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Promoting a Capacity-Building Campaign: Overview and 4 Tips

Your nonprofit’s capacity is its ability to deliver its mission and drive impact for its community. It’s shaped by many factors, including your organization’s culture, infrastructure, technology stack, donor relationships, governance, financial resources, and more. 

Ideally, your capacity will grow along with your organization over time. However, there are moves you can make to push your capacity to the next level. 

Fundraising through a capacity-building campaign is one of these moves that can boost your capacity. These campaigns are similar to traditional capital campaigns but are broader in scope rather than focused only on physical expansion projects or other capital investments. 

We’ll dive into exactly what these campaigns are and explore a key question that many nonprofits have when first considering capacity campaigns: Without a tangible project that needs funding, how do you effectively motivate donors to give? Let’s explore the answer to this question together.  

What is a capacity-building campaign? 

Capacity-building campaigns adapt the traditional capital campaign model for several fundraising contexts beyond just physical investments like buildings, renovations, and equipment. Through a capacity campaign, you can raise funds for a range of initiatives that will help you increase your organization’s capacity to accomplish its mission. 

While building projects and other physical investments definitely can and do help nonprofits grow their capacity (and can be incorporated into a capacity campaign), these campaigns often raise money for additional objectives like: 

    • Technology updates 
    • Hiring and training staff, including leadership
    • Board training
    • Organizational assessments and planning
    • Marketing, branding, and communications planning and implementation 

Some of these objectives involve one-time costs, while others represent ongoing costs that will need to be incorporated into your operating budget. By clustering capacity-building expenses together into a campaign, you can invest campaign dollars in your growth for a specific period and then, over time, cover those costs with increased annual fundraising. 

How do you promote a capacity-building campaign? 

In many ways, capacity campaigns should be discussed, promoted, and marketed like traditional capital campaigns, especially at the start. During your campaign’s quiet phase, this will take the form of one-on-one conversations to build relationships with prospective major donors. 

The main difference will likely come toward the end of your campaign in the public phase. Without a physical project that gives donors a tangible idea of what their support will enable, your promotion and communication strategies have to pull their weight and fully explain the impact that increased capacity will have on your ability to serve your community. 

Here are a few promotion tips to keep in mind at different stages of your campaign.

1. Clearly define your objectives and goals. 

Early on in the campaign planning process, clearly define what your campaign will raise money for and how much each of those campaign objectives will cost. Common objectives include raising funds to hire more staff, upgrading your CRM, and leadership training, to name a few. 

To determine the objectives that will benefit your organization the most, ask these questions: 

  • What’s holding us back? 
  • What do we need to overcome those roadblocks?
  • What will be the impact of successfully overcoming them? 

Root all of your prospect conversations and later marketing messages in the answers to these questions. This is especially important for capacity-building campaigns that aren’t built around a tangible new project. The impact of donations will need to be crystal clear and compelling to motivate as many donors to give as possible. 

2. Conduct a feasibility study to begin building relationships. 

During the early part of your campaign, before you finalize your plans or begin reaching out to prospects, you’ll need to conduct a feasibility study (just like in a traditional capital campaign). These studies make a difference—recent research shows that organizations that conduct a feasibility study raise, on average, 115% of their campaign goal! 

Here’s how a feasibility study works: You test your campaign’s plan and goals by fielding the advice and opinions of your organization’s stakeholders. Their opinions can then help you determine the overall feasibility of your plan and point you in the right direction if adjustments are needed. 

Nonprofits often bring in third-party consultants to interview stakeholders and report the findings. However, as explained in Capital Campaign Pro’s guide to feasibility studies, this approach isn’t always the best. 

We encourage nonprofit leaders to consider conducting their own feasibility study interviews. There are significant benefits to meeting with your most prominent supporters to build relationships before the start of your campaign. 

By conducting a guided feasibility study, in which an expert provides guidance but you handle the actual conversations with major donors and other stakeholders, you can get a headstart on refining your messaging and marketing plans. With their thoughts and some initial direction on how best to frame your appeals to your audience, you’ll get your capacity campaign off to a strong start. 


3. Understand the roles that marketing needs to play and when. 

Although your core messaging about objectives, goals, and impact will shape your discussions with prospects during the quiet phase, remember that these conversations should be highly personal and one-on-one. Before giving a major gift to any type of campaign, donors want to know that you value them as partners and not just blank checks.

However, broader marketing strategies will come into play toward the end of your capacity campaign during its kickoff and public phases. These strategies may take several forms, including: 

    • Kickoff events 
    • Email announcements, updates, and appeals
    • Social media campaigns to generate engagement
    • Peer-to-peer fundraising challenges to spread the word
    • Online ads that direct traffic to your campaign’s website
    • Printed, TV, or radio ads to generate awareness in the community
    • Special matching gift challenges from major donors or corporate partners 

As you plan these strategies (more on this below), don’t lose sight of their underlying purpose—connecting donors to your mission and clearly explaining the impact that their support will have. How many more constituents will you be able to serve? How many new programs will you be able to roll out? Reinforce the reasons why you need your supporters’ help. 

4. Have a concrete marketing plan in place before your public phase. 

It always pays to be prepared. Although broader marketing strategies won’t come into play until the later parts of your capacity-building campaign, developing your plan and relevant materials early on will ensure a smooth rollout when the time comes.

First, you’ll need a dedicated team equipped with the right tools. Form a marketing and communications committee during the planning process, and clearly define what their responsibilities will be at different points in the campaign. 

Review your current marketing toolkit and determine which parts of which platforms the marketing team will need to use. For instance, they may not need your CRM’s built-in wealth screening tools, but they will need to be able to create segmented mailing lists. Provide training and documentation as needed to prevent technical headaches down the line. 

Then, have your marketing team get a headstart preparing the different materials you’ll use to promote the campaign to a broader audience. Many campaigns rely on marketing collateral like: 

    • A dedicated campaign website to centralize the marketing process and accept donations
    • Campaign logos and brand style guides
    • Email templates for announcements and appeals
    • Pre-made materials for social media posts
    • Videos, blog posts, and press releases about the campaign
    • Brochures and other well-designed explainer documents

Preparing these materials in advance can make your public phase promotional efforts run more smoothly both internally and externally. 

However, one important point to remember is that even if you create brochures and case for support documents early, you shouldn’t rely on them during the quiet phase of your capacity campaign. Larger donors and partners need one-on-one conversations to effectively build relationships, not just a brochure (even if it looks great).

Are you ready to ramp up your nonprofit’s operations? A capacity-building campaign, backed by a dedicated base of support and polished promotional strategies, can help you grow your impact and do more for your community. 

Is your organization ready for a capacity-focused capital campaign? Take Capital Campaign Pro’s free campaign readiness assessment to find out!

About the Author

Andrea Kihlstedt is a Co-Founder of Capital Campaign Pro. She is the author of Capital Campaigns: Strategies that Work, now in its 4th edition, as well as How to Raise $1 Million (or More) in 10 Bite Sized Steps, in addition to other books. Andrea has been leading successful capital campaigns for more than 30 years. To learn how the Capital Campaign Pro can support you through a capital campaign, visit

Profile Photo of Andrea Kihlstedt