Connecting the Moment to Fundraising
June 16, 2020
More than Zoom: Building Donor Relationships in Virtual Times
July 30, 2020

Adapting Your Capital Campaign to Current Conditions

As any Coloradan knows, when you recreate in the outdoors, conditions dictate everything.

On the slopes, the difference between a powder day and a windy, icy day is extreme. Likewise, a peaceful flowing river may become a series of Class III rapids in the span of a few days during June meltdown.

Campaign fundraising feels a bit like that right now. We can do all our planning, but the winds and currents and tides and, let’s face it, the very earth can shift right under us.

Nevertheless, campaign fundraising continues.

There are nonprofits putting one foot in front of the other to keep existing campaigns going. Pre-campaign feasibility studies are taking place. And, yes, many nonprofits are forging ahead with launching new campaigns.

How do I know? Because campaigns are a big part of my work and I have clients actively engaged in campaign work right this minute.

There were a couple of times we hit “pause” on campaign activity during the past three months. Certainly, in the early days of the lock-down we pulled back. And, of course, during the first weeks of shock after George Floyd’s death, when people (including development staff and donors) were too fragile to be doing much outreach.

We’re all still pretty fragile, but the people we serve can’t wait for us to feel “normal.” The work must go on.

Here are some ways to adapt your campaign to our rapidly changing conditions, because adapt you must!

Extend the timeline: Everything is taking longer because of the social, emotional, and financial upheavals of our day. Donors are distracted and busy, they may be uncertain about their financial futures, and energy is generally low. I typically advocate for campaigns that last no more than 18-24 months, but the ones I’m currently planning are mapping out at 24-36 months. If we’re able to accelerate, we will. But we’re not counting on it.

Create short-term, interim goals: Rather than focus on the big goal, set a smaller, achievable goal for the next 3-4 months. Rally your team around that goal and conduct a “mini” campaign. I’m seeing this really work as a motivating strategy for staff, volunteers and donors. It offers a feeling of success and helps manage anxiety about the future.

Adjust your message: With all the madness that’s happening in our world, I’d wager your clients are being significantly affected. This makes your campaign more important than ever. Conduct a thoughtful review of your campaign materials and adjust them to the times. Your donors will want to know how you’re adapting.

Anticipate needing more prospects: In a typical campaign, you need to identify two to three qualified prospects for every gift you’ll ultimately receive. In today’s environment, I recommend that you identify three to four prospects for every gift needed.

Modify the solicitation approach: Let’s face it, you’re going to have to meet with prospects virtually. If you delay your campaign until you can meet at your favorite bistro, you’ll never meet goal. (See my earlier post about adapting vs. coping!)

Be bold, but not crazy: Your campaign goal might need to be lower than it would have been under normal circumstances. But who knows? Now’s the time to assess (or re-assess) your potential. If you haven’t done a feasibility study, you should. If you’re mid-campaign, you can pause and re-evaluate your prospect pool. Don’t make assumptions and don’t back away from a big number just because it’s big.

Stick to best practices: Even though a lot has changed, the basic principles of campaign fundraising must prevail. Have a solid case for support, dedicated volunteers, qualified prospects, respect for the donor, and protect your annual fund!

It’s our job as fundraisers and nonprofit leaders to be visionary.

Our donors look to us for inspiration; to show them what’s possible when we pool our resources to make change. Campaigns are one of the most direct manifestations of our courage, our fortitude, and our professionalism. And, they are one of the best opportunities for donors to show their commitment. 

Regardless of the conditions, you can steer your capital campaign through whatever river you find yourself in. I know it!


  1. Thank you for this inspirational article!!

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