The Magic of a Mini Capital Campaign: 7 Steps to Success

March 25, 2022 | Capital Campaign Toolkit,
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When Theresa called me to ask if I could advise her on raising $12,000 for her special project, the idea struck me as unlikely, even laughable!

I had spent most of my career working on capital campaigns with goals of $5 million, $10 million, and even $100 million, so the idea of helping someone raise this smaller sum struck me as funny. But Theresa had been sent to me by my daughter who spoke highly of her.

I don’t lightly say no to my daughter, so instead of sending Theresa away, I asked for more information. She told me that she was a musician who was composing a piece about war that she would perform live and then record. She needed funds to cover the performance expenses. So, I decided to offer her a deal. I would coach her through her fundraising, giving her week-by-week steps, if she promised to do her homework. 

I told her that it was an experiment to see if the remarkable methodology that fuels major gifts to large campaigns would work on a very small one as well. There were no guarantees of success and that if she didn’t do the work every week, we would stop.

Theresa was understandably uneasy and unsure. She told me she didn’t know anyone with money and that she was panicky when she thought about asking anyone for money directly. But I knew from my daughter that she was a capable young woman who knew how to work hard. Most importantly, she was passionate about her project.

She agreed to my terms, and we launched the mini-campaign that I designed for her. We met by phone every week for eight weeks. Each week, I explained what she had to do and why, and I sent her off with her homework.

Spoiler Alert:

Here’s what happened. Over 8 weeks, Theresa, who had set out with great trepidation to raise $12,000 wound up raising just shy of $22,000! But even more importantly, she transformed from being someone for whom fundraising seemed impossible into a confident fundraiser.

Pick a Project, Develop a Mini-Campaign

Principles from the capital campaign world also work for small, specific projects. 

Since that first time adapting larger capital campaign principles for Theresa’s mini capital campaign, I’ve honed the plan to its basics. And chances are excellent that if you follow the plan below, you will raise the money you seek. This remarkable way of fundraising is not complicated when stripped to its essential elements, but it does take a clear purpose and discipline.

Pick a project and try this approach. Though Theresa did her mini capital campaign in 8 weeks, you might complete yours sooner. It might also take a few more weeks to complete, but take care not to draw it out for too long. One of the powerful qualities of capital campaigns of any size is that they have a specific timeline. As my sage friend, Bob Pierpont, used to tell me, “A capital campaign is really just a specific goal up against a timeline!”

Step 1 – Clarify Your Fundraising Goals

What do you want to raise money for? You know your organization needs money, but for this kind of fundraising, the fact that your organization just needs money to operate isn’t the right answer. 

For your mini capital campaign, you should raise money for something specific. It might be something that’s covered in your operating budget, or it might be something that’s a special project requiring additional fundraising. But whatever you pick, it should be clear and specific.

Create a new document and write out a few lines that describe what you want to raise money for. Be as clear and specific as you can. Don’t write long paragraphs. Just make a short, annotated list. This might include equipment, staffing, materials, rentals, program fees. etc.

Keep in mind that you’re creating the goals for a short mini capital campaign, so don’t try to wedge your big $5 million building project into this quick campaign format. I encourage you to think about a goal of under $250,000 (though that’s not a hard and fast rule).

Keep these points in mind:

  • Make sure you know what you want to do with the money you are planning to raise.
  • Set your goal high enough so that you’ll actually be able to accomplish what you want to get done. Remember that most projects go over budget, so build in a bit of a cushion.
  • Set a goal that makes you anxious but doesn’t keep you awake at night.

Step 2 – Prepare Your Campaign Materials

You don’t need fancy materials. However, you do need a simple, well-written document that explains the impact that people’s donations will have if they decide to give. For this mini capital campaign, you should keep the material short—one or two pages. If there’s more detailed information that you think might be helpful, include that in a separate Q&A or fact sheet.

Keep these points in mind:

  • Your campaign materials should highlight the benefits of your project rather than just describe the features. For example, let’s say you’ll use campaign funds to purchase new kitchen equipment or hire a new teacher. These would be your campaign features (AKA the specific investment you’ll make). Your expanded capacity to feed X more families or provide afterschool care for X more children would be the benefit of your campaign. For most donors, the most compelling case for supporting your campaign lies in its benefits!
  • Use headings to make your materials skimmable and easy to read.
  • Stamp DRAFT on your materials and ask people in your organization for their input. Your material will change and get better throughout your mini-campaign, so there’s no need for perfection yet.

Step 3 – Develop Your Gift Range Chart

No matter the size of your campaign, the gift range chart will be your primary campaign planning tool. The gift range chart shows the number of gifts at each giving level you will need to raise to reach your goal.

The pattern of gifts loosely reflects a well-known fact that at least 80% of your goal will come from 20% of your donors.

Start your chart at the top with one gift of at least 20% of your campaign goal. If your mini capital campaign goal is $100,000, your top gift will be somewhere around $20,000. Each subsequent level will show more gifts at a lower giving level. For a $100,000 goal it might look something like this:

Number of GiftsAmount of GiftAmount at LevelCumulative% of Goal

Keep this in mind:

If you use a gift range chart as your plan, you’ll find that in the end, you will have raised your goal according to those patterns. Feels like magic—but really, it’s just the magic of having and following a plan!

Step 4 – Make a List of Your Best Prospects

Now, look carefully at your gift range chart and note that you probably won’t need more than ten gifts to raise more than half of your goal. 10 gifts!

In this step, you should make a list of the people who might be able to make those gifts. Now, of course, every person you ask for a gift is not going to give you what you ask for. So, to bring in those top ten gifts, you should identify more than ten people or sponsors. In an ideal world, you’d make a list of 30 prospects. But if your world isn’t ideal, start with what you have.

Keep this in mind:

Every one of the people on your donor list should be “ABC Qualified”. That means that they should have the Ability to make a gift of that size, a Belief in your mission, and direct Contact with your organization.

Within your CRM, you can locate prospects who are likely to give to your mini capital campaign based on their engagement history with your organization. Segment any qualified prospects you find, so when it comes time to start reaching out, you’ll already have that contact list ready to go.

Step 5 – Start Contacting Your Best Prospects

No matter how experienced a fundraiser you are, when you are ready to reach out to your donors, you’re likely to get a bit anxious. But don’t let that stop you. It’s simply part of the

process. You’ve got to push yourself a bit. Once you muster the courage to contact your donors, starting with the ones at the top of your gift range chart, the rest will get easier.

Start getting in touch with your prospective donors. Tell them you’d like to meet with them to ask for their support for a special project you’re working on. It doesn’t matter if you meet in person or on zoom as long as you get in front of them. Set a specific time for your conversation and send them an email with your campaign materials and confirm the meeting place and time.

Keep these points in mind:

  • Always be prepared to answer the question “How can I help?” A donor might ask you that on the phone or when you meet with them. And you don’t want to squander the opportunity to ask for a gift. Have a specific request in mind for that specific donor!
  • Overcome your natural hesitation by putting aside an hour on your calendar to do nothing beside scheduling meetings with your donors.

Step 6 – Ask for Gifts in Person using the Gift Range Chart

What I think of as “real fundraising” is done through in-person conversations. You can make the appointments through email and phone. But you should ask in person.

Go to your meeting with a specific gift amount in mind. You can base that amount on prospect research you have done about the giving patterns of that donor and the gift range chart you created as part of your campaign plan. Easily pull the individual’s past donation amounts from your nonprofit CRM, so you can create targeted asks that align with their preferences.

Just keep in mind that solicitations are conversations, not lectures. Be sure that in addition to having an ask amount in mind, you prepare some questions to ask your donor that will open a conversation into their giving and why they might be interested in your project.

Keep this in mind:

A solicitation is a conversation with a donor that helps that donor do something they would like to do. You are not twisting arms or picking pockets. You are having genuine conversations about shared mutual interests that may (or may not) inspire a donor to give.

Step 7 – Follow Up with Every Donor

Once a donor has agreed to make a gift, you still have work to do. You’ve got to tie down all of the administrative details about the gift, thank the donor, and then communicate with them to make sure they are updated about the project.

The better you handle these tasks, the more likely it is that the donors will continue to make gifts to your organization in the future. So don’t think of this follow-up process as a simple once-and-done effort.

Keep these points in mind:

  • Once someone has made a commitment to your project, they have become one of your partners in your project. Remember to treat them that way. If you take their money and simply move on to the next donor, you will diminish the long-term effect of your fundraising and harm your donor retention rate.
  • Think of the follow-up process as the beginning of your next fundraising rather than the end of your campaign.

Try a Mini Capital Campaign to Ramp Up Your Fundraising and Hone Your Skills

Capital campaign fundraising is the most effective form of fundraising. If you incorporate a mini-campaign like the one outlined above every year or two, you can build extremely strong relationships with your most important donors and build your own fundraising skills, too.

Twice every year, the Capital Campaign Toolkit leads eight organizations through an eight-week mini-campaign boot campaign. This program will be offered again in April of 2022. The program fills quickly, so put your name on the list now if a mini-campaign sounds like the right choice for your organization.

Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, and Andrea Kihlstedt are co-founders of the Capital Campaign Toolkit, a virtual support system for nonprofit leaders running successful campaigns. The Toolkit provides all the tools, templates, and guidance you need — without breaking the bank.