaign with a hypothetical goal, how much hypothetical money would you hypothetically give to this hypothetical campaign?” (UGH!)

Board members are then asked to march out into the community and ask their friends for money (*special side note: your board hates to ask their friends for money).  Even if your board can raise the money, the experience will drain them… making future “capital campaigns” difficult to even get started.  

Traditional campaigns are labor intensive and expensive.

A “capital campaigns” typically focuses on one HUGE NEED of the organization… usually a brick and mortar project.  The cost of the project (i.e., the millions needed) becomes the driving force behind the committee, and not the impact of the organization.  In fact, most committees are not able to clarify WHY their ten million dollar need makes an impact.  Or, their impact is buried in a ten page case statement that 98% of your donors will never read.

Think BIGGER than your “capital campaign.”  Include the reason for your campaign in the larger context of your vision and work to change the world.  Your NEED for more money to build a new widget, building, or piece of technology doesn’t create excitement.  Take it from Jerold Panas.  In 2014, Panas won the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ highest honor.  He knows a thing or two about raising money.

Panas offers the following advice to fundraisers, based on his decades of experience:

It’s not about your organization or its needs. Fundraisers spend lots of time with other leaders on donor presentations, carefully mapping out the organization’s needs, but donors don’t give to needs, Panas says. Donors might make a token gift to meet a need because someone they know asks them, but they reserve their biggest contributions for opportunities that excite them.

Impact and vision excites your best donors.  They believe in your cause to change the world.  Tell a better story than “We NEED more money,” to “We are saving lives… and you have been one of our best champions… we have an exciting opportunity to deepen your relationship to our cause.”  Go see them.  Have a conversation around the impact of your work.  Ask good questions.  LISTEN.  Your best prospects are ready to help, so be ready to ASK.

Wouldn’t you rather have meaningful conversation with friends about changing the world than laboring through some awkward “pitch” to convince someone to surrender their money?

Here is the biggest paradigm shift you can make: you are always in a campaign… a campaign to save/rescue/change the people/puppies/places you serve.

Before you start that expensive “capital campaigns”, reach out to us.  We can save you time and money.  New View helps you share a better story and remove the clutter and stress of fundraising.  You will raise more money faster to meet the needs of your organization.  Email u today for a FREE 20 minute conversation about your needs (jason@newviewcoach.com).


2 thoughts on “Everything Fundraisers Are Afraid to Say About “Capital Campaigns”

  1. I think we should also remember that donors are not stupid. They can typically figure out what is really going on and react according to their perceptions. For this reason, the leadership of the charity does need to have integrity and run a good operation. It is not just about the fundraising staff. As the late Steve Covey might say: “You can’t talk your way out of something you behaved yourself into.”

  2. iNTEGRITY is everything. This includes transarancy. revealing who the volunteers are,if you are a 403B , what the objectives are, and where the money for operations come from.

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