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Ad Campaigns

The Capital Campaign: A Complete Guide

Capital campaigns are massive undertakings. You need a combination of personal resources, event planning expertise, marketing know-how and time. The results of a well-orchestrated campaign can be much more than funds; it can help establish your nonprofit in your community and develop relationships that will provide benefits for years to come.  These are our tips for planning a successful campaign.

Stage I: Planning

Capital Campaign Phase One

1. Establish the capital campaign team.
To firmly establish expectations and responsibilities, a campaign team must be well-defined. Ideally, your organization should assemble board members and staff to serve in two committees: planning and development. These committees will be essential, such as securing event venues and meeting with large donors. If possible, a consultant or agency with nonprofit campaigns and event experience will be a massive help, as they can work closely with the chairs of each committee to keep the budget and timeline on track.

2. Define your budget and campaign timeline.
While the agency expenses for the campaign are indicated in this proposal, we need to outline as many third-party expenses and advertising costs as possible. Doing this early makes sure you’re not over-extended and are making a financial cushion for unforeseen circumstances. Next, outline all of the tasks and deliverables, plotting them into a Gantt chart to set deadlines and ensure that there’s sufficient time to accomplish all tasks.

3. Research our target audiences.
Maximizing effectiveness means targeting those most likely to a) serve as vocal advocates of the campaign and/or b) be a donor with a high giving capacity. You’ll want to identify as many as 4-8 personas for your campaign, based on the following criteria:

  1. Prior giving history
  2. Corporation vs. individual
  3. Access opportunity
  4. Method of communication
  5. Motivation to act
  6. Advocate vs. donor

An example persona may be a potential (2)corporate (6)donor that (1)hasn’t donated before, but a (3)board member knows the CEO very well. The (4)best way to get a hold of them is via email, and (5)they support similar causes. Having these personas built out this way will immediately show you where to focus your effort.

Stage II: Strategy

With the team, budget and audiences defined, you can then move to the strategic phase of the plan. This is where you determine the platforms and tools you use to reach those target audiences.

1. Communications strategy.
In this stage, establish the digital and traditional methods of communication. These methods can include direct mail, social media, email marketing, relationship marketing and more. Determine the rationale, methods, message, and frequency for each recommended channel, then create a content calendar to plan and schedule each step of the way. This calendar should be shared throughout the capital campaign team in Google Drive, Dropbox or a similar cloud-based platform, serving as a repository for content concepts as well as a scheduling tool.

2. Campaign creative and messaging.
Following the strategy development, you should then develop the creative for the campaign. This usually includes a logo, social media graphics, email templates, print invitation templates, and a brief style guide.

3. Capital campaign micro-site.
A small, 2-3 page website can serve as the hub for campaign information, online donations, campaign updates, sponsor promotion and more. Simply launching a page on your website can be limiting, since you’re usually stuck with a page to do all of the above, ending up with a cluttered mess. You also end up competing with yourself, luring visitors away from where you want them to go (to donate) and end up with them surfing around the rest of your site – and leaving – instead.

You also complicate the ability to track your visitor traffic. With a dedicated micro-site, the only traffic coming in is from campaign efforts. You end up with clean data from which to improve the campaign marketing.

As you near launch, you’ll see the planning moving into development. It’s in this critical phase where key tools and events of the capital campaign begin to take shape.

5. Campaign brochure.
As much of the fundraising should be done through face-to-face interactions, a website simply won’t serve all situations. It is for this reason that a four-page campaign brochure should be developed. This piece will highlight quotes from past or current donors, campaign information, the direct impact of the campaign (the building), and organizational background.

6. Planning donor events.
Events – even small gatherings – can be a sizable undertaking. Because of this, we typically recommend no more than two events during the campaign: one at kick-off and one at the conclusion. Neither event needs to be extravagant, but they do need to be on-brand and provide an experience that large donors would like to see and been seen in. To plan these events, many things must be determined, including but not limited to:

  • A date that doesn’t conflict with another community event
  • The event type (5K, happy hour, gala, etc.)
  • Budget and availability for venue and/or catering.
  • Sponsors and strategic partners
  • Event invitation list for hand-delivered print invitations and email follow-up
  • Six weeks for an adequate promotion on social media and email

7. Identify and secure corporate partnerships.
As the majority of your funding will come from either grants or corporate gifts/matching, it is the foundations and corporations within the region that should be cultivated first. Leverage board members’ existing relationships and provide materials (such as the campaign brochure and smaller, postcard-sized pieces) for outreach to large funding sources with whom someone has a relationship.

There are a number of ways that a large funding source can participate in a capital campaign, including gift-matching, challenge grants or standard sponsorships.

Stage III: Launch the Capital Campaign

This stage is where all of the work meets the general public, and all of the planning and effort performed up to this point has a chance to shine.

1. Kick-off event.
To start the public phase of the capital campaign off with a bang, we propose a kick-off event. The format may be budget-dependent, but could be a gala, a walkathon, a concert, a tournament, or another community-centered gathering. This event will help get the word out to potential donors and provide a platform for an in-person appeal.

To make the most of this event, social media streaming (Facebook Live, Instagram Stories) is strongly encouraged. We also encourage the use of a fundraising platform – such as MobileCause or OneCause – to streamline the giving process (through mobile giving) and provide a visual display of donations received.

To coincide with social media streaming, a social media fundraising campaign can be leveraged to allow non-attendees to participate. To do this, you must make sure that your non-profit is registered as such on Facebook. This process can take a couple of weeks, so give plenty of time to go through their process.

2. Donor nurturing.
The more you engage with donors, the more likely they will feel invested in the capital campaign. Similarly, the more you promote existing sponsors, the more potential ones will see the promotional opportunity. Use video, personal shout-outs from board members, and e-mail recognition as well as logos on the website and micro-site.

3. Social media and email campaigns.
To make the most of your social media promotion, make sure that your board of directors, staff and any existing vocal advocates of your cause are sharing to their networks regularly. Publish to your channels weekly at a very minimum, and increase as the events and campaign conclusion get closer. Utilize your connections in the same fashion for email, creating content that people would want to share (interesting statistics, shout-outs, etc.). Unlike social, email can be quickly annoying. Make sure that you’re being respectful of your audiences, and use email respectfully. These tips can help you improve your email marketing.

4. Press releases and media support.
An often-overlooked promotional opportunity for capital campaigns is with the media. Developing press releases that announce the campaign, the acquisition of major sponsors, and the eventual successful completion of your campaign will provide two benefits. First and most obvious, you reach a larger audience; but secondly, you establish a relationship with the media that will come in handy in the future when promoting other news. Develop a list of local and regional media –  almost all outlets have editorial contact information on their websites. Over time, you’ll get to know the individuals and their specific contact information. Just be sure to send press releases as Word documents – no PDFs, and give quotes for them to use in their articles.

With this guide as a basic framework, you’ll be able to clearly organize your capital campaign, make the most of your promotional opportunities, conserve budget and – most importantly, raise money. For more sophisticated or customized campaign ideas, give us a call.

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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