Developing a Plan for a Successful Campaign

capital campaigns Feb 23, 2021

If you’ve read my previous articles in this series and answered the questions posed, and you feel that you’re in pretty good shape to begin your campaign, what’s next?

First, you want to get the approval to launch a campaign from your board of directors. You need to think about the timeline for your campaign, the budget, and how the campaign will fit into your overall development program.

Campaign Budget

How large a budget for campaign expenses have you included as part of your total campaign goal?

Campaign costs typically run anywhere from 8 percent to 12 percent of your overall goal. Many factors affect the costs of your campaign. For example:

  • Whether you’re using campaign counsel, how much support you need from counsel, and whether the counsel is local, regional, or national
  • Whether you need to hire additional staff to support the campaign management
  • Whether your campaign is national or international in scope and how much travel it will require
  • How long the campaign will run

Almost every organization that plans a capital campaign engages a consultant to help. While hiring a consultant isn’t an absolute guarantee of success, it can help overcome some campaign roadblocks. For example, a consultant can:

  • Ensure that staff members stay focused on campaign activities
  • Develop a plan for recruiting and educating campaign volunteers
  • Provide the expertise to plan and execute a campaign

The cost of hiring a consultant will depend on the size and location of the firm, the degree of experience of the consultant assigned to your campaign, and the amount of time the consultant will need to spend on your campaign.

View some of my other campaign articles, focusing on the role of consultants and determine what services you need before completing your budget.


Most campaigns will take at least eighteen months to two years to complete, but again, the answer to how long your campaign will run is … it depends.

It depends on the financial goal of your campaign, how many leadership gift prospects you have, and the geographic scope of your campaign. Other factors that impact the timeline include recruitment of volunteer leadership and staff availability. And don’t forget--you need to add time for planning, time to conduct a study, and possible delays in getting permits, purchasing land, and securing architectural plans.

What If We’re Not Ready?

If, after going through these articles and reading my workbook, you’ve determined that your organization is not ready for a campaign now, is all lost?


My hope is that, for those of you who find yourselves ready, my books will provide you with the guidance you need to run a successful campaign. Furthermore, if you find that you are not ready, I hope these books will provide you with the tools to help strengthen your organization for a future campaign.

But what if you need the space, the equipment, or the renovations now? What if you can’t wait? There are some other options you can consider:

  • Running a campaign in phases, addressing the most critical needs first
  • Financing your project through a line of credit or other short-term financing
  • Delaying the expansion of your program until you can build the required facilities or provide the equipment needed for these services
  • Collaborating with another nonprofit to provide the services you would provide in an expanded space

A phased campaign is often the answer. The advantages of this approach are twofold: you can bite off a manageable chunk of the campaign, and often, a successful small campaign will help you prepare for a more comprehensive campaign later. The disadvantage is that you can end up in a perpetual campaign mode, which sometimes leads to staff, volunteer, and donor fatigue. However, if you time your campaign right and make it clear from the beginning that you are running a phased campaign, this approach can be ideal.

Obtaining a loan to build or renovate is often a good approach, as well. Don’t go into this plan with the idea that later, when you are ready, you will run a debt-reduction campaign. It’s hard to raise money for debt reduction; most debt reduction campaigns are not successful because donors think you didn't plan well if you expanded programs and services when you couldn't afford to do so. Sometimes debt reduction can be included in a larger campaign as part of the project. For example, you might try to raise $1,000,000 to pay off debt while raising $8,000,000 for a new expansion.

As hard as it is to delay expansion of your programs because you simply are not ready for a campaign, sometimes this is the only answer. Engage your organization in a strategic planning process to determine whether the programs are really needed and then, if they are, see if there is some other channel of delivery. If the programs are truly time-critical, you might need to lease space or collaborate with another organization to provide immediate program delivery before you can house them yourself.

If you are not ready for a campaign, go back to previous blog, get the books, and review what you’ve learned about the importance of board commitment, staffing infrastructure, public awareness, donor prospects, and volunteer involvement. These are usually the areas where most organizations find their weaknesses. See what you can do in these areas to strengthen your organization.

Even if you decide not to launch a campaign, strengthening your organization in these areas will help you become stronger in the long run and may help increase your annual giving, as well. Who knows? You might even find that you can raise enough money in your annual giving program to fund some of the capital expenses you need to expand your program.

Whatever you determine is best for your organization, I hope these articles have helped you prepare for success.

To learn more about capital campaigns and the importance of campaign planning, take my course, Capital Campaigns: Yes, You CAN Do It. Sign up here

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