Warning signs that it’s NOT Capital Campaign time!

by Marcy Heim on March 22, 2023

Wowza. Who ISN’T talking about launching a capital campaign?

To be sure….celebrating a successful capital campaign and the TRANSFORMATIONAL impact it has on magnifying your mission is just the BEST PARTY IN TOWN! Everyone is happy and excited – filled with hope for what tomorrow will bring.

What's Next?

And most donors are already asking, “What’s next?” because both the tangible results and the pure joy of giving to these worthy goals is the best inspiration for donors being ALL-IN to tackle the next project!

Campaign success begets...
United Way 2023 Campaign Celebration

I’ve been blessed to be at many of these celebrations. But not all campaigns end this way. Too often I’m asked to jump in after failed campaigns. Or we get into the Campaign Readiness work only to find some big obstacles. In my over 15 years consulting on increasing major giving – and then often into capital campaigns, there are times when the Check Engine light comes on.  

You can download scores of Campaign Readiness Checklists and sure, I have one too. (Just hit reply and I’ll send it your way.) But some of these issues are more subtle and truly campaign crushers.

Three BIG Barriers to Campaign Success

1. Fear of raising THAT much money.

When leaders – Deans, ED’s, CEO’s, Principals, Presidents – call them whatever you wish – cannot get past their own limiting beliefs about money and wealth – they will never really believe that their organization can raise THAT MUCH MONEY – and it never will. While many leaders may begin in this space – participating in a few key conversations and getting some experience personally involved in a relationship with a major donor’s joy in giving can often open a whole new understanding.  But some mindsets cannot be turned.  Even after a board chair gift of $100,000, one leader still fired her development director and started a golf outing instead – a sure way to insure giving would stay within HER comfort level. Sad.

2. Just what are we raising the money for yet?  

You would think this is the one piece that is really in place.  I use the phrase, “Vibrant Options for Giving” and these need to be in place every day and crystal clear for your campaign. Yet I continually find that fundraising priorities are clear as mud.


Big donors STILL want BIG VISIONS. Clarity in how your fundraising priorities lead to both current and future growth and impact is VITAL to securing lead campaign gifts. This may well take an investment into a Facilities Strategic Planning consultant and/or a facilitated conversation to get ideas and buy in to set these priorities. GET YOUR DUCKS IN A ROW AND QUACKING TOGETHER!

I’m doing a webinar for AFP Global, https://afpglobal.org/events

Vibrant Options for Giving! Get Clear!, May 31, 2023,from 1:00-2:00 pm ET.

3. It takes money to make money – but not THAT much!

A rule of thumb is that your campaign budget should be based on about 10% of your campaign goal. For smaller campaigns it may need to stretch a bit higher than 10%. This budget is ADDED TO your campaign goal to be raised. And, you can see that if you don’t have your act together on the campaign funding priorities and what they cost – coming up with even a beginning goal can be tough.

Getting started can be expensive – you may be thinking of campaign counsel! Actually the bigger costs involve getting the internal staffing and systems in place. Do you have one development professional wearing six hats? Is your data base version no longer even supported? Campaigns are not “business as usual” because they involve volunteers and MUST BE a major percentage of your development professional’s focus. Staffing for “events” large and small campaign conversations is needed. Someone to track all of this – and this isn’t your major gifts officer! So staffing and systems is a big investment at the start of a campaign. BUT it is the KEY PIECE to having LASTING TRANSFORMATION.  You want your development office to be different at the other end – ready to steward all those new major donors and take action on the “What’s next?” spirit that’s been created.

Now there are “do-it-for-you” campaign consultants. And generally they have the team to do most of it for you. Sadly, while they may raise the goal, too many organizations implode following the campaign because the development shop and vision has not grown! They have just been the puppets of the campaign machine. And – donors tend to drop off because the work was transactional. Campaign over – transaction over – giving over.

GCA Campaign Celebration

Celebrating successful campaigns have been some of my most cherished memories. Visiting my clients post-campaign and seeing the lasting changes of a well-executed, relational, donor-focused effort is beyond rewarding. Remember that long-term successful campaigns raise more than money. Yes, they create new buildings and programs AND they build new and deeper partnerships, friendships, relationships, legacies and memories — that LAST!

Invest in JOY®

Leave a Comment

Anti-Spam Quiz:

Previous post:

Next post: