• David J. Fry, MPS, CDT

Capital Campaigns: About More Than Money

When I talk with clients about capital campaigns they may do a double take when I state, "It's really not about the money." Well folks it's really not! The goal may be, but the campaign is about so much more.


Capital campaigns are animals of a different breed and require an enormous amount of time and planning to reach the goal. In fact, establishing the goal is where many organizations make their first mistake. Those gathered around the cause and involved in the initial decisions see the vision with great clarity, and it seems to them donors will be lined up to support this "new building" or “new outreach” or whatever the cause may be. As a result, an unattainable goal may be set because proper research has not been conducted and test balloons have not been floated in a feasibility study or other assessment. Mind you, I have seen my share of feasibility studies, and I understand the need to question their value. Admittedly, they can be overused and overpriced, but sometimes they do have value. They can help get a feel for a proper goal, solidify the potential leadership, and identify likely donors that might not be on the radar. There are times when you can proceed successfully without one, but the fundamentals need to be analyzed.


On the other end of the spectrum, I have seen the organizations that sell themselves short by identifying an "apprehensive goal." In my vocabulary, these goals are much less than they should be and do not give the project, or donors credit. Usually they are based on some feeling about previous projects or giving. These estimations are often in error because there has not been a proper ask in the past or a truly motivational project with a strong cause. In reality, all of the campaigns with which I have been involved over the years were successful, and yet each left money on the table at their conclusions.

Aggressive goals demand a strong case statement, capable leadership and dedicated volunteers. You will note that none of these is about money, but they have the ability to make or break a campaign. Generally, if you work with an outside firm they/we can help in these areas and guide you on the proper path, helping you avoid the pitfalls. However, you want to be certain that your money for guidance is well spent and that you are receiving the proper direction and not just another boilerplate template. Good consultants are approachable, they tailor the model to your needs, they are knowledgeable, and they have fought the good fight to raise funds for other worthy causes. They will also work with you on the fee structure. The amounts previously raised may sound impressive but the methods, take aways, and residual impacts may again be more important than the money.


The base on which you build a capital campaign is just as important as the foundation of any building. This is not about money either. This is about organizational readiness. You want to be absolutely certain that your organization is in position to not only run a campaign, but answer the operational questions that major donors may have. This speaks to the staffing, structure, policies, board governance, its composure and other components. Your house needs to be in order before embarking on a campaign voyage.

In the end, you will find that whether it is determined to be a $100 million or $1 million campaign, the approaches will be much the same. Your gift range chart will have some different numbers, but the percentage of gift and prospect distribution will be similar. Ultimately, you need a solid foundation, appropriate study, a strong case statement and a dedicated team willing to put forth an intensive, concentrated effort.


Perhaps now you see it is really not about the money when we talk capital campaigns. The money evolves from an organized effort, which is where the focus should be. If someone leads you to believe differently, then they might not be the best match for your organization.

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