The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have been unexpected and extreme, but they’ve certainly taught the nonprofit sector (both organizations and individuals alike) the power of resiliency. When faced with extremely unusual and taxing circumstances, nonprofits that react and adapt quickly have had a major leg-up in the past year.
Even if your new strategies haven’t been perfect, making the effort to proactively adapt in new ways shows everyone — donors, funders, partners, and your own staff—that your nonprofit is serious about achieving its mission and can’t be slowed down for long.
Hopefully, your nonprofit has been able to take away powerful lessons from your wins and losses in 2020. Now, however, is the time to look ahead. How can you translate your resiliency and pandemic-era lessons into real, on-the-ground growth and increased impact in your community?
For many organizations, the answer may be to plan and conduct a capacity-building campaign. These campaigns are similar to traditional capital campaigns but are broader in scope rather than focused only on expansion projects or other capital investments.
We’ll dive into exactly what these campaigns are below and focus on a key question that many nonprofits have when first considering capacity campaigns: Without a building project that needs funding, how do you effectively motivate donors to give? We’ve got a few tips, but first, let’s start with the essentials:
What is a capacity-building campaign?
Capacity-building campaigns adapt the traditional capital campaign model for a variety of 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 pursue your 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 upgrades
- Hiring and training staff
- Organizational assessments and planning
- Launching new programs
- 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 in increased annual fundraising.
Here’s an example: If your nonprofit has seen a surge in need for your community services but you don’t need a new building in order to better meet that increased need, you might be able to accommodate that need by making your organization more efficient. You might do that by improving systems, training staff, and perhaps adding equipment, which could be very smart long-term investments.
Rather than trying to fit each of these pieces into your annual budget in a piecemeal way, you should take the challenge of meeting increased need as an opportunity to bundle your goals together into a capacity campaign that lets you tackle them more strategically. This will save time and resources in the long-run. Plus, expanded capacity will help your organization become even more resilient for new challenges down the line.
For a more thorough breakdown of these campaigns and when nonprofits commonly use them, explore the Capital Campaign Toolkit guide to capacity campaigns. The main idea, though, is that nonprofits don’t need to wait ten years or more for their next capital campaign in order to drastically boost capacity. That’s because flexible, smaller-scale capacity campaigns are an excellent option.
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 towards the end of your campaign in its 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 tips to keep in mind at different stages of your campaign:
1. Clearly define your objectives and goals.
This tip should be handled early on in the planning process because it will shape your overall strategy and the messages you use to connect with donors during all stages of the campaign.
Clearly define what your campaign will raise money for and how much each of those campaign objectives will cost. These might include raising funds to hire more staff, upgrading your CRM, and launching a new community program, to name just a few.
You should answer these questions:
- What’s holding us back?
- What do we need in order to overcome those roadblocks?
- What will be the impact of successfully overcoming them?
You’ll need to root all of your prospect conversations and later marketing messages in the answers to these questions. This exercise isn’t so different from how you should begin any type of fundraising campaign, but it should definitely be a part of your new normal if you don’t currently devote extra time and thought to hammering out your objectives and goals.
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 in order to motivate as many donors to give as possible. What will be the impact of your increased capacity? Serving more constituents and operating more efficiently are good answers, but just remember to fully connect them back to your overarching mission.
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 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 will often bring in third-party consultants to handle the study from start to finish and then report their findings. However, as we explain in the Capital Campaign Toolkit guide to feasibility studies, this approach isn’t always the best:
We encourage nonprofit leaders to consider conducting their own feasibility studies. Why? It’s because there are significant benefits to meeting with your most prominent supporters to build relationships prior to 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 head-start 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.
Remember that active listening leads to resilience. Getting stakeholders’ opinions in a more personal way shows that you value their input and increases the odds of retaining their support for your current campaign and in the future.
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, many donors want to know that you value them as a partner and not just as a “deep pocket.”
However, broader marketing strategies will come into play towards the end of your capacity campaign during its kickoff and public phases. These strategies may take a number of forms, including:
- Virtual (or in-person, if feasible) 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 towards 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? If your capacity campaign isn’t built around a physical project, take extra care to illustrate the impact of your success as concretely as possible.
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 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 likely won’t need to use your CRM’s wealth screening software, but they will need to be able to create segmented mailing lists. Provide advance training and documentation as needed to prevent technical headaches down the line.
Then, have your marketing team get a head-start 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. One important point to remember, however—even if you create brochures and case for support documents early, don’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).
Don’t feel like you have to wait until the next opportunity for a capital campaign to significantly ramp up your operations; with a dedicated base of support and polished promotional strategies, you can grow your impact whenever the time is right.
Capital Campaign Readiness Assessment
Is your organization ready for a capital campaign? This simple assessment tool will help you find out. You’ll assess six key areas of your organization. Take this free assessment now and find out if you’re truly ready for a campaign.
Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, and Andrea Kihlstedt are co-founders of the Capital Campaign Toolkit, a virtual support system for nonprofit leaders to run successful campaigns. The Toolkit provides all the tools, templates, and guidance you need — without breaking the bank.