Perfect Timing: 3 Principles for Identifying the Right Time for a Capital Campaign

If your organization is tossing around the idea of starting a capital campaign, know that many factors will play into its success or failure. What’s more, they all depend on you.

And even though much of your proposed campaign’s success relies on supporter responses, the responsibility for failure would rest entirely on your nonprofit. (And for success, your supporters.) Here’s why.

Timing will make or break your capital campaign. Knowing when is as important as knowing how to ask for contributions. So before getting in over your head, find exactly the right time to start a capital campaign.

Principle No. 1: The Right Time Isn’t Right Now

Perhaps this treacherous economic climate makes it seem like a terrible time to start a capital campaign. And in a way you’re right. Rolling out a capital campaign as soon as your nonprofit realizes it’s necessary is all wrong and all too soon.

Your nonprofit can’t just announce a capital campaign and expect major monies for your new facility or program expansion to roll in practically unsolicited. Successful campaigns take six to twelve months of planning. At least.

Though today may not be the right time to start one, it could be the exact day you need to begin planning one.

Principle No. 2: Going It Alone Isn’t Going to Work

Besides allowing plenty of time for the planning phase, the right people will also play into your campaign’s success. First, assess your personal preparedness for running a capital campaign. Have you ever led one, or at least been substantially responsible for one? Experience among campaign leaders is imperative. If you don’t have much of it find someone who does.

Volunteers are as important as your nonprofit’s staff, and they need to be as committed too. Dedicated volunteers with the skills needed to drum up substantial donations are a must.

Principle No. 3: A Ready Nonprofit Doesn’t Entail a Ready Audience

Adhering to the two principles above still won’t guarantee perfect campaign timing. The only way to do that is to be honest about your nonprofit’s audience.

Every gift matters in nonprofit fundraising, no matter how small. But major ones are absolutely crucial in the initial phases of a capital campaign. You’ll need these major gifts up front, before your campaign is even announced to the public. They will spur momentum and show prospective donors the feasibility of your campaign. Note that this is not the time to initiate a capital campaign if you’re just now starting a nonprofit. It’s not likely that you have traction necessary to attract the major gifts you need.

But if your nonprofit is well established, with a wide and wealthy audience, you may be ready for a capital campaign. Invest in a market survey to be certain of your nonprofit’s internal preparedness and your audience’s capacity and willingness to contribute.

Finally, it’s of the utmost importance that your nonprofit has a compelling case for a capital campaign. Will your supporters view your cause as worthy enough for the sacrifices you’re asking them to make?

Is your nonprofit considering a capital campaign? Tell us about the factors playing into your decision in the comments section below.


Jill Havlat

June 20, 2012

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