A colleague of mine recently showed me a Sequoia tree he has growing in his yard. These giant redwoods are native to the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, but can be notoriously fickle to grow in other places. Fast growing and therefore voracious feeders, these trees require soil conditions to be just right – loose, fertile, with lots of moisture but also good drainage. My colleague brought his home as a tiny sapling from a trip to California several years ago. Impressively it’s still alive some years after he planted it, but scraggly and still no taller than our knees.

Anyone can plant a redwood tree sapling in a backyard, but in order for that tree to grow and thrive, you must take three things into consideration: sunlight, soil, and water. In the same manner, any nonprofit organization can launch a capital campaign.

But if your campaign is going to succeed, you need to give consideration to three critical ingredients: Case, Capacity, and Leadership. It doesn’t matter if you “plant” your campaign at an Ivy League University or a small town homeless shelter, it won’t grow without the “Big Three.” Let’s explore the Big Three and why they are so critical.

3 Ingredients to a Successful Capital Campaign

Case – Why You’re Doing It

Every campaign starts with an idea, a way to make the world a better place. The trouble with ideas is they tend to multiply, especially when you share them with others. Soon there is smorgasbord of capital ideas and projects, which combined can all be achieved for the “low, low price” of $10 million.

For a case to work—for it to be compelling to donors—it needs to be anchored to one big idea. The case is not about bricks, technology, or even programs. The case is about giving hope to young mothers, helping more students reach their God-given potential, or protecting a community treasure for generations to come.

Cases that motivate donors to give exceptionally generous gifts pass the ABC Test. First, they are Affective, meaning they feed the emotions. Giving money away is not logical, thus it needs to touch the heart and soul of the donor. Second, a good case offers a Behavioral cues that invite the donor to help. Most often this invitation is to make a gift of a specific amount, but it could also be to provide help in some other way. Third, the case must also include Cognitive elements that express the logic behind the project. Cole Costanzo, Senior Vice President at Dickerson, Bakker & Associates frequently reminds clients to “never UNDER-estimate the intelligence of your donors, yet never OVER-estimate their knowledge or understanding of the need.” Thus the case must feed both the mind and the soul.

Capacity – Where It All Comes From

It should go without saying that campaigns require donors. However, not all donors are created alike and neither are all campaign gifts. Successful campaigns depend on a few very large gifts in the beginning and many, many small gifts toward the end. In fact, it is common to see the top 10-15 donors cover over 50% of the campaign goal. To be brutally honest, if you don’t have those top 10-15 donors, you don’t have a campaign and you will not reach your goal. Once those top gifts are secured, donors of more modest giving capacity are more motivated to follow with gifts of their own.

Leadership – The Way It Gets Done

Of the Big Three, leadership is by far the most important. In every community, there are people who—when they beat the drum—others come marching. These leaders can open on doors that other can’t even knock on. These leaders dream big and know how to get things done. Great community leaders can make up for limitations in case and capacity out of sheer persistence, dedication, and ingenuity.

The best campaigns aim high as they can and recruit a dream team to get the job done. These campaigns are complemented by the dedication and support of the senior leadership and board members. Whether volunteer, staff, or board member, all must be willing to commit time and energy to moving the campaign forward. Excuses are not the way to maximum impact.

Just like in Clue, knowing what the Big Three are in concept is easy, knowing the specifics to your campaign is more challenging. That is where a Feasibility Study comes in. Your Feasibility Study is a process that engages a consultant to investigate how the case resonates in your community, what the capacity of your community to support this project is, and who are the best people in the community to provide the campaign leadership. The consultant then recommends a comprehensive strategy for how to combine the Big Three to create a pathway to success.

Execution – The Only Way Home

Strategies and knowledge are worthless without execution. What good is flour, water, and salt, if you don’t actually combine them to make bread? Campaigns are complex endeavors that need to be completed in an orderly and timely fashion. Few nonprofit leaders have the deep experience in capital campaigns they require. Instead, most nonprofit leaders lean on the experience and expertise of capital campaign consultants who know how to get the campaign done. An experienced consultant brings structure and credibility to the campaign process. The consultant can help motivate the campaign team, answer questions, and offer counsel on the many nuances of campaigns. A good consultant also brings accountability to the table: helping ensure that volunteers and staff get their assigned tasks done and following up when delays develop.

For most nonprofit organizations, a capital campaign is the biggest fundraising initiative they may ever endeavor to do. Misjudging the Big Three or being sloppy in campaign execution can be costly and painful. You only get one chance to do it right. Understanding your Big Three and then executing a sound campaign strategy can make the difference between heartache and success.

Is your organization ready to take the next step towards reaching it’s goals? Contact us today to learn how we can help you fulfill your vision.