Capital Campaign Planning for a Nonprofit

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May 18, 2023

Last Updated:

June 12, 2023

Launching a successful capital campaign can be a challenging and complex process. It requires careful planning, thoughtful strategy, and diligent execution to ensure the best chances of success.

This article will provide insight into the key elements of capital campaign planning and how to execute each of them effectively. We'll discuss the importance of setting clear objectives, developing an actionable timeline, creating a target audience and messaging strategy, understanding your donor base, and measuring progress.

By following the steps outlined in this article, your nonprofit will be well prepared for your next capital campaign.

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Importance of Capital Campaign Planning for Nonprofits


A capital campaign is a fundraising effort nonprofit organizations use to raise money for a specific project, improvement, or expansion.

Capital campaign planning typically involves large sums of money and a carefully planned fundraising strategy.

For example, in May 2022, Feeding America West Michigan launched a capital campaign with the goal of raising $6 million for a new facility.

Feeding America campaign

Unlike other fundraising strategies, capital campaigns typically only happen every 10-15 years. They require a great deal of resources, both financial and human—and without proper planning, the campaign could fail to meet its goals.

Steps to Prepare for a Nonprofit Capital Campaign


1. Create a Timeline

The first step in preparing for a nonprofit capital campaign is creating a timeline. Capital campaigns can be a huge investment of time and resources, so planning out its process in advance can help ensure you make the most of that investment.

A timeline should be created that outlines the process of launching, implementing, and completing the campaign. This will help your team stay on track so that goals are met in a timely manner. We will explain the different phases of a capital campaign launch and implementation later on in the article.

2. Set Up a Campaign Team

The success of any capital campaign depends on having dedicated staff and volunteers who understand the organization’s mission, values, and fundraising goals.

The members of the campaign team should include the following:

Campaign chair: This person will be the primary contact for the campaign and should be someone who is well-known in the community. They are responsible for leading the team and setting the campaign's direction.

Board members: Board members have an important role in the campaign. They will be involved in fundraising efforts and serve as advocates and ambassadors for the organization.

Committee members: Committee members are responsible for executing the campaign's day-to-day operations and should be chosen based on their expertise.

Volunteers: Volunteers are essential to a successful capital campaign. They may help with tasks such as data entry, working at fundraising events, or donor outreach.

Fundraising consultant: A consultant can provide valuable guidance and advice to the team throughout all stages of the campaign. They may also serve as a sounding board for ideas, help manage fundraising operations, or recruit additional volunteers.

3. Identify the Target Audience

All successful capital campaigns come down to understanding the campaign’s target audience (donors) and what will motivate them to give.

Clearly identifying your target audience will allow you to create outreach strategies that resonate with your nonprofit’s supporters. For example, your target audience will inform what sort of fundraising events you throw and what sort of marketing materials will be used for engagement (Direct mailers? Social media posts? Email campaigns?).

Part of the process of identifying your target audience should also include creating donor profiles and determining the giving capacity of your bigger prospects. Spending time on these profiles will help you target the right people with larger, more individual asks.

4. Conduct a Feasibility Study

Once you have identified the target audience of your capital campaign, the next step is to conduct a feasibility study to determine the viability of the campaign itself.

Feasibility studies are used to assess an organization's capacity to launch a successful fundraising effort. Since capital campaigns require a significant amount of time, effort, and resources, a feasibility study gives your organization a picture of how likely it is your campaign will reach its goal.

The study may involve the campaign team (or a hired consultant) researching comparable campaigns and interviewing potential donors and key stakeholders to gain insight into their perceptions of the project's objectives, proposed funding goals, and the timeline for completion.

A feasibility study can also give insight into the nonprofit's current fundraising infrastructure, donor base, and donor engagement methods to define any gaps the organization should address.

The feasibility study results should help inform key decisions about goals, timelines, and budget for the capital campaign. Simply put—it should tell you if your nonprofit’s campaign is feasible and if it should actually move forward.

It is important to remember that an effective capital campaign plan requires both a detailed vision and realistic expectations. A feasibility study should provide the necessary feedback to meet these two goals.

It should be noted that not all capital campaign projects will end up being feasible and that's okay.

If the results of the feasibility study are not what you’d hoped, you can always wait for a more opportune time to launch your campaign when there is more buy-in from your target audience and supporters. A feasibility study helps you determine that before you waste time and resources on a campaign that didn’t stand a chance.

5. Create a Budget

The feedback from your feasibility study should help you develop a realistic budget for your capital campaign. Even though the point of capital campaigns is to raise money, they still cost money to launch and implement.

Some common capital campaign expenses include:

  • Consultancy fees
  • Marketing materials
  • Campaign events
  • Thank-you gifts
  • General overhead and staff salaries

It is essential to have an accurate budget in place for your capital campaign so that you can monitor progress and ensure expenses are kept within limits.

6. Develop Communications and Stewardship Plans

The last step in preparing for your capital campaign involves developing communications and stewardship plans.

Keeping your budget in mind, this is when you choose strategies for reaching out to your donors, stewarding relationships with them, and thanking them for their contributions to your campaign.

Overall, it is crucial to communicate effectively with your target audience to ensure that the campaign’s message is heard and understood. This process will include things like creating fundraising collateral and working with the marketing department to set up any additional social media campaigns.

You should also consider stewardship strategies to ensure that donors are kept up-to-date on the progress of the capital campaign and that their contributions are appropriately recognized.

Creating and maintaining positive relationships with donors is essential for the success of any capital campaign.

By thoughtfully preparing for a capital campaign, nonprofits can maximize their chances of success and build lasting relationships with donors.

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Campaign Launch and Implementation

A successful capital campaign launch and implementation should focus on organizing, communicating, and executing the campaign strategies.

There are three main phases of a capital campaign to be aware of:

The Planning Phase

As we discussed above, the planning phase should involve researching and identifying potential donors, establishing the campaign parameters such as goals and timelines, and developing a comprehensive communications plan.

The Quiet Phase

The quiet phase of the campaign is when your campaign team begins soliciting gifts from donors with a large capacity to give.

As the name suggests, this part of the campaign happens before the campaign has even been officially announced. During this phase, the team should focus on building relationships with key stakeholders, trying to secure 50-70% of the total funding.

The quiet phase is called the "quiet" phase because it involves establishing relationships and soliciting gifts from key stakeholders in a discreet manner. This can involve meeting with major donors one-on-one or hosting small, intimate events to present the campaign's goals and objectives. During this phase, it is important to focus on building relationships with potential donors and emphasizing the impact of their gifts.

The great thing about the quiet phase is that it can help build momentum for when the campaign goes public. You’ll be able to communicate with your supporters that the campaign is already x% of the way to completion and that there has already been significant community buy-in.

The Public Phase

This is the main event—it's time for the organization to make the capital campaign public. Usually, a nonprofit organizes an event to excite its supporters about the project, such as a groundbreaking ceremony or gala.

This phase should include a comprehensive communications strategy and outreach methods. This is the phase where the objective is to meet the fundraising goal and bring the project to fruition.

For the public phase, it is important to be prepared with a variety of fundraising collateral such as informational brochures, donation forms, and thank you letters.

Additionally, social media channels should be used to create awareness and excitement around the project. Email campaigns can also be an effective tool for reaching potential donors and tracking donations in real time. Finally, direct mailings and other targeted outreach methods can be used to reach potential donors who may not use digital platforms.

All of these efforts should come together to foster enthusiasm for the project and motivate donors to give.

With proper preparation and a knowledgeable team, your capital campaign can meet its goals in no time!

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Post-campaign Evaluation and Follow-up


Once the capital campaign is complete, conducting a post-campaign evaluation and follow-up is important.

A post-campaign evaluation helps provide insight into how successful the campaign was and what areas may need improvement for future campaigns.

The evaluation and follow-up process should analyze the campaign's successes and failures related to donor engagement, donor retention, fundraising goals achieved or exceeded, percentage of gifts versus pledges received, public relations generated by the campaign, etc.

The evaluation should also involve seeking direct feedback from donors, volunteers, and other stakeholders to gain a comprehensive view of the campaign's results.

It is also important to review the length of the campaign compared to the original plan. This can help determine how to adjust future goals, timelines, and strategies for success.

It is also essential to conduct a post-campaign audit to ensure transparency of the campaign and verify that funds have been spent appropriately. A full audit will look at all finances, documents, and policies related to the campaign and should be done by an independent auditor.

By conducting a thorough post-campaign evaluation and follow-up, your organization can gain valuable insights that will help guide future capital campaigns.

Wrapping Up: The Next Steps


At the end of the day, nonprofit leaders must take the time to properly plan for a successful capital campaign.

By following the steps for planning outlined in this article, your nonprofit will be one step closer to meeting its campaign goals. With careful foresight and execution, a capital campaign can be an incredibly effective way to advance the mission of your organization.

For more fundraising tips and insights, check out Instrumentl’s blog today!

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Instrumentl team

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