GuideStar Blog

Do Capital Campaigns Hurt or Strengthen Major Gifts?

Fundraisers disagree about the value of capital campaigns. Yesterdays post argues they do more harm than good in the long run. Today’s post offers a different point of view.

https://trust.guidestar.org/how-campaigns-hurt-major-giftsSome people worry that major gifts will suffer in the years after a capital campaign. But it’s simply not true!

Remember, very few things move in simple straight lines. That’s true of human motivation, growth patterns and yes, even the way people give.

Donor Giving Always Fluctuates

Though over many years, a donor is likely to increase his or her giving, chances are, in some years they’ve given more and in other years they’ve given less. These fluctuations are in part because of situations in the donor’s life. A particularly good year financially may lead to a larger gift while a year of losses will likely result in smaller giving.

But those fluctuations may also be caused by capital campaigns. During the period of a capital campaign, donors often give extraordinary gifts that are over and above their annual, recurring gifts. They pledge special, large campaign gifts over three to five years. At the end of that pledge period, the donor’s giving is likely to fall back to something closer to their earlier giving.

But do major gifts decrease after a campaign?

Some people focus on the fact that major gifts often fall off after a campaign. And that’s often true. But it misses the point.

The capital campaign offers an opportunity for donors to stretch their giving for a little while. And when their gifts return to earlier levels, it’s not a failure. It’s simply a reflection of the natural fluctuations in giving.

Campaigns give donors a chance to be extraordinarily generous in a way that they are not likely to do over the long run. They don’t decrease giving—rather, they motivate extraordinary giving for a defined period.

Capital Campaigns vs. Future Major Gifts

Major gift fundraising is about building long-term relationships with donors. The concern about capital campaigns is that the focus shifts from the donors to the big capital campaign goal, losing track of the individual donor.

That’s true, so far as it goes. But it doesn’t go far enough.

You see, most capital campaigns aren’t just marketing ploys to raise more money. They grow out of strategic planning and are launched to raise money needed to springboard the organization to a higher level of operation.

A campaign might be used to build a new facility, renovate and upgrade old buildings, provide start-up funds for new programs, or purchase new equipment needed to increase capacity. Put simply, capital campaigns raise money to fund specific things over the short term that will enable an organization to carry out its mission more fully in the long term.

Capital campaigns are not (and should not be) simple marketing ploys to raise more money for the operating budget. They grow out of the need for an organization to grow.

Capital campaigns draw in major donors.

Not only do capital campaigns raise more money, but they also provide remarkable opportunities to draw donors closer to the organization by including them in the planning processes that lead to the campaign.

Many major donors would like to be more fully engaged. They want to play a meaningful role in the organizations they support. Capital campaigns provide an opportunity to shape that involvement in a way that serves both the organization’s needs and the donor’s desires.

Donors are invited to participate in planning committees, focus groups, and a host of other campaign-related processes. This involvement is designed to be short-term and to constructively engage donors in the organization’s plans for the future.

5 Ways Capital Campaigns are a Boon to Major Gift Programs

Here are five powerful lessons I’ve learned that lead me to believe that this remarkable kind of fundraising is a wonderful tool for any effective major gift program.

1. Occasional opportunities to make a big difference motivate donors to give extraordinary gifts.

When donors are invited to make extraordinarily large gifts, over and beyond their regular giving, they are often happy to do so if the project they are being asked to support will help springboard the organization to a new level of operation.

2. People like to be part of a winning team, and a capital campaign provides that opportunity.

Major donors, like most people everywhere, like to be part of a group that is doing something exciting. They enjoy working toward a goal. And they particularly like being part of something successful!

Capital campaigns build a sense of excitement and energy that it’s hard to do year after year. And they are designed to build toward success.

3. Donors like to know what their money will make possible.

Capital campaigns fund specific projects that wouldn’t happen without the special gifts of major donors. It’s natural and relatively easy to make a direct and strong connection between the donors who give to the campaign and the projects funded by that campaign.

Campaigns are not business as usual. They do not simply fund the operating budget. With the support of the major donors, they fund remarkable and transformational projects

4. Successful capital campaigns and the projects they fund make donors proud.

Once a campaign reaches its goal and the new building is constructed or the project is completed, donors who made a gift to that campaign feel some ownership in the completed project.

For example, the construction process and opening and ongoing programs in the building they helped create provide wonderful chances for major gift officers to make sure their donors feel great about their giving.

5. The high stakes nature of a capital campaign often makes the leaders of the organization more willing to spend time working with major donors.

Many development directors have trouble getting their executive directors and board members to prioritize building relationships with major donors. But a big capital campaign often motivates these organizational leaders to meet with donors and talk about the direction and future of the organization. Those conversations often build powerful and important relationships that are difficult to make happen during normal times.

Capital Campaigns: Special, Occasional and Transformative

So, capital campaigns should be a special (though occasional) fundraising focus for your major gift program. They are a special opportunity to meld the very real capital needs of an organization with the powerful desire of it’s major donors to make an outsized difference in the life of the organization.

Knowing that you will be able to raise extraordinary amounts of money for your organization’s future through a capital campaign should inspire you to think boldly about how your organization might carry out your mission more fully—serving more people and making a bigger difference in the world.

In other words, your bold ideas may lead to a capital campaign that will inspire your most important donors to give transformative gifts well after the campaign ends.

This post is reprinted from the Capital Campaign Toolkit blog.

Do Capital Campaigns Hurt or Strengthen Major Gifts?Andrea Kihlstedt is the author of Capital Campaigns, Strategies That Work (4th edition). She is also president of Capital Campaign Masters and co-creator of the Capital Campaign Toolkit.

Topics: Major Gifts capital campaigns