Guides & Resources

Be Ready For a Campaign by Labor Day—Part II

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Read Part I

The success of a capital campaign lies in the details as much as in the dollars. These include the important elements of pre-campaign planning, sequential fundraising, the role of leadership and the importance of stewardship. Was your nonprofit in a campaign or considering one before the pandemic? Well, COVID-19 will soon be in our rearview mirror and good riddance to it. Now is the time to get back out there to meet the goals of your nonprofit and those you serve.

Read Part I for the first five steps and keep reading below for the most important middle and ending elements that will ensure you have a successful campaign. 

Internal and External Assessment

An internal assessment looks at the internal preparedness of an organization and the resources needed to run a campaign. What would be needed in terms of staffing and other support to overlay a campaign on an already functioning development operation? What additional resources are needed for the campaign to function properly? Are there policies and procedures in place that address situations encountered in a campaign?

An external assessment, typically referred to as a feasibility study, is the process of assessing the likelihood of an organization’s top prospects to support a campaign and at what financial level. The goals of the feasibility study are to (1) determine the potential of your organization for raising the major gifts needed for a successful campaign; (2) identify the top ten gifts; (3) identify campaign leadership; and (4) determine the approximate amount that can be raised. 

Prior to committing to a campaign, a third party typically conducts the feasibility study. The study is based on objective, personal interviews with top potential prospects. A feasibility study usually takes three to six months, but timing depends on the development of the case for support and the availability of interviewees. The cost of a study depends on the number of interviews conducted and the geographical location of interviewees.

Why Hire Counsel?

Why hire outside counsel for a feasibility study when you’ve spent countless hours building relationships with these same individuals?  Wouldn’t your relationship with them make you the obvious choice to ask their opinion?

Outside counselors can be good listeners and strategists. They can often elicit information that interviewees are hesitant to share with staff or a board member. They may not want to hurt your feelings or appear to be non-supportive and may therefore (and in our experience...often) hold back information that would help craft the most successful campaign plan.

The results of the feasibility study help fine-tune the campaign plan, case for support and goal(s) of the campaign. Analysis and recommendations are provided in a final report and plan of action.

Pre-Launch Planning

The feasibility study often identifies items that need to be addressed prior to launching the campaign.  This might be as small as tweaks to the case for support for added clarity or as big as addressing donor concerns. The length of the final campaign planning phase will depend entirely on the work put in up to this point, as well as the findings identified during the feasibility study and the length of time needed to address them.

This is the time to ensure that all systems and processes for accepting pledges and processing gifts, and the acknowledgement of those pledges/gifts, are in place.

Define gift-naming opportunities. These can include buildings, rooms, a donor wall, time-limited named spaces, named endowment funds or expendable named program funds. Have a list of all available naming opportunities to share in solicitation meetings.  These should include all potential spaces/programs to be named, not only those associated with the current campaign.

Campaign Launch

You’ve made it! You put in the time to properly prepare a solid plan and timeline; the feasibility study is complete and recommends that you move forward; you’ve recruited and trained the campaign committee. You have now reached the active phase of the campaign.

The active phase includes two phases: the silent/quiet phase during which you solicit all major gifts and the public phase when you launch the full-scale marketing campaign to invite everyone to participate. The majority of the funds raised in the campaign will be raised during the silent phase, so resist the urge to publicly market the campaign too early. 

A proven method of successful campaign soliciting is called sequential fundraising.  Sequential fundraising simply means ranking prospects by ability and likelihood of a gift and making asks in that order.

The Range-of-Gifts Table

A range-of-gifts table provides you with the level of gifts and number of prospects needed in order to meet the campaign goal. A range-of-gifts table educates the campaign leadership about expected gift size. It informs prospective donors. It focuses all campaign workers on soliciting in sequential order – the top ten gifts first.

In developing a range-of-gifts table, the lead gift needed is usually about 20 percent of the total goal. The top ten to thirty gifts usually make up about one half of the campaign total. All gifts solicited during the silent phase of the campaign are major gift prospects and should be asked personally. A version of the range-of-gifts table can be created that translates the suggested number of gifts into prospect names to be assigned to solicitors. Usually, the larger the campaign, the longer the top-gift phase and the higher the dollar value of the amount to be raised.

Once all major gift prospects have been solicited AND the campaign has secured between 60-80% of the goal, leadership can make the decision to launch the public phase of the campaign.  The public phase is the point of the campaign in which wide-spread visibility is brought to the campaign.  Public gifts typically equate to less than 10 percent of the campaign goal.

Campaign Committee

The campaign committee should personally solicit gifts and provide insight for solicitation strategies, motivate other volunteers and campaign leadership. Staff should handle the rest of the details. The campaign will continue to move forward if the campaign committee practices intentional contacts, cultivation, solicitation and closing. When one action closes, another opens. The committee should meet regularly and use email and voicemail as tools in between.

The development office staff should prepare written talking points, solicitation materials, proposals, draft all correspondence, coordinate meetings and handle solicitation tracking for the committee. An action item report should include the prospect name, the projected ask amount, the assigned solicitor, and staff back up, the last action date and the next step and date.

The Annual Fund During a Capital Campaign

Before launching a capital campaign, decide how to integrate or separate annual fund/operating campaigns and capital campaign priorities. Joint asks for major donors and prospects are often used. It is possible to grow the annual fund during a capital campaign by using multi-year annual fund pledges, challenge grants and marketing membership in annual giving societies. Social media is most useful to a campaign during the public phase.


It is important to officially end the campaign. Hold a victory celebration for volunteers and donors. Write donors to let them know that the campaign goal has been reached. Seek ways to keep volunteers/donors involved in new activities. Provide any and all donor recognition and signage that was promised. Be creative and sincere.


Stewardship is the act of showing appreciation for the contributions of donors and volunteers.  It is both immediate and ongoing. And hopefully, you have been in touch with your donors throughout the pandemic.

Immediate stewardship includes a written acknowledgement of the gift or pledge within 24 hours.  It also includes personal notes and/or phone calls from campaign leadership to say thank you. Stewardship also includes keeping the donor informed of updates and milestones reached throughout the campaign. You must do what you promised you would do when you presented them with your case for support. Collect the pledges and communicate campaign results. Pledge reminders should be sent at appropriate times throughout the campaign. Window envelopes or something that looks like an invoice should be avoided. Form letters should not replace relationships and relationship building. Personalized pledge reminders, with telephone calls, are another cultivation opportunity. Each pledge payment should be treated as a new gift.

On-going stewardship will occur for three to five years following the campaign.  Stewardship is not only important to the current campaign but to future campaigns as well. An individual stewardship plan should be created for each major campaign donor, outlining how you will continue to cultivate an intentional relationship and engage them in the organization for years to come.

The Cycle Starts Again

Closing the campaign well sets you up for a successful next campaign. Preparation for the next campaign should begin immediately. The campaign plan should be evaluated and updated. Final financial and donor reports should be prepared. Provide cash flow reports that detail pledge payments. Review all open pledges and any necessary write offs. Analyze refusals and any prospects that did not yet make commitments. Follow up on any outstanding gift opportunities. Make recommendations for improvements in the next campaign while campaign activities are fresh in mind.

To Recap

The process for a campaign takes from a few months to five years with good planning and includes cultivation and stewardship. The planning phase is crucial to the process and should not be skipped or rushed. The majority of the active campaign will be spent in the silent phase with leadership personally soliciting prospects in sequential order. Celebrate the campaign’s success, evaluate then start the process again.

So, is your nonprofit ready for the next phase of your development? Now is the time to begin in earnest and you, too, can be ready for a campaign by Labor Day. Let us at Our Fundraising Search know how we might assist you. Good luck!

LindaLinda Wise McNay, Ph.D. is principal fundraising consultant with Our Fundraising Search in Atlanta. With more than 30 years’ experience in higher and secondary education, the arts and human service organizations, she leads a diverse team of supremely qualified professionals. Frequent speaker and presenter, she is the author of four books on fundraising: “The Adventures of PhilAnThropy” (2018), with Ailena Parramore & Del Martin; “Fundraising for Churches: 12 Keys to Success Every Church Leader Should Know” (2017), with Sarah Matthews—plus an Online Course with the same title; “Fundraising for Museums: 8 Keys to Success Every Museum Leader Should Know” (2015), and “Fundraising for Schools: 8 Keys to Success Every Head of School Should Know” (2014).

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