Editors’ note: This article, first published in print during Nov/Dec 2001, has been republished for Nonprofit Quarterly with minor updates.

“I think we are ready to go public with our capital campaign!”

“Let’s launch!”

For many of us in the fundraising business, these phrases are uttered with a feeling that combines joy, relief, and a new kind of anxiety. Joy and relief because our work has paid off. Board members, staff, and volunteers have joined together and worked out a plan for what we need — a building, a renovation, land acquisition. We’ve agreed on the goal and the timeline for raising the money. We have created a gift range chart and found five to ten donors to give the first 40–50% of the goal. We have identified enough donors to feel confident that we can raise the next 30–40% fairly easily and we feel confident that we have enough community support to fill in the final 10–30% of the funds we need.

This part of the campaign has not always been easy and has taken more time than we thought. There may have been surprising disagreements, unexpected staff or board turnover, a couple of donors that didn’t give or pledge as much as we had expected. There have probably also been some wonderful moments — a donor who gave much more than we could have imagined, the board member who volunteered to chair this part of the campaign really worked hard and did a good job. Now, we are ready to go public and we are joyous and relieved because so much has fallen into place.

But what is this new wave of anxiety? Well, up to now we were in the “quiet” phase. If things went haywire, not that many people would know. We had time to adjust the goal, add items we hadn’t thought of to the cost of the campaign, get feedback from some people and bring others into the planning process so that as many people as possible had input before final decisions were made.

Once we launch the campaign publicly, it will be much harder to increase or decrease the goal or to make changes in how we describe what we are raising money for. After this, it will also be impossible to abort the campaign.

As with most big undertakings, anxiety is part of the campaign. The trick is not to give in to it and particularly not to add to other people’s anxiety.

With careful planning, the public phase of your capital campaign can go smoothly. Just like the “quiet” phase, it has distinct elements. Let’s go through them.


Most organizations choose to have some kind of party to announce their campaign. These parties are not required, but they are fun and they bring attention to the campaign. Although some choose to make the launch a fancy special event and use it to raise money, that is a lot of work. I recommend a simple party for the people who have worked on the campaign so far, the people who will be working on it in the future, the donors who have given so far, and some of the donors who will be asked shortly.

The purpose of such a party is to generate enthusiasm. The people who have already given will probably appreciate being thanked for their commitment and faith in the project; people who will shortly be asked may become caught up in the excitement. At the event, have some kind of thermometer or other symbol to show how far you are in the campaign and have the board chair, the executive director, and possibly another donor give short speeches about how important this campaign is.

Have pictures of your building, your land, or your plans for renovation. Traditionally, someone sticks a shovel in the ground for the “groundbreaking” or guests are given hard hats and shown around the new building if it has already been purchased or oriented to the renovation if it has begun.

The press can be invited, and certainly, a press release ought to be issued. This can be a good opportunity to invite government officials such as the mayor.

The party is brief — two hours at most. Have champagne or sparkling cider and some nice hors d’oeuvres.


The donors who give you money not only have to believe that the capital project you are undertaking is very important, they must also believe that your organization is capable of handling this large of a project. You must convince them that you can manage a building, deal with contractors, handle large gifts, negotiate lines of credit, make architectural decisions, get building permits, and so on. For grassroots organizations undertaking capital campaigns, the capability of the group is often of greater concern to donors than the worthiness of the cause.

In one organization I consulted for, no one on the board or among the staff had ever owned property. When they decided to buy the building they were in, even though the goal was very reasonable, they found that some of their donors were balking at giving them money. We put two solutions into place. One was to invite two of the donors who had doubts about the ability of the staff and board to manage property to be on a “facilities committee” with two realtors. This team was able to handle a lot of the negotiations with the city and with vendors that would have taken a good deal of the executive director’s time. The other solution was to bring in a local real estate broker to give a crash course in the language of real estate for the board and staff. Once the director and other board members were comfortable using words like “escrow,” “depreciation,” and “amortization schedule,” donors felt assured that this group could handle this property.

The main item you need in terms of written materials is a Case Statement. A good case statement can go a long way in providing potential donors with the assurance that the capital campaign is a good cause run by a capable group. The case statement will probably need to look fancier than many other materials you have created in the past. If you don’t have the capacity on your staff to write and produce such a high-end piece, hire a writer or an editor to help you and a designer to give it a professional look.

Use a folder or a three-ring notebook for each copy of your case statement. The outside of the folder should have your logo and a visual reference to the campaign, such as a picture of the building or an architect’s rendering.

A typical table of contents for a case statement would be something like this:

  • Summary of the need for your capital campaign (example at left)
  • Programs of your group and how they will be improved by this campaign
  • Brief history of the organization and how it has come to need this capital improvement
  • The goal, including the gift range chart, money raised so far, donations needed
  • Pictures, drawings, and graphic illustrations of the campaign
  • Financial statements of the group — budget, plans for raising money in the future • List of board and staff, with brief bios of each
  • List of capital campaign committee members and brief bios of each
  • A description of ways a donor can give, including a pledge form, payment options, naming opportunities, and so on

The inside of the folder or notebook contains a series of separate pages that can be changed, updated, or rearranged depending on the donor you are talking to.

For example, a historical society is buying a national landmark building to be their office and museum. They have several programs that will be housed at this building — the museum; a children’s theater program where kids make up plays based on their own historical research; and a historical archive, including an online research program on a computer available to the public.

The society knows that some donors love the children’s program and others are more drawn to the museum. Every donor sees the same case statement, but the pages can be arranged in slightly different order to emphasize one program over another. Three pages of photographs are available for each aspect of the program — the museum, the archive, and the theater program. Every case statement is assembled with one page of photographs for each program area, but extra pages of photographs are inserted for the aspect of a program that a prospective donor is known to be most attracted to. Tailoring each folder to each prospective donor in this way keeps costs down, as reproducing the photos is expensive.

In a way, the case statement is a fancier version of a proposal for a large grant. Ideally, the language is also more exciting, but the idea is that you have a written case that a donor can examine and that will answer most of their questions.

Some organizations will also print up a capital campaign brochure. This is a smaller version of the case statement, with just a few pictures and the basic story about the campaign’s goals. It is used with smaller donors or given out at house parties and other events. However, because brochures are expensive to design and print, I usually recommend against them. They are a more fixed piece and inevitably some of the information in them will change, making them easily obsolete or inappropriate (key staff who are quoted may leave, graphics of an architect’s rendering are out-of-date once building begins, and so forth).


If you are building a new facility or renovating an existing one, you may wish to offer “naming opportunities” to donors. Basically, for enough money, a donor can have a room named after themselves or someone else. If you decide to have naming opportunities, the board will have to have a policy about what kind of names you will allow. Does the person the room is named after have to be deceased? (If yes, this keeps you from having the embarrassment of a room named after someone who several years later is caught embezzling money or selling pornography on the Internet — both of which have happened.) Does the name have to be a real person’s name or could someone name a room after Mickey Mouse? Most boards simply reserve the right to reject a name and hope that most names suggested will be appropriate.

Generally the most public room carries the highest price, with meeting rooms, kitchens, and offices carrying successively lower prices. Hallways can have a price, as can entryways, sidewalks, doors, chairs, and desks. Generally bathrooms are not named; however, in the new Berkeley Repertory Theater even the bathrooms are named.

You can list the naming opportunities in your case statement, but often a naming opportunity is offered only in person to a donor: “We were wondering if you would like to honor your mother by having the sculpture garden named after her?”

You don’t have to offer naming opportunities; many successful campaigns do not. Some campaigns have named rooms after famous people and asked people to “buy” a room. For example, the Sojourner Truth meeting room might cost $100,000. For someone who loves Sojourner Truth, this is a great opportunity. The plaque on the wall will then say, “The Sojourner Truth Meeting Room (in big letters) made possible by Jane Smith and Sally Jones (in smaller type).”

Design your Case Statement so that each page can be printed or photocopied as needed. Photographs and other graphic design elements may need to be printed in larger quantities if they are not coming right from a computer, but you don’t need to print up more than 50 of these at a time. Most campaigns have raised 90–95% of their money from 100–200 donors, so large quantities of materials are not important. Nonetheless, it is imperative to have well-written, nice-looking materials.


In the quiet phase of the campaign, you talked to ten to twenty prospects at most. Most of them said yes to the amount you requested or to a lesser amount. As you proceed in your campaign, more prospects will say no. This is normal — you are moving out from the inner circle of people who love what you do to a circle of people who like what you do but may have priorities other than your group.

As you move further out, you will encounter prospects who may not agree with your campaign, or who may not be willing to give because they don’t like the executive director or don’t agree with a certain program direction. For the second 30–40% of your goal, you will need to talk to fully twice as many prospects as the number of gifts you need.

Often, when a campaign is half to two-thirds of the way to its goal, it may seem to stall. No one is saying yes, people are reluctant to meet with you, volunteers are getting discouraged. The original excitement has worn off and the excitement of being in the home stretch has not yet kicked in.

The only thing you can do at this point is keep slogging away. You can try to add some excitement by asking a prospect for a challenge gift or even by soliciting the very last gift. “Will you give the last $50,000 to our campaign? If we can’t make it to that point, you will owe nothing.” If a prospect says yes to this, you can then tell all your other prospects that you have the beginning and the end — all you need is the middle.

Once you have raised or received pledges for 80–85% or more of your goal, you are ready to roll out the final phase of the campaign. If you have a large donor base, you will want to approach them with a mail appeal that asks them to complete the work that has been started. The mail appeal solicits gifts of $50, $100, $500. People are encouraged to think about spreading their giving over two or three years so as to make the largest gift possible.

If you don’t have a large donor base, you may want to go into the community and ask people who have never given you money before. Many groups have been successful in converting to annual fund donors those making capital campaign gifts who were initially drawn to the group for the boldness of its capital campaign.

You may also want to go to corporations, small businesses and family foundations at this point (if you haven’t already approached them) to help you reach the top. Your pitch to them is that it is clear at this point that you are going to meet your goal and be successful — they are simply being asked to join the winning team.


Many organizations that are within a few thousand dollars of their goal complete the campaign with a large special event. An awards dinner works well for this purpose, as you can not only thank people for what they have done for the campaign, but you can also call attention to your annual program needs and successes.

Even if you don’t put on a big event, you should have some kind of celebratory party where you bring in the final dollars on your thermometer or other symbol and toast yourselves for your hard work.

As you can see, two-thirds of the campaign is over before the public phase. Creating the case, getting agreement on the goal, researching the first prospects, testing the feasibility, soliciting the lead donors, and preparing for the public phase of the campaign are huge pieces of work.

The final third, the public phase, is also a huge piece of work and it may last as long as the first two phases. In many ways, however, it is much more straightforward. If the groundwork has been laid properly, the final phase of the campaign will feel very manageable.