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Last updated February 20, 2015

Fundraising for day to day expenses is one thing, but raising significant funds for a capital project requires quite a different strategy. If your organisation needs to raise a large amount of money for a specific project, you need to have a plan. Most importantly, you need to make sure your organisation is up for the challenge, before you even begin.

Before you start, ask yourself:

Does your organisation have strong leadership?
A capital campaign does not happen overnight, so you need leaders who are willing to be in it for the long haul. They must not only be committed to your cause, they need to be committed to this particular project. Most importantly, they must be able to confidently communicate your vision to stakeholders and the community as a whole.

Do you have consensus?
Usually large scale projects include a list of ‘must-haves’ and ‘nice-to-haves’. Do you have a list of items and prices, and has your board agreed on the priorities? Nothing derails support more quickly than arguments about what will and won’t go ahead, part way through your campaign.

Do you have commitment from the whole team?
It is important that your whole organisation is behind the project and that you present a united front to the community. Before you even start, spend time talking with your board, staff, members and volunteers, and work out what each person is prepared to do in order to make the campaign a success. You need the whole team pulling in the same direction before you begin.

Does your organisation have a strong image and reputation?
People are reluctant to give to an organisation they have never heard of, so it is important that you raise your profile in the community before you start asking for money. More specifically, if you are looking for large scale donations, you need to make sure you are well known amongst community and business leaders.

With increased profile comes increased scrutiny, so make sure your organisation is ‘squeaky clean’. The best way to ensure a strong reputation is to earn it. Only offer quality programmes and services, and always enforce a strict code of conduct with staff, trustees and volunteers. Celebrate your successes so that the whole community is aware of what your organisation achieves.

If you can answer yes to those questions, you can begin some pre-campaign planning.

Develop a Case for Support
Your case for support is a short summary explaining why it’s so important that your project goes ahead. Your summary should focus on the positive impacts your project will have on the community, rather than the needs it will meet within your own organisation. Fundraising for a capital project needs community-wide support, therefore you need to demonstrate community-wide benefit.

Do a Feasibility Study
It’s easy to say ‘We need $3,000,000, now let’s just get out there and make it happen’, but it’s important to work out how feasible your campaign is before you go too far down the track. If you are campaigning for a large amount of money, people want to be reassured that you will actually reach your target. In order to be reassuring, you need to feel reassured yourself.

Do some background work. Talk to funders about the likelihood of them getting involved and at what level. Consider what businesses may be logical partners, and initiate some preliminary discussions about the possibility of being involved. Make a list of potential donors and consider community leaders who may lend them name as support. How many people would need to give, and at what level, to make it happen?

Develop a Plan
Fundraising for a capital project is not a one-off event. Instead it is a series of events and activities all connected by a common cause. If you want your capital fundraising efforts to be successful, you need to develop a common theme which can repeated throughout all your marketing, promotion, events and activities.

Consider the marketing material you will need, who you are likely to prospect, and when the approaches will be made. Develop a time-line with specific targets to reach along the way, and detail how you expect to make those targets. If you plan on ‘making it up as you go along’, you will be ‘going along’ for a very long time!

Create a Campaign Budget
Like it or not, it takes money to make money – especially if you are looking to raise a significant amount. If you try to run a capital campaign on volunteer hours alone, your campaign leader will eventually burn out and you’ll be back at the starting gate. If at all possible, find funds to pay a campaign manager and make it a priority that they are looked after.

You will also need some funds to spend on marketing and promotion. Photocopied flyers might work for everyday fundraising and small donations, but if you are approaching donors for considerable sums, you need to look (and be!) professional in your approach.

As a general rule, capital campaigns cost between 10-15% of your target. So if you need to raise $500,000, aim to bring in $575,000 so you can cover all your campaign costs.

Organise a Leadership Gift
Having a well-respected leader make the first gift to your campaign is a good way to build profile and credibility. Carefully consider the community and business leaders in your area and approach one (or more) to come on board before your official campaign starts.

When you are ready to publicise your campaign, these initial gifts will signal that your organisation already has support from respected members of the community. This helps reassure the public of the projects ‘worthiness’ and encourages other donors to get involved.

However, be aware that the leadership gift needs to reflect the persons standing in the community. If a well-known business leader makes a donation of just a few hundred dollars, the rest of the community is likely to follow suit with the theory of ‘equal sacrifice’. The thinking becomes, if he can only afford $300, then I can only afford $30. You want that first gift to be a biggie!

Prepare your Campaign Material
Repetition builds reputation, so it’s important that you use several media to promote your capital project. While it’s tempting to just add the information to your existing flyers and brochures, a capital project needs separate and specific marketing material.

Make sure the material sells the benefit of your project to the community and makes a specific request for support.

Lead by Example
Before you ask anyone for money, make sure you make a donation yourself. It’s much easier to make the ask, if you can honestly say you are supporting the project yourself. You, and anyone else doing the asking, absolutely MUST make a donation to the campaign before you begin.

Once you are suitably prepared, you need to get out and ASK!

Be on Equal Footing
People are more likely to give to their peers, so make sure you have the right person asking for the donation. If you are approaching a CEO, you need to have someone of that standing making the ask. Being on equal footing with your potential donors is more likely to generate a successful result.

Don’t Ever Assume
Too many donations have sat unrealised because someone assumed a person wasn’t able or willing to give. When you assume the answer will be no, it makes sense not to bother asking. Always imagine there is a YES waiting at the end of your conversation and take a punt.

Ask Face to Face
If you are asking for a considerable sum of money, you owe the person a face-to-face visit. Not because face-to-face makes it easier to ‘sell’, but because face-to-face shows you respect the person enough to make the time.

Go in Pairs
Taking someone with you to make the ask can help ease the nerves. It is also a good way to make the most of the meeting. One person can talk, while the other watches for responses and adapts the message accordingly. Make sure your partner has a different personality to your own, so the right ‘personality’ can take the lead when required.

Make Specific Requests
If you want to raise $1,000,000, it’s not a case of asking 1000 people for $1000 each. You need to employ the theory of ‘equal sacrifice’. That means you ask the wealthy for more, and the less wealthy for less. 80% of your donations are likely to come from 20% of your donors, so work out what that looks like and make specific requests.

Marc Pitman, aka The Fundraising Coach, has a great tool on his website called the ‘Gift Range Calculator’. Simply plug in the total amount of money you are hoping to raise, and it will work out the number of donors you are likely to require and how many people you will need to approach at each level. It’s not a guaranteed black and white formula, but it’s a really good place to start. You can check it out at www.fundraisingcoach.com

Be Flexible
It would be great if everyone could afford to make large donations as a lump sum, but it’s not usually the case. When soliciting a gift, be flexible in how those donations can be made. Perhaps your donor can make an annual gift over a 5 year period, or maybe regular monthly donations. Always allow for pledges – where people promise to make a donation once a specific amount is raised.

Capital campaigns take a huge amount of commitment from your whole team, but if you plan well from the start, it is possible to not only raise funds but raise friends along the way. Keep the momentum going, communicate well and keep your eye on the goal.

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