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Where to Start With Your Capital Campaign


Article By John Fitzpatrick

After over 20 years in fundraising – both as a development director and a consultant – I believe the most obvious place to start a capital campaign is with leadership.

Leadership is the most essential element. Having the right people in place is critical to successful campaigning. This concept encompasses all levels of the organization, board staff and volunteer committees.

In fact, it should start with the staff. Ask yourself, does the Executive Director have campaign experience? How about the Director of Development? If the answer is no you may want to consider professional counsel. If for no other reason than to guide you through twists and turns of a capital campaign, you may wish to consider having a firm work with you.


The same question should be asked of the board chair and board members. While it is not critical that they have personal capital campaign experience, it is important to consider the following:
  • Are all board members current donors? It is awfully hard for a non-donor to be an effective solicitor. Board members should first invest in the cause before asking others.


  • Are board members currently involved in the identification, cultivation and solicitation process? Most board members are busy people and can’t be expected to carve out too much time for meetings, events and actual fund raising calls. Still, the good board members make some time available to assist with this important work. It is not so much the quantity of visits but the quality and the simple fact that they are trying to get new people to your organization.


  • Are your board members able to open doors? Many not-for-profits have recruited well-intentioned, hard working board members who lack the ability to provide entry to those who can make significant contributions. This is normally no fault of their own but the reality is if your organization is to raise capital funds (or any significant amounts) you will need to address this issue.






If you find that your board and your organization needs additional help in gearing up for a capital campaign, you can always look to add some firepower. In fact, I find that organizations who take this step often find it to be a positive experience that can invigorate your current board. They should be invited to become involved in the process. New leaders will probably recognize the need to recruit new member who have the ability to do what they can not and indeed, they may be wondering why YOU haven’t already addressed this issue. If you go down this road, here is the process I recommend.
  • Decide and Define. One of the first and most important steps is for the Executive Director, Development Director and Board Chair to meet and decide what the ideal candidate(s) will look like. For example, if your board is already full of attorneys you should think seriously about rounding the professional ranks. One of the most common dilemmas is that the board does not have enough representation among the wealthy individuals in the community. This may be a tough assignment but somewhere in your town there is someone with significant wealth who cares about your cause but has never been asked to serve on a board or needs to be asked again or perhaps approached by the right person. The point is that the staff and board should have a clear picture of what is expected and what success will look like at the end of the process. That is why I recommend limiting the process (at least to start) to the ED, DD and Board Chair.


  • Work from the Inside Out. The other early step is to have conversations with staff and current board members. You will find out that you know more than you think you know. I’ve frequently found during Pre-Campaign studies that the board and staff can supply names of people who can advance the mission of the organization. Many times these are precisely the individuals the non-profit is seeking but simply was unaware that a connection already existed.


  • Everywhere you go tell everyone you know. Never miss an opportunity to tell your story and seek new blood. Tell your board members to do likewise. At some point, at some party or community event, you will strike a chord with someone of influence and they will present themselves as a viable candidate for your board.


  • Work with the willing. Once you recruit the kind of individual you want to add to your board, work with them to get others involved. They are sure to have contacts that you don’t and they can help attract their friends who in turn will attract their friends and before long you will have that most wonderful of mixes, a board that has some great long-time people who are well grounded in the mission and some new blood who are well positioned to truly advance the mission.
The final recommendation on this topic is especially for Development Directors and it is this... be single-minded of purpose in this regard. You are bound to experience some setbacks and when they occur you must redouble your efforts and press on. When the first five meetings yield not a single name of a good candidate tell your Executive Director and Board Chair that is what you expected and a name will come from the next five meetings or the five after that. This strategy will work but it is like nearly all development work, remarkably simple but almost never easy! Those who are unafraid and willing to persevere will be rewarded.

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