• Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE

Planning for a Successful Capital Campaign- Part 3

Updated: Aug 24, 2019


Contrary to popular opinion, capital campaigns are not generally the best way to reach new donors, although often a donor will be inspired by the larger vision of your organization. In reality, most donations for your campaign will come from donors who already support your organization. However, you need to establish a good rapport with these donors, cultivate them well, and wait to make the ask until donors demonstrate they are ready to be asked.

How would you characterize your organization’s overall relationship with your donors?

  • Excellent

  • Good

  • Okay

  • Not so good

How frequently does someone from your organization meet individually and face-to-face with major donors and/or qualified prospective major donors (interested, supportive, capable of making large gifts), either formally or informally, to hear their views and to keep them updated about your programs, goals, and needs?

  • Frequently: two or more times a year with almost all of them

  • Often: at least once a year with most

  • Fairly often: almost once a year with many

  • Rarely: only with a few every once in a while

Let’s talk a little more about “major donors.” What does your organization consider a “major gift?” This is different for every organization; for some it could be $100, for others $100,000, or even $1,000,000. Your organization might not even have considered categorizing what constitutes a major gift. If that is the case, let’s start with the 95/5 Rule.

The 95/5 Rule

You may be familiar with Pareto’s Law, or what is known as the 80/20 Rule. Pareto said that 80 percent of the outputs are generally produced by 20 percent of those doing the work. When I first entered the fundraising profession, this rule was also used to describe development—80 percent of the funds that an organization received typically came from 20 percent of its donors. Over time, however, this rule morphed into the 90/10 Rule, and now, most researchers cite this rule as the 95/5 Rule. Ninety-five percent of your donations will likely come from 5 percent of your donors.

Let’s define a major gift for your organization:

We currently describe a major gift as one of $_____ or more.

The largest gift we have ever received is $______________.

The top 10 percent of our donors gave gifts ranging from $_____ to $______ last year. The average of these gifts is $________.

The top 5 percent of our donors gave gifts ranging from $_____ to $_____________ last year. The average of these gifts is $________.

The largest lifetime donor we have has given us $_____________over a period of _____ years.

Based on the above information, what is a logical number for your organization to consider as a major gift? $________________

Small donors become major donors because you’ve developed strong relationships with them. They trust you. They know you appreciate their contributions. You connect with them. Look at your donor relations and see how your organization stacks up:

How often does your organization communicate with its constituents (newsletter, e-mail, telephone, social media, general mailing, etc.) in a manner that most recipients are not likely to think that your communication’s main purpose is to ask for a contribution?

  • Eight or more times a year

  • Four to seven times a year

  • Two to three times a year

  • Fewer than two times per year

How many individuals, businesses, organizations, and private foundations have supported your organization financially in the past (at any level)?

  • Ten or more

  • Five to nine

  • One to four

  • Zero

How many are capable of making significant gifts and might consider supporting your campaign with contributions of at least 10 percent of the campaign’s goal?

  • Ten or more

  • Five to nine

  • One to four

  • Zero

If your organization ranked low on the above questions, you will need to develop some tools to communicate with and cultivate your donors before they are willing to invest in your capital campaign. If your organization needs to do extensive cultivation and awareness-raising, it might mean delaying your campaign by a year or more.


Take the online course at

https://www.lindalysakowski.com/capital-campaigns-course