Tag Archives: Benefits of a Successful Capital Campaign Series

The Nonprofit Leaders Guide to a Capital Campaign Vol. 1 of 11

Capital Campaigns, whether seeking $13 million or $1.3 million, are once in a generation opportunities for nonprofits. This massive undertaking requires a strong vision, a clear plan, an understanding of the necessary infrastructure, and the leadership who can guide a nonprofit from inception to community-wide approval and from solicitation to shovel in the ground. That is the impetus for this series, The Nonprofit Leaders Guide to a Capital Campaign.Volunteers Helping Volunteers

While the economy post-2008 will always feel less than solid, more and more nonprofits are considering whether now is the time to right-size their building or make much-needed renovations. In part, they are looking around their communities and seeing the success of their fellow 501(c)(3) organizations. As David wrote in his recent series, the Benefits of a Successful Capital Campaign, nonprofits which undertake a capital campaign strengthen their leadership and community, improve annual fund donor acquisition and retention and establish planned giving opportunities, among other benefits.

While he highlighted the various aspects of a nonprofit that are elevated with the rising tide of a campaign, this series will help professional and volunteer leaders understand the necessary steps for a successful capital campaign. During this next year I will explore:

Volume 1: Defining the Dream

Volume 2: Determining Your Campaign Goal

Volume 3: How to Determine Capital Campaign Goals

Volume 4: Capital Campaign Staffing, Fundraising Consultants and Volunteers

Volume 5: The Capital Campaign Feasibility Study

Volume 6: Capital Campaign Feasibility Study Results

Volume 7: Marketing Materials 

Volume 8: Who Will Make the Asks

Volume 9: Who To Solicit First

Volume 10: Identifying the Second Round of Capital Campaign Prospects

Volume 11: Maintaining Capital Campaign Momentum

If you have any specific questions you would like addressed now or along the way, please feel free to email me at Abigail@merskyjaffe.com

Successful Capital Campaigns Help Create Community

Successful capital campaigns not only raise money…but also help create community

David A. Mersky imageFor generations, Jewish life was experienced through congregational affiliation and community center participation. In post-World War II America, membership in a church or synagogue was expected—an American value and obligation.

Now, membership is optional. And the reason? In part, because fewer and fewer people seek the relationships that community affiliation and membership provide.

A well-run capital campaign, when properly applied, creates a different dynamic among your constituents. If you have been following this series, you will remember that I explained how a capital campaign can help with annual fund donor acquisition and retention, marketing and communication, financial management, planned giving, major gifts management, long-range planning, volunteer leadership, and nonprofit leadership development. Here is the case that successful capital campaigns help create community. Your organization is not simply sending a bill, which says to the person you are just one of our organization’s accounts receivable. Instead, you are working to shift the culture in your organization and create a community of donors and funders who feel a real sense of ownership—a stake in the furtherance of your mission, vision and values. A community of donors who did not necessarily know each other before the parlor meetings or donor events.

Nonprofits have to treat each donation as a gift – not an expectation. A donation—regardless of the size or the means of transmittal—cannot be answered by a form letter. Rather, in addition to a highly personalized acknowledgement—one of at least seven different types of recognition—each contribution should tip a systematic process of stewardship and research to determine if the donor might, at one time, become a major donor. More work? Yes. Better results? Definitely.
Moreover, in the stewardship process there are many opportunities to engage with the donor and connect him or her with others so that you create a community of those stakeholders who care ever more deeply about the organization. Every time a board member calls someone they do not know to thank him or her for a gift, they are opening the door to a more in-depth conversation at the next program they both attend.

Treating your organization’s donors as valued funders, will increase your revenue while enhancing the sense of community for all. And, then, \rather than saying, “but for me, this would not have happened,” at that “kumbaya” moment, everyone will stand in a circle and say, “Look at what we have accomplished together.” Is there anything better than that?


This last article in the series of “Successful capital campaigns not only raise money but also help…”

To read the rest of the series, click here.

Successful Capital Campaigns Help Annual Fund Donor Acquisition and Retention

Successful capital campaigns not only raise money…but also help with the annual fund donor acquisition and retentionDavid Mersky sq

We have managed many capital campaigns in our 24 years of service. Almost invariably, we confront the question of how to avoid cannibalizing the annual fund in favor of the more attractive case for the capital campaign.

Several years ago, with a synagogue client, the blueprints for the renovation to improve and expand their historic building seemed to fulfill the organization’s every need and want. Everyone agreed that the restoration was an essential part of answering the demands of the current membership as well as the future, anticipated congregation.

But there were concerns. Valid concerns.

Was it possible to raise $6.5 million for a capital campaign without ‘robbing’ support from the High Holiday appeal? After all, the High Holiday appeal provided essential annual operating funds. Could their congregation really raise that much money? Could they establish the necessary confidence in both the plan and the leadership?

We listened to the leadership and their concerns. And determined that the best plan of action was for the “ask” to include a request—as appropriate—for multi-year commitment to the High Holiday campaign at the same time they were asking for a substantial contribution to the capital campaign. The annual fund pledge that would be sought would be at the same level (or, better, an incremental increase) as previous years’ donations, but pledged this year for each of the next five—the period during which capital campaign pledges would be fulfilled.

When the campaign leadership presented the case for this unique “double” ask to the select group of major donors, every individual or couple agreed to give to both the capital campaign and the annual fund. And they gave with a sense of confidence. Because of their trust in the leadership, they knew that they were providing meaningful support for all of their congregation’s needs.

In fact, the annual fund is much healthier than ever before. In the first year of the capital campaign, while soliciting the advance phase that focused on leadership gifts, the congregation expects to realize commitments for more than 70% of their annual goal. And, they had confidence that that number would be a solid base for the next four years—a foundation upon which they could build. The leadership was able to convey to each successive donor whom they solicited an assurance that the congregation will be able to have the annual operating support for the new and improved facilities.

What was the “secret sauce?” They reached out face-to-face to each and every donor to build momentum. And the confidence that was created and the excitement at the success has been retained long after the renovation and expansion of their building had been completed.

The leaders of this effort recognized how important it was—not only for the capital campaign but also the annual fund—to build and improve donor loyalty, commitment and value.

By their actions, they were able to convey to each donor their effectiveness in sustaining the mission as well as managing the resources of the congregation.

Donors had realistic expectations that were met with each interaction with the congregation.

Every donor was

  • acknowledged in a timely way,
  • received regular reports of results of the campaign and the value of their gift,
  • offered further opportunities for engagement with time and talent not just treasure,
  • and, only then, asked again for their next gift, if that were appropriate.

Each donor was treated as an individual whose involvement was truly valued.


These are not only the values of a successful capital campaign, but also how to strengthen the annual fund, both in terms of donor acquisition and retention.

NEXT MONTH: Creating Community

Successful Capital Campaigns Help With Marketing And Communications

David A. Mersky imageA student at a small college whom we counsel, sat with me in the office of the director of institutional advancement. I asked him what his story was. I wanted to know what brought him to this college. What did he aspire to do with his education.

Jose was the first Hispanic student ever to enroll in American College of the Building Arts. He came with a bachelor’s degree in outdoor education and half a dozen years of working with young people caught up in the judicial system as well as veterans returned from overseas deployments and other marginalized members of society. He wanted to learn how to apply the artisanship of timber framing and carpentry to the discipline of experiential education so that the people whose lives he touched would develop an enhanced sense of self-worth and become contributing members of society.

I was inspired by his story and the next evening I told it to 200 supporters of the College who had gathered to celebrate the public announcement of its first-ever capital campaign designed to build the new campus. The group was inspired by Jose’s story and electrified by the fact that in less than six months and with only 23 gifts, we had raised $6.2 million—47% of the goal. That night we identified 27 new prospective donors and began a disciplined plan of follow up and engagement. This was according to our marketing plan.

As in the case of the College, all capital campaigns rely—if they are to be successful—upon a clear message, effectively delivered to the right person or segment of the community, and with a clear call to action. In some cases the message is written, in the form of letter, emails, brochures or even video’s or slide presentations. In other cases, the message is delivered verbally—either face-to-face to an individual or couple, or even to a group of prospects or donors.

Successful capital campaigns help with marketing and communications by ensuring there is a focused effort. And, the lessons learned during the campaign can be applied year-round to all of the operations of the organization. Among the key aspects of marketing, common to the capital campaign as well as the day-to-day operation of any organization, are:

  • Identifying the target audience—whether an audience of one or a thousand and one.
  • Gathering information about the audience so that you know them and their needs and aspirations which enables you to focus your message.
  • Interesting the prospect or donor based upon your understanding of their concerns in what you are trying to accomplish—your organization’s vision.
  • Involving each and every prospect or donor in ways which are meaningful to them and, secondarily, supportive of your organization.

Donor stewardship is as much a component of marketing as the management and enhancement of the relationship. If we do this not only with our capital campaign or endowment fund donors, but also our annual fund supporters, then our results—increased donations and retention of donors from one year to the next—will be assured.

That is a guarantee upon which you can count when you apply the principles of sound marketing to the work of your organization.

NEXT MONTH: Annual Fund

LAST MONTH: Financial Management

Successful Capital Campaigns Help With Financial Management

Successful capital campaigns not only raise money… but also help with financial management

David A. Mersky imageDonors to capital campaigns are major investors in your organization. They deserve—as, in fact, do all donors—a high degree of accountability. They want to know, and you need to tell them, exactly how their funds are being used. Transparency is the key as well as effective financial management of those very resources which they have provided.

But, even before a donor has made a gift, they merit a clear understanding of the how their gift will be employed. A case for support translated into a campaign brochure and other collateral materials should contain as detailed a financial plan both as to the true costs as well as how the funds will be raised. If donors ask, they should be shown the budget for the project or program—one which allocates fully all of the direct and indirect costs associated with the realization of the dream you are asking them to fund.

Too often, nonprofits fail to attribute the true costs to the program for which they are seeking funds. If you are creating a program of teen engagement for which you are seeking an endowment, then do not forget to include the indirect cost of the share of the building—it’s operations and upkeep—as well as the staff who will supervise the youth advisors who deliver the program directly. Failure to include those costs will result in your not receiving the level of support that will enable the program to be sustained and the organization to be fully funded.

In a capital project, when you are renovating an existing facility or building a new structure, there are indirect expenses as well. Contingencies, short-term credit facilities as well as project management have real costs. Not to include these will mean that you will fall short of the goal to raise funds sufficient to deliver the building on time and on budget.

As the funds are being raised, then regular reporting to achieve the project is important. For capital projects, quarterly reports to donors about how the fundraising is going as well as how and when funds are being spent is appropriate. If the organization is investing its own funds until all pledges are fulfilled, then that too should be reported. It encourages donors when they learn about the organization’s commitment.

If it is an endowed program, then how funds will be invested may, in fact, be part of the solicitation process. After the funds have been received, what is the total return and how much is the organization availing itself of the funds for the purposes of delivering the services that were promised. Initially, a quarterly report may be desirable. Subsequently, an annual report may suffice. Again, if the organization begins to operate the program with its own funds until all pledges have been redeemed, this, too, should be reported.

Transparency and detailed financial management on both sides of—before and after—the solicitation are one of the highest forms of prospect cultivation and donor stewardship. This is true not only for capital and endowment campaigns, but is best practice for donor relations at all times.

NEXT MONTH: Marketing and Communications

LAST MONTH: Planned Giving

Successful Capital Campaigns Help With Planned Giving

David Mersky sqSuccessful capital campaigns not only raise money…but also help with planned giving

 The chair of the Board of a client organization recently paid me the supreme compliment. “Mersky simply will not take no for an answer when it comes to engaging and soliciting our donors. He will always find alternatives for me to consider.”

When the President of the American College of the Building Arts in Charleston, SC—reported this to me, I was beaming. Of course, what he was referring to was the ideal role of the solicitor—that of problem solver.

I had already conducted several solicitations with the chair of the Board and the College president. In one case, when a longtime supporter suggested that my request of a gift of $500,000 payable at $100,000 for each of the next five years, was “out of the question,” I began to probe to understand the source of the objection. It turned out that this extraordinarily generous and very wealthy octogenarian was beginning to contemplate large medical expenses and was afraid of outliving his resources. And, so, I began to explore alternative ways in which he could participate in the College’s capital and endowment campaign that would preserve is assets for family needs, but enable the College to recognize a substantial gift on its balance sheet that would be realized at some point in the future.

I outlined two different strategies—an irrevocable charitable remainder trust funded with a highly appreciated piece of real estate that was a non-income producing asset or a bequest to be realized upon the death of the second to die. In both cases, I suggested the creation of a wealth replacement trust to preserve the value of the assets for the donors’ heirs.

The outcome is not yet resolved—stay tuned. But, in either case the value of the gift to the College may now exceed $2,000,000. Successful capital campaigns help with planned giving and the more campaigns that we work on, them more we see the value of planned giving, which may account for 30% or more for a campaigns total achievement.

The power of planned giving—or what others call gift planning—is not only appropriate in the context of a capital campaign. In fact, planned giving should become one of the many arrows in your quiver with which to pierce the hearts of your prospective donors. Peoples’ eyes often glaze over when I begin to describe the details of these options. Then I have to explain that the tax benefits that apply to one prospect may not be available to another or the need for wealth replacement may only be required in some cases and not in others. Regardless, when seeking an ultimate gift—a donor’s largest single gift to your enterprise in his or her lifetime—these arcane vehicles may be of great value.

The key is that everyone is ultimately a philanthropist. The question is do your supporters want to be voluntary philanthropists in control of their own resources or do they want to be involuntary ones by having their children pay estate taxes in support of the government—federal and state. By developing a facility in planned giving you can help your donors as you achieve sustainability for your organization. That’s the real win-win.

NEXT MONTH: Financial Management

Successful Capital Campaigns Improve Major Gifts Management

David A. Mersky imageSuccessful capital campaigns not only raise money…but also help with major gifts management

Every Friday morning, I sit in the conference room of a client where we hold a weekly meeting of the Capital Campaign Cabinet. This hour-long meeting focuses on the major donor prospect pool for a $15 million campaign. In addition to staying up to date on progress of a complex capital project and multi-level communications and engagement program, we concentrate upon three things:

  • accomplishments of the prior week in terms of contacts and solicitations;
  • war stories that encourage cabinet members to problem solve with and learn from each other’s experiences as well as plan for new encounters; and
  • plans and promises that each committee member undertakes for the coming week.

The key word is accountability with the enterprise and with each other. Together we keep our eyes on the prize and support and strengthen one another. And we ensure that we are working to improve major gifts management beyond the campaign.

But, you don’t need to be running a capital campaign to apply this regular discipline to your development efforts. In fact, the same regular meeting of those involved in the Annual Fund program for your organization can be part of a major gifts moves management discipline.

The concept of “moves management” begins with the notion that a well-run nonprofit has a plan for every donor—at every giving level and every stage of their life cycle. The plan needs to have an appropriate treatment for every donor group, especially major donors. Here are some questions to consider:

  • When and how will they be contacted?
  • How much resource—time and money—can you spend on them?
  • What are the messages for each segment?
  • What offers can you make—such as recognition, premiums, etc.?
  • What do you do with donors who upgrade or downgrade?
  • How will you define and handle lapsed donors?
  • How to welcome and “on-board” new donors?

Your donor plan should be in writing, so when someone with institutional memory leaves, the knowledge stays intact, and no group is lost in the transition. And it must be followed religiously. It can’t be changed on a whim—only by new information that shows you a better way to treat a specific group.

And, when it comes to your pool of major gift prospects, then it is not so much about the group, but more about the individual. Here are some basics for applying the moves management discipline—normally reserved for capital campaigns—to your annual fundraising.

What is Moves Management?

Fundraisers manage a series of steps (moves) for each identified prospect which will “move” prospects from

  • Attention to
  • Interest to
  • Desire to
  • Action

Continually moving to the next gift.

Each “move” represents a discrete contact for the purpose of cultivation where solicitation does not occur. You should plan at least one move per month.

Planning Each Move

Review the key points to cover during the move—whether in an email, a phone call or a face-to-face meeting. List the benefits that will appeal to the prospect. Be clear about what action are you asking the prospect to take, i.e., what should be the next step in the process.

Moves management is about time management

There are four types of major gifts prospects

  1. Those ready to make a major gift
  2. Those needing some cultivation but who would consider a major gift in the near future
  3. Those needing extensive cultivation
  4. Those with capability, but little or no reason to give

Focus on those closest to the major gift decision—the 10% who will give 90% of your goal.

If you want to know more about Major Gifts Moves Management, you can click here to access and download a webinar that I did that will help you understand this vital process in far greater detail.

NEXT MONTH: Stewardship

LAST MONTH: Long-Range Planning

Successful Capital Campaigns Improve Long-Range Planning

David A. Mersky imageSuccessful capital campaigns not only raise money…but also help with long-range planning

Recently, I sat in the conference room at a client’s office. We are deep in the weeds of a capital campaign. The campaign has the keys to success:

  • An appealing case
  • Competent agency management
  • A reasonable objective
  • A friendly, well-informed constituency
  • Timeliness
  • Numerous points of contact
  • An adequate scale of giving

But, the success of this campaign’s success was assured before we wrote the case, before we established the objective, before we established the scale of giving.

All of the key elements were developed through a long-range, strategic planning process.

  • First, we gathered a large, diverse, philanthropically inclined leadership team who collectively articulated the agency’s mission and an aspirational vision.
  • Then we developed a situation analysis which assessed the agency’s internal strengths and weaknesses as well as analyzed the external opportunities and threats.

The strategic planning task force then defined areas of critical concern so that they could develop time based tactical plans to move the agency to achieve its vision.

As we facilitated the process, we helped these volunteer and professional leaders understand that strategic planning is a most unnatural discipline. We live, after all, in a world where “actions speak louder than words.” In fact, time spent planning is time spent not selling, not reducing costs, not putting out fires. Particularly in America, we have an obsessive focus on the short-term which sacrifices future innovation and growth and forces an emphasis on high priority, near term goals.

We helped the leadership of our client understand that a well-conceived strategic planning process with the right people at the table was a vital prerequisite to a successful capital campaign. Such a process improves good resource allocation decisions and produces a proactive, long-term growth orientation.

We helped them understand that there were obstacles to good planning such as a

  • failure to do your homework
  • failure to communicate importance of planning
  • failure to integrate short/long range plans
  • belief that a plan is static and inflexible
  • belief there is no time for planning/doing

The key questions that a good strategic plan are intended to answer include:

  • Where do we stand now?
  • What will the future be like?
  • Where should we be heading?
  • How can we get there?
  • Who is going to do it and by when?
  • How much will it cost? What is covered?
  • What are the results?
  • What changes need to be made?

And, the outcomes of the strategic planning process should include the development of a shared vision, the identification critical areas of concern, the production of a situation analysis and the articulation of quantifiable five year goals.

While all of the other outcomes of a successful capital campaign result from the effort, successful capital campaigns improve long-range planning which is a necessary precursor to the campaign. In fact, the campaign is an outcome of the planning process and sets up the organization for many years of effective achievement of extraordinary endeavor.

NEXT MONTH: Successful Capital Campaigns Improve Major Gifts Management

LAST MONTH: Successful Capital Campaigns Improve Volunteer Leadership

Successful Capital Campaigns Improve Volunteer Leadership

David A. Mersky imageSuccessful capital campaigns not only raise money but also help with talent management

A wonderful client of the firm’s had been having trouble identifying someone willing to assume the volunteer leadership role of the organization. The incumbent president, in fact, had to serve an additional year as they searched for a new leader from among their Board members and others in their community.

We were engaged with them in the management of a capital campaign and an annual fund enhancement program. We were working with a wonderful volunteer leadership team in their development committee. One person in particular, a hard-driving, entrepreneur, began to have increasing success in his work as the Annual Fund chair and a capital campaign donor and solicitor. As he became more and more involved, he talked himself into assuming the ultimate leadership role—something he told me he would have never considered were it not for his engagement in the fundraising program of the agency. This is often the case – capital campaigns improve volunteer leadership.

Here is a perfect example of how a successful development program can deepen leader’s commitments and get them to invest not only their financial resource, but also that even more precious, irreplaceable commodity—their time.

Campaigns also are wonderful training grounds for future leaders—both volunteer and professional.   And that is something that is becoming increasingly critical.

Virtually all nonprofits today confront a most serious issue, particularly in terms of staff management. There is little or no movement at the top. This leads to a challenge to retain talent. And, as in the case of volunteer leadership, as described above, there is a succession crisis. On the other hand, there is a significant professional leadership talent deficit, particularly in development and fundraising.

Young people today are faced with many, diverse alternative career choices. In the nonprofit world, regrettably, there is no clear career-tracking nor articulated plans for retention. Most nonprofits view professional development and continuing education as a luxury. There is ever greater complexity and uncertainty in the sector. There are no self-imposed continuing professional education (CPE) requirements as there are in virtually every other profession.

The time has come to educate our boards and leaders about the challenges and crisis in the recruitment and retention of talent—professional and volunteer—at board meetings.

A significant way to address these challenges is to use a capital campaign as an opportunity to identify, recruit, develop, promote and retain valuable staff and volunteer leadership for the agency. Of course, it is not why you have a campaign in the first place. You are seeking to realize a new vision for the organization that will be achievable because of the funds that you will raise. But, a capital campaign can have a serendipitous benefit as it enables an agency to address the challenges of talent management that it confronts.

By consciously recognizing the additional benefits of a capital campaign, the organization demonstrates that it values professional development and continuing professional and volunteer education. Agencies should tax themselves 1% to 2% of their annual operating budget for CPE. If those funds are used in the context of the campaign, then the chances that the campaign will succeed are vastly improved. Moreover, after the campaign has been concluded and the victory celebrated, the organization will be blessed with a team that can carry it forward for another generation.

NEXT MONTH: Long-range Planning

LAST MONTH: Nonprofit Leadership Development

Successful Capital Vampaigns Enhance Nonprofit Leadership Development

Successful capital campaigns not only raise money but also help…enhance nonprofit leadership development

David A. Mersky imageA friend—the executive director of a wonderful residential camp—called me to invite me for lunch recently. I am always happy to see her and welcomed the opportunity to reconnect.

We had barely sat done and even before I got to take a sip of water, let alone look at a menu, my luncheon host blurted out, “How can I get my board members to engage in the right things and stop micro-managing me and my staff?”

As I probed, asking gently for examples of what the board members, collectively and individually, were doing, it became clear that there were serious problems in the entire structure and culture of governance and leadership development of this wonderful agency. And, part of the problem, I deduced was that there was no formal development program for annual fundraising nor had there ever been a capital campaign in the history of this nearly one hundred year old organization.

I gently suggested that perhaps she might want to consider undertaking a campaign to address some of the capital and endowment needs of her agency. In addition to raising some funds that would enable the camp to create a master facilities plan and expand and renovate its physical plant, funds could also be raised to provide much needed financial aid to those who might otherwise not be able to avail themselves of the transformative summer experience that only overnight camping can provide.

She asked me, “How might that solve my problem with a Board that would rather count paper clips?”

I told her that a development program, in general, and a capital campaign, in particular, would enable her to focus everyone on a great project. To be successful, she could start with profiling her existing Board members to see where there were gaps in needed areas of expertise as well as experience in other successful nonprofits.

This process of creating a campaign would then allow her to identify prospective new leaders to fill gaps in representation by age, gender, demography, profession, involvement, etc. With her board focused upon the campaign, she could, through a facilitated process engage the board in articulating a set of mutual expectations—both individual and collective.

Finally, through the master planning process and the early phase of the fundraising in the “silent” phase, Board member would be connected with meaningful work in behalf of the camp that would entail ongoing accountability and evaluation and assessment of individual and collective performance.

Thus the campaign would become the vehicle for shifting the culture of governance as well as the nonprofit leadership development. It would further have the serendipitous benefit of raising funds to enable the camp to achieve its vision for the future ever more effectively.

NEXT MONTH: Talent Management

LAST MONTH: Successful Capital Campaigns Not Only Raise Money But Also Help…