Six Steps to Get Your School Ready for a Capital Campaign


The following blog was contributed by Petrus Development.

A capital campaign is a targeted fundraising project meant to raise significant dollars in a relatively short period of time.

Campaigns can be used to fund needed projects such as building repairs or the expansion of a campus to meet the needs of a growing organization.

Campaigns can also be used strategically as rallying points that get supporters excited about your school’s mission, heighten its image in the local community, and allow it to level up its impact.

Capital campaigns are a major undertaking and should not be entered into without some consideration.

At Petrus Development we have helped a number of Catholic organizations prepare for and execute campaigns, both big and small. We have found that six things need to happen before any organization is ready for a campaign.

In this article we will lay out the first three steps for an organization to get ready to carry out a capital campaign based on our experience. These include:

  • Ensure dedicated leadership
  • Build strong development program, and
  • Maintain a robust, well-kept fundraising database

In a future article, we will talk about three further steps to take before a campaign can be initiated.

1. Ensure Dedicated Leadership

For an organization to successfully carry out a capital campaign it must have leadership that fully supports the effort. The leader(s) must be dedicated to the organization and committed to the mission. They must have a vision for leading the organization to a higher level, and a willingness to move beyond their own comfort zone.

The campaign will require leadership to commit significant time to the cultivation and solicitation of donors on top of their regular duties, and they should be aware of that fact and agree to it ahead of time.

2. Strong Development Program

Campaigns are most successful when they can capitalize on years of consistent communication and relationship building by the development team.

Does your organization communicate effectively and often with donors and prospects? Has your annual fund been growing each year? If so, these are great signs.

Having the right development staff in place is also a big factor. In an ideal situation there will be a full-time development director on staff who has been with the organization for at least 12 months before beginning a campaign. The development director should already have a practice of making at least 15 face-to-face visits with donors and prospects each month.

The knowledge and experience that comes from having this development program in place will make it possible for your organization to start identifying prospective donors who may have ability to make significant lead gifts to a campaign.

3. Fundraising Database

The linchpin that holds all development offices together is a good fundraising-specific database. Database software can be expensive, but it should be viewed as an investment rather than an expense. No collection of spreadsheets is as powerful or as secure as a good database.

When executing a capital campaign, the fundraising database is indispensable.

Organizations that are ready for a campaign have all of their donors and prospective donors in a database, with good contact information for most or all of those people. That contact information includes correct names and titles, home addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers.

There should be somebody on staff responsible for the ongoing upkeep of this information.

4. Strategic Plan

For a school to carry out a capital campaign successfully, it must start with a good picture of where it is now and where it is going.

Key stakeholders should spend time refining the organization’s mission, vision and values. They should also discuss its strengths and weaknesses, and the opportunities and threats facing the organization.

As each of these elements becomes clearer, leadership will be able to discern and set goals for measures of success as they relate to the organization’s vision.

All of this can be discussed in a visioning session, which is often overseen by a neutral third-party moderator who can help the group come to the most thorough conclusions through use of proven processes and exercises.

A strategic plan will clarify the top issues that are being faced by the organization, which will naturally lead to the potential focal points of a capital campaign.

5. Case for Support

Having clarified the top issues facing the organization it is possible to start laying out potential solutions and their costs. The list of solutions will eventually inform the components included in a capital campaign.

Common campaign components include projects such as:

  • Renovation of physical plant
  • Expansion of physical plant
  • Expansion of staff
  • Endowment building

A campaign case for support, which lays out the campaign and why it should be supported, may include just one of these projects, or multiple.

As your school moves toward a campaign it must determine which projects are the highest priority, and what their cost will be.

For example, a school may assess that to meet future needs it is necessary to renovate existing classroom space, build a new gymnasium, add a soccer field, and start an endowment to support future building upkeep. The total cost of these four projects will be $10 million.

With the list of potential projects set the school will create a preliminary campaign case for support and test it with a select audience from among their supporters with what is known as a feasibility study.

6. Feasibility Study

A feasibility study is essential to successful campaigns. In this process a neutral third party, such as a consulting firm, brings the preliminary campaign case for support to key stakeholders, donors, and prospects to help determine how much the organization is actually capable of raising in a campaign.

The interviews are done confidentially, and they gather the interviewee’s insights on which projects from the case for support are popular, and which are not. The interviews also gauge the potential level of support from top prospects and can help identify reasons why there might be difficulties completing the campaign.

When interviews are complete the results will be compiled into a final report. The report will give a sense of the total dollar amount that is feasible for the organization to raise, and which projects from the preliminary case for support are likely to motivate donors. This will inform the final makeup of the campaign case for support.

In our example from above with the school that hoped to raise $10 million, it could happen that a feasibility study found an upper limit of $7 million to be a reasonable campaign goal. In this case, the school would have to decide which projects to drop or scale back from among their preliminary case for support.

Beginning the Campaign

With a feasibility study behind you and a campaign case for support clarified, it is time to move forward with carrying out the process of a capital campaign.

Campaigns are large projects with many moving pieces. Executing one well involves creating individual donor strategies, overseeing the production of campaign collateral pieces like letterhead, pledge forms, and pledge reminders, and coordinating a communications campaign to engage your full audience.

It is advisable for all nonprofits to engage campaign counsel from an experienced fundraising consultant to keep your organization oriented and focused on each piece of the process.

With careful planning and hard work your school can use a capital campaign to take its impact to the next level.

Are you new to fundraising? Many of the terms here may be new to you. Check out a glossary of common fundraising terms here: https://www.petrusdevelopment.com/blog/words-words-words-glossary-of-fundraising-terms.

Petrus Development (petrusdevelopment.com) is a teach-to-fish fundraising consulting firm with over 140 years of combined fundraising experience on staff. Petrus works with ministries to help them grow regardless of where they are today. Whether that’s launching a development program from scratch, building a major gift program, moderating a visioning session, conducting a feasibility study, or serving as capital campaign counsel, we can help.



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