Building Institutional Capacity through a Capital Campaign


Capital campaigns are major undertakings for any non-profit organization, requiring the full support of boards, stakeholders and staff. Beyond the obvious financial benefits of a campaign, the by-products of a well-run campaign can build institutional capacity that will serve the organization for many years.

A campaign provides an ideal opportunity to invest in the long-term fundraising capacity of your organization. One of the greatest advantages of running a capital campaign is the imperative to invest in planning and infrastructure. These are two areas that are often pushed to the bottom of the day-to-day priority list; however, they are critical to the success of a major fundraising effort and a strong annual support program. In addition, it behooves the organization to examine best practices, development polices, and procedures.

It is known historically that annual fund development grows during a capital campaign. It is the opinion of many industry professionals that the fear of eroding annual support with capital campaigns may be a pernicious myth. I think that is always a fear, but if you go about it in the right way, capital campaigns can actually strengthen and expand your annual giving programs.

This edition of the Martin Letter identifies some fundamental areas that a capital campaign-focused nonprofit organization can leverage to develop a healthy fundraising culture and capacity for the future.


Peripheral benefits of a Capital Campaign include:

  1. Capital campaigns demonstrate, in a very public way, your institution relevance – to corporations, foundations, donors, decision makers, and the community at-large.
  1. High-level support from one benefactor often inspires similar support from others – it takes someone to lead.
  1. Helps foster team spirit. Fundraising is a team effort and the relationship between the board, the senior development officer, volunteers, and the CEO/Executive Director is fundamentally important.
  1. The CEO better understands his/her role in the fundraising effort and uses every opportunity to communicate the importance of philanthropy to internal and external constituencies while building a culture of philanthropy.
  1. The culture of philanthropy becomes embedded into the institution’s DNA. An attitude. An understanding. A behavior. After the culture of philanthropy is firmly established, fund development is more effective.
  1. Heightened awareness and enthusiasm increases planned giving opportunities, and volunteer engagement. Capital gifts are often “gateway gifts” to future planned giving or legacy programs.
  1. Application of prospect management systems like: e-Tapestry or Bloomarang provide an organization with the systems and discipline to more effectively track donors and prospects. It gives staff the information, tools, and reports to manage both annual and campaign donor needs.
  1. Provide more effective prospect research procedures and disciplines including wealth screening and predictive modeling through systems like Donor Search and Wealth Engine.
  1. New best practice models to increase major gift prospect management through effective “moves management” (donor cultivation and development).
  1. Heightened awareness of the organization and increased level of quality time spent with major stakeholders and community leaders.
  1. Coaching, mentoring and training throughout the campaign (by volunteers and campaign counsel) facilitate substantial staff and volunteer development.
  1. An institutional strategy that is uniquely differentiating and well-suited to your core strategies and values, resources, and culture.
  1. A compelling rationale for private gift support tied directly to the strategic, mission-critical objectives of the institution
  1. An “inventory” of gift opportunities that raise the sights of individual donors, and ensure the ability of each donor to have a significant impact upon the institution and programs. Philanthropists relate easier to “big projects” – new children’s hospital, a new library, or a new housing campus.
  1. Sustained resource investment in advancement programs and infrastructure, in strategic communication, in engagement initiatives, and in the professionals who drive them.


What is imperative is continuing to emphasize the importance of gifts to the institution. In a capital campaign environment the organization should be able to speak to the significance of how annual funding impacts the organization day-to-day, year-to-year. Your annual fund is your organization’s base support: anything given in a “once in a life time” capital campaign is over and above the day-by-day needs of operations and maintenance. Therefore, even in a capital campaign, the organization should always focus on maintaining a base, and verbalizing a focus. Donors need to be reminded that a gift to a capital campaign is “over and above” their annual gift as the organization continues to provide services

Think outside the scope of the campaign, and you will easily see how to leverage your efforts to build permanent resource development capacity.

About the Author
John Martin has more than 30 years experience in the not-for profit field, on both the organizational and consulting sides. Through his consulting work with clients seeking counsel for major capital and endowment campaigns, Mr. Martin has earned a reputation as one of North America's top strategists for the not-for-profit sector. His brash mix of social concern and aggressive business smarts has helped raised hundreds of millions of dollars for colleges, hospitals, human service organizations and arts and cultural groups throughout North America. John Martin was chosen the 2007 Professional Fund Raiser. He can be reached via email: