Capital campaigns are complicated. Sometimes lasting upwards of three years, these undertakings are designed to completely upgrade how your nonprofit pursues its mission.
As your nonprofit grows, you’ll naturally run into obstacles that limit how well you’re able to serve your constituents. Cramped facilities, tight staffing budgets, and outdated equipment are a few common examples. A capital campaign provides the influx of new funding necessary to make major investments that will increase your capacity and take your mission to the next level.
With high stakes and a potentially huge impact on your mission, capital campaigns require extensive preparation and an extremely organized approach. But, just like other professionals, nonprofit leaders make mistakes. Trying to go it alone or refusing to seek outside help can severely limit the success of a capital campaign.
Instead, you’ll need a well-organized, engaged team by your side. There are a number of key individuals you’ll need to recruit for your campaign, who you’ll then sort into a variety of ad hoc committees. Each of these committees will accomplish different tasks at different stages throughout the campaign.
If you’re planning your nonprofit’s very first capital campaign, these best practices can easily become confusing, but we’ve got you covered. Here’s what we’ll cover in this crash course:
- Individuals You’ll Need
- Pre-Campaign Committees
- Campaign Committees
- Ad Hoc Committees
- Outside Support
At the Capital Campaign Toolkit, we’ve guided organizations of all sizes through the process of planning and conducting successful campaigns. We wanted to share our own recommendations for campaign staffing. These best practices will give you a solid foundation on which to build your unique campaign strategy.
Individuals You’ll Need
The following key individuals will play central roles during your campaign and will likely serve on multiple committees:
- Your executive director
- Board members and former board members
- Campaign chair(s)
- Staff members
- Lead donors, your most dedicated major supporters and longtime volunteers who you can count on wanting to be involved in new initiatives
Before diving into planning the specifics of your campaign, make sure you identify these individuals. Consider whether or not you think they’d be able and willing to commit to a major campaign. You’ll have time as the planning process begins to fully secure everyone’s buy-in, but you’ll first need to understand exactly who you need on your team.
Your board and executive director will likely need to sign off on your campaign’s first steps anyway, so start with them.
Collecting a core crew of campaign advocates in the boardroom will be extremely helpful as you get started. Gauge your board’s engagement and interest in a capital campaign. Effective boards should be dynamic and interested in growth opportunities for your nonprofit, so remind them of the immense impact that a successful campaign will have on your mission.
These are the three core committees who’ll play significant roles from the start of the process, before your campaign even begins leading up to the official launch of the quiet phase:
Core Campaign Committee
Members: Director, board members, campaign chair(s)
This group will oversee the entire campaign, essentially sitting at the top of the pyramid. They’ll monitor its progress from start to finish, checking in on execution and flagging potential issues early on that need course-correcting.
Feasibility Study Committee
Members: Director, board members, and staff
Your feasibility study committee will handle this important first element of your capital campaign. A feasibility study involves a series of interviews with organizational leaders, key donors, and other stakeholders to gauge their thoughts and opinions on your campaign and its goals. The committee will take charge of the following tasks:
- Hire a consultant to conduct the study (if applicable)
- Craft your campaign’s initial case for support
- Help conduct the feasibility study, ideally by working with a professional guide to facilitate interviews alongside your director and/or board chairs
- Present the study’s findings and recommendations
Traditionally, nonprofits hire consultants to conduct their feasibility studies from start to finish while the internal committee plays a supporting role. However, we recommend taking a more hands-on approach and conducting the interviews yourself with the help of an expert. If you go this route, one or two members of your feasibility study committee may play a larger role.
Members: Director, campaign chair, board members (past and present), staff, and potential donors
Your Planning Committee will jump into action once your feasibility study is complete. They’ll review the study’s results and create a campaign plan. Along the way, they’ll review and revise your campaign’s working goal, case for support, recognition plans, and other details as needed. Make sure this committee has the insights, support, and resources they need to put together a detailed roadmap.
Members of campaign planning committees may also often make lead gifts, or the first large donations to your campaign.
Once your campaign plans have been tested and finalized, it’s time to get started. This is the time to kick-off your campaign’s quiet phase, or the long period during which you’ll cultivate and solicit major gifts that will make up the bulk of your funding.
This phase of your campaign requires plenty of organization, communication, and collaboration. You’ll have to clearly assign different tasks to various individuals to keep all of the moving parts of major gift fundraising progressing smoothly. Here’s how most nonprofits structure their campaign committees:
Members: Director, Development Director, campaign chair, key board members, lead donors
The Steering Committee will operate similarly to the Core Campaign Committee, though it will meet less frequently and not be as involved as closely. Their big-picture responsibilities include monitoring progress, recommending strategy changes, advocating for the campaign, and (in many cases) making lead gifts. The subcommittees listed below report to the Steering Committee.
Nucleus Fund Committee
Subcommittee of the Steering Committee
Members: Director, Development Director, five or so of the best volunteer solicitors from your team
The largest initial gifts to your campaign during its quiet phase are referred to as its “nucleus fund,” around which the success of your campaign will be built. A dedicated Nucleus Fund Committee will meet monthly throughout the entirety of the quiet phase to solicit these gifts from organizational leaders, board members, other campaign committee members, and top donors.
Other Solicitation Teams
Subcommittees beneath the Nucleus Fund Committee
Members: Board members, development staff, representatives from the specific constituencies to be solicited
Beneath the Nucleus Fund Committee, you’ll need teams of expert fundraisers to help secure the additional major and mid-level gifts that you need to reach your quiet phase goals. They’ll research, cultivate, and solicit these prospects, helping you complete the lower tiers of your campaign’s gift range chart.
Members: Development Director, board liaison, excited and engaged volunteers
Once your Nucleus Fund team and other solicitation teams secure roughly 50-70% of your campaign’s total funding, it’s time to take your campaign public. The Kickoff Committee plans all aspects of your kickoff celebrations, including press releases and events.
Ad Hoc Committees
For specific time-bound tasks that aren’t encompassed in the core planning and fundraising responsibilities listed above, nonprofits will often form ad hoc committees or task groups to handle tasks like:
- Creating and refining your case for support
- Developing and executing marketing plans, website strategies, and press releases
- Supporting your development team’s prospect research efforts
These committees can be formed at any point during your campaign as needs arise, but it helps to have an early sense of what you’ll need and who they’ll report to. As your Planning Committee finalizes a campaign roadmap, ask them to outline the anticipated ad hoc teams that will be necessary at various points during the campaign and what they’ll accomplish.
Serving on ad hoc committees can be an excellent professional development opportunity for staff members, but these teams also often rely heavily on volunteer power. However, remember that you can and should be selective when it comes to staffing ad hoc campaign committees with volunteers. Choose volunteers who are incredibly dedicated to your mission and have expressed interest in seeing the campaign succeed.
We recommend gauging the effectiveness of your individual volunteers over the course of your campaign and refining your teams as you go. For instance, you might invite 6 people to serve on a committee to develop your case for support. Once that task is complete, you can ask the most effective, productive, and thoughtful members to rejoin your next ad hoc committee. This next committee might be made up of 3 or 4 of these top volunteers, supplemented with board members, staff, and more senior volunteers.
This rolling approach to continually refining your campaign teams can be extremely helpful for driving productivity and sourcing top volunteers to keep engaging on an ongoing basis.
Finally, in addition to internal committees of board members, staff, and volunteers, most nonprofits also work with outside consultants to help support some (or many) aspects of their capital campaigns. These often include:
- Full capital campaign strategy and consulting services
- Prospect research support or outsourcing
- Guided coaching services, like for feasibility studies
If you plan to work with a consultant in any capacity during your campaign, try to determine those needs as early as possible with your Core Campaign Committee. Advance notice allows you to plan and budget accordingly, and it will help ensure that your entire engagement with the consultant is focused and productive.
Just be mindful of the range of consulting approaches out there. Many nonprofits assume that the purpose of a campaign consultant is to have an expert take control and make the big decisions, but this isn’t necessarily the best approach for the greatest long-term value.
At the Capital Campaign Toolkit, we believe that a guided, hands-on approach generates the most value for nonprofit organizations conducting capital campaigns. Our own framework is designed to empower nonprofits to make their campaigns their own, connect with nonprofit peers, lean into their strengths, and get help when they need it.
Capital campaigns are complex undertakings that require a lot of input and collaboration from your entire team. As you gear up for your next (or first) campaign, having a clear understanding of the responsibilities that need to be assigned and how you’ll structure your teams will be invaluable for success.
The types of committees outlined in this guide will give you a solid foundation. But remember to stay flexible and find the right configurations of teams that will work best for your unique mission and goals.
Andrea Kihlstedt is a Co-Founder of the Capital Campaign Toolkit. She is the author of Capital Campaigns: Strategies that Work, now in its 4th edition, as well as How to Raise $1 Million (or More) in 10 Bite Sized Steps, in addition to other books. Andrea has been leading successful capital campaigns for more than 30 years. To learn how the Capital Campaign Toolkit can support you through a capital campaign, visit capitalcampaigntoolkit.com.