Let’s Get Real About Capital Campaigns


Congratulations, the Board just approved your capital campaign! You’ve got the green light to change the world. I know you are excited, and if this is your first campaign, you’re more than a little overwhelmed.

Campaigns are filled with potential, bringing with them dreams, renderings, opportunities and lots of other squishy things. In the midst of it all, your challenge will be to keep your feet on the ground, moving towards measurable goals, while inspiring people to give. The five truths below have emerged for us after years of working on campaign branding and communication and hold true for organizations–and dollar goals–of all sizes. It’s time to cut through the feasibility study and get real about capital campaigns.

  1. People give to your cause, not your needs. No matter how much they love you and your work, donors don’t want to pay for your new addition and its floorboards, wiring, ceiling tiles and shingles. They give to ensure that your amazing work can go on inside of that new building. Your job is to make them see how the additional space, better equipment or warmer quarters will help you go out and change the world.
  2. There is no quiet phase. Before the days of social media (anybody remember back that far?) you could keep a campaign quiet, only meeting with major donors and top foundations, raising a majority of the funds before you “announced” the campaign to the public. You’d create a printed brochure and some letterhead, and think about the “public campaign” later. That’s no longer true, and we don’t think it’s necessary either. Keeping such a momentous undertaking under wraps just doesn’t seem feasible in these days of hyper-access to information. Control the message, but be ready to go with your full communications plan should it start getting out. And by the way, if you have a Campaign Committee, it’s already out!
  3. Yes, you need a social media campaign. Your capital campaign is an opportunity to reach out to people who don’t know your organization or who may not have felt compelled to give yet. A social media campaign is one of the most cost-effective ways you can expand your campaign’s reach to new people who believe what you believe, and at the same time give your long-term supporters a chance to help spread the word. And also, yes, you need a digital home for your campaign, whether that’s a microsite or a section of your current site. People are going to head to the internet as soon as they hear about your new vision.
  4. Your case for support won’t sell your campaign. Even though you’ve laid out all your reasons and statistics and projections in your case for support, you must have a clear positioning statement and key messaging framework that resonates with your target audiences. The case for support is great background material, but you need a roadmap for communicating quickly and clearly what you stand for, why you are the right organization to be doing this work right now, and what will be different after the campaign is over. In short, you need to be able to break through the clutter and grab your donor’s attention. You need bold words and emotional visuals. You need to sell this campaign.
  5. Your campaign will change your organization’s brand (hopefully for the better). A memorable campaign name, tagline and visual assets will ensure that people “get” what you’re up to and want to share. The process of creating campaign assets should help you uncover the best parts of your current brand strategy and build up those parts that need a little clarity. This is a chance to take a moment and focus on work that will be transformational for your organization. After this campaign, your organization, your work and your brand will never be the same.

Alright, there’s a lot of great work ahead of you, you’d better get going! If you have questions, I’d love to talk with you about using strategic communications to meet your campaign goals. Just call me at the office or drop me a line at angie@brandalmanac.com.