The Who, What, and Why of Capital Campaigns

Fundraising January 14, 2016

Terry Ibele

By Terry Ibele

This is a guest post by Bill Tedesco. 

Whether you’re a university fundraising for a new library or a nonprofit with a big, mission-fulfilling task on the horizon, you should consider a capital campaign.

Capital campaigns are designed to raise a lot of money over a fixed period of time. They incentivize donors to jump into action and help you reach your goals. 

Sounds great, right? It is! Nonprofits looking to stand out from the crowd can make a splash with a well-executed and successful capital campaign.

Now that you’re intrigued, let’s get into the specifics of what makes a capital campaign a success. 

Once you’re set with the who, what, and why of capital campaigns, use that information to capitalize on the opportunity at your organization. 

For a comprehensive explanation of related topics, head on over to DonorSearch’s Breakthrough Guide to Capital Campaigns.


In short, the who of capital campaigns is any fundraising organization. Of course, there are certainly groups that are far more likely to raise funds via capital campaigns than others. 

The most common reason to organize a capital campaign is to collect funds for a major and costly endeavor over a fixed period of time. Think buildings and massive projects. 

That being said, the most typical organizations that run capital campaigns are:

Each of these four organizations has the potential to have a large scale need that can best be served by a capital campaign. 


Now that we’ve established the who, it’s time to jump into the what, which is arguably the most important of these three questions.

First, let’s open with the general. 

A capital campaign pools together the results of outreach and fundraising strategies for the purpose of gathering funds for a very specific need. 

The need? It’s often a sizeable one but not exclusively so. 

Popular uses of capital campaigns can include:

  • New construction of a building 
  • Remodeling of and renovations made to an existing structure
  • Buying land
  • Additions to an endowment
  • Acquiring necessary equipment

Sometimes, these campaigns will even roll into one effort. For example, a capital campaign might be raising money to purchase land and build a new structure on that land. 

A major benefit of organizing a capital campaign is that you have something concrete that you’re working towards. Specificity can prove pivotal when it comes time to ask people to contribute. 

Asking for donations isn’t known for its ease, but it can really help to be able to say exactly what someone’s funds are covering. It makes the process transparent and, therefore, more readily trusted. 

In addition to specificity, most capital campaigns share the following traits:

  • A clear-cut, fundraising goal
  • A timeline and end date for meeting that goal
  • A team to run the campaign (board members, staff, volunteers, etc.)
  • An attention to major gift fundraising efforts

As you can ascertain, capital campaigns are legitimate and worthwhile investments of time and resources. You wouldn’t just jump into planning a fundraising event without putting careful thought into it, and the same rule applies to capital campaigns. 


Capital campaigns provide the perfect opportunity to incentivize donors from consideration to action. If your organization has a major need, you should really consider a capital campaign. 

Think of the time restraints and strict goals as the sparks you need to ignite the drive and engagement of your support network. In particular, the major gift prospects among your support network are some of the best matches for this new spark.

When you have the added stimulus of a capital campaign, you can leverage that momentum to maximize major giving. Both your capital campaign and your major gift program benefit.

Once you’ve made the decision that a capital campaign is a solid fit for your current fundraising needs, your success will lie with your ability to both adhere to capital campaign standards and utilize other fundraising practices as a supplement.

Plan events, screen your prospects, track your donor data, study your performance indicators, acknowledge your supporters properly, and so on. 

Your organization might be new to capital campaigns, but a solid understanding of fundraising campaigns in general will be a big help.

Additional Resources: 

Bill-TedescoBill Tedesco is a well-known entrepreneur in the field of philanthropy with over 15 years of experience leading companies serving the fundraising profession. 

Bill has personally conducted original research to identify markers of philanthropy and has developed modeling and analytical products that use those markers to accurately predict future giving.

Since 2007, Bill has been the founder, CEO and Managing Partner of DonorSearch.

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Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.


  • sustainable fundraising:
    Couldn't agree with you more. A solid understanding of <a href="">sustainable fundraising</a> campaigns in general will be a big help. Thank you for sharing this excellent post.
  • Terry Ibele

    Terry Ibele:
    Glad you enjoyed it :)


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