Capital Campaigns: Understanding the Basics

What is a Capital Campaign?

A capital campaign is a targeted fundraising effort that takes place over a defined period of time. As a nonprofit professional, you already know the importance of fundraising, and capital campaigns are one of the most impactful methods to help your mission.

In order to conduct an effective fundraising campaign for your nonprofit, you need ample planning and consideration. Typically, there are two overarching phases for capital campaigns: the quiet phase and the public phase.

During the quiet phase, 50%-70% of the funds are raised through major gifts strategies. And during the public phase, the remaining funds are raised by soliciting donations from a larger population of donors.

More often than not, capital campaigns are used by organizations, like hospitals and educational institutions, to raise money for concrete projects such as new construction and building renovations — hence the nickname, brick-and-mortar campaigns.

Use of capital campaigns

Construction or Expansion of Buildings

Acquisition of Land

Large-Scale Equipment/Supplies Purchases

Capital Campaign Fundraising Explained

How Are Capital Campaigns Unique?

The experts at the Capital Campaign Toolkit identify nine key principles of this type of fundraising:

  1. Capital campaigns have specific, concrete objectives.
  2. Gifts given to these campaigns are in addition to normal annual gifts.
  3. These campaigns rely on clear, compelling cases for support.
  4. Capital campaign goals are reached largely through securing major gifts.
  5. They require one-on-one relationship-building and solicitations.
  6. They closely involve top-level volunteers, not just your staff.
  7. Capital campaign gifts are often given in pledged installments.
  8. They follow a strategic solicitation order, starting with the largest gifts.
  9. They raise roughly 65% of their goals from major donors before going public.

Capital campaigns differ from other forms of fundraising in that they are massive projects that can span multiple years and cost thousands of dollars. As such, capital campaigns often require a targeted fundraising effort with specific phases.

Whereas other types of campaigns will have general goals and benchmarks to aim for, the goals of a capital campaign are more specific and clearly laid out as the campaign progresses through its phases. The end goal of a capital campaign is rarely an abstract change; it is almost always something concrete, like a building or equipment.

Additionally, the distinct phases of capital campaigns set them apart from other forms of fundraising in that they offer an obvious delineation between private fundraising and public appeals.

Why Launch a Capital Campaign?

Capital campaigns are most useful when you know you have a set time frame to accomplish a major fundraising feat.

A nonprofit, university, or hospital might choose to launch a capital campaign over hosting any other sort of fundraiser for a number of reasons.

However, the decision ultimately boils down to need.

Capital campaigns are often the only way that an organization can fund a vital expansion, such as a new building or other large-scale construction project, that would further its project. 

What Types of Nonprofits Use Capital Campaigns?

Although any nonprofit looking to raise funds can benefit from a capital campaign, they are usually run by larger organizations who have equally large needs and projects on their dockets.

There are two main categories of organization that most regularly rely on capital campaigns:

Healthcare institutions: hospitals, hospices, etc.

Educational institutions: universities, private schools, independent schools, etc.

Both organization types tend to require help with substantial, concrete projects more often than other categories of nonprofit.

What Makes Capital Campaigns Successful?

The most effective capital campaigns combine the power of traditional fundraising methods with the incentive of an immediate and tangible need.

Just as having a solid foundation for a building is important for the overall integrity of the architecture, capital campaigns depend on several key components, like a gift range chart, to be highly effective.

For this reason, it’s important for your team to thoroughly plan out your capital campaign’s strategy prior to launching your campaign.

Don’t forget to remind your donors and potential supporters about matching gift opportunities. Many donors feel more inclined to lend their support to a capital campaign when they know their donation will be matched by their employer, enabling your organization to accomplish so much more.

To get started, consider some of the following components of successful capital campaigns as you begin plotting out your strategy.

The components of a successful capital campaign include, but are not limited to:

Strict deadlines with a set end date.

A focused team.

A clear goal.

A targeted plan.

A quiet phase for major gifts.

A public phase for all gift types.

Planning a Capital Campaign

Understanding a Capital Campaign Timeline

  • 1. Planning

    Within the planning phase, you must complete a feasibility study, assemble your team, set your goals, deadlines, and budget, and conduct prospect research.

  • 2. Quiet Phase

    Here, you’ll focus on the top major gift leads. This phase can take upwards of a year. 50-70% of your funds will be raised during this phase, so it’s absolutely crucial.

  • 3. Kick-Off

    The kick-off phase marks the launch of your campaign. After months quietly courting major donors, it’s time to host a press conference and throw a launch party.

  • 4. Public Phase

    Finally, you’ll extend your reach out to the community and smaller donors. The public phase can also encompass follow-through: the wrap-up to your efforts.


In-House Team Members

Board Members

What is their role? Board members will be involved in the day-to-day planning and execution of your capital campaign, but they’ll also be at the forefront of big picture discussions.

Why are they important? Board members are crucial on two levels. Any time you’re expending money and/or resources, you’ll need board approval. You also want them there to help secure major gifts, especially during the quiet phase.


What is their role? Capital campaigns often enlist the help of major gifts officers, prospect researchers, volunteer coordinators, event planners, and marketing coordinators among others to bring their unique expertise to the table.

Why are they important? By strategically picking key players that you know will be committed to seeing this project through, you position your capital campaign for prosperity.


What is their role? When you really think about it, almost everyone on your capital campaign team is a volunteer of some sort. It’s important to pick just the right players to round out your league.

Why are they important? No fundraising endeavor would be complete without the input and manpower that volunteers selflessly provide.

Committee-Related Team Members

Campaign Chair

What is their role? Your campaign chair is going to be one of the most crucial team members. The chair will be in charge of overseeing your committee(s) and act as an ambassador for your capital campaign within the community.

Why are they important? They can set the stage by contributing an early major gift, and they can also most effectively promote and advocate for your campaign.

Planning Committee

What is their role? Your capital campaign planning committee should be formed to help plan the campaign and will consist of between 10 and 15 members.

Why are they important? Including top-level development staff, some board members, and volunteers who are prominent community members, the planning committee will get things rolling in the right direction.

Steering Committee

What is their role? It is the committee most directly involved with the ongoing maintenance of the capital campaign. As such, it’ll share some members with the planning committee but will feature new additions as well.

Why are they important? The steering committee is in charge of making sure everything runs as it is supposed to throughout the campaign.

Hiring a Capital Campaign Consultant

If you’re looking to plan and execute a capital campaign, it’s worth considering asking for help from the experts: capital campaign consultants.


What Kind of Help is Needed?

When you’re working through what your campaign will involve, make note of any areas where you think you’ll need help.

Then, prioritize those needs and look for consultants who will meet them. Maybe you’re worried about the major gifts you’ll need to acquire during the quiet phase. Maybe you’re in desperate need of some guidance for your feasibility study.

Nonprofits traditionally hire consultants to help with one or many parts of their capital campaigns since they represent such large and important investments of time and resources. This may mean taking a hands-off approach and letting your consultant manage things directly. But many organizations are today finding that a hands-on approach yields more long-term value. The Capital Campaign Toolkit explains how a guided campaign approach in which you receive resources and coaching while actually conducting the campaign yourself can bring significant benefits. Not only is this approach often less expensive, but it also gives your team firsthand experience and valuable lessons to carry forward post-campaign.

Bottom line: Before you can hire a consultant, you need to know what you’re looking to gain and what services will help you get there. Consider alternative, guided approaches that offer training, resources, and community if a more hands-on campaign sounds like a better fit for your organization.

What Kind of Access Do You Have?

As with any outside consultants, you should address practical concerns before deciding on a firm to move forward with.

For some organizations, you’ll want your consultant full-time, in office. For others, remote work with intermittent meetings is the best plan.

Bottom line: Finding a consultant who is able to offer you the level of access you need is critically important to a productive working relationship. To avoid problems down the road, make sure your expectations regarding access are clear from the get-go.

Do They Have Samples of Their Work?

Before you make any hiring decisions, you need a good sense for what a consultant’s past work product has been and the quality you can expect for your campaign.

Work samples will also give you an idea of the options you have and what you can request help with.

Bottom line: Before committing to any consultant, it’s highly advised that you get a feel for their track record and an accurate understanding of what you can expect to see during your own campaign.