Capital Campaigns 101: The Planning Phase

Capital Campaigns 101: The Planning Phase

Capital campaigns are big undertakings. Most of them take three years or more and raise record-setting amounts of money for the organization to use for significant new growth investments beyond just increasing revenue. They are conducted alongside the regular operations and fundraising process. They also require careful planning, increased staff, and a clear understanding of how these mega fundraising initiatives work.

In this post, you will learn the elements of a capital campaign plan, when to create your plan, and what goes into it.

Let’s start with an overview of a typical capital campaign as a whole. Most campaigns go through seven phases.

This timeline shows the seven stages of a capital campaign, from pre-campaign planning through stewardship.

Pre-Campaign Planning and Feasibility Study

In our model, the first phase is Pre-Campaign Planning. And yes, right off the bat, you need a plan. You need to know your:

  • Project plans
  • Campaign objectives
  • The working goal for your campaign
  • The preliminary case for support
  • Gift range chart
  • Depth chart

Each of these elements will be important to your campaign, but they aren’t yet set in stone at this early stage. During the pre-campaign planning period, you will develop drafts that you will test in a feasibility study. The feasibility study process will give you a wonderful opportunity to talk with your most important donors about your plans. And once the study is complete, you will have an opportunity to revise the elements of your plan in keeping with what you’ve learned.

Campaign Planning

After conducting your feasibility study, make revisions to your plans based on what you’ve learned from donors and other stakeholders.

At this stage, you will be ready to move into the campaign planning phase in full. We recommend pulling together a campaign planning committee that will review all of the elements of your campaign plan and then recommend them to your board for approval.

The Campaign Planning Committee usually only meets two or three times in relatively quick succession. It is composed of some key board members plus some of the most important prospective donors and leaders for your campaign. Because of the short-term nature of this assignment, it is sometimes possible to involve people who wouldn’t agree to a longer volunteer committee assignment.

Elements of a Capital Campaign Plan

In addition to revising the elements of the campaign plan developed before the feasibility study, you’ll also make some other important additions during the main planning phase Here, with brief commentary, are the ten elements of your campaign plan:

  • Objectives

    • The statement of campaign objectives is a simple list outlining what your campaign will raise money for. It might include facilities, new programs, technology upgrades, and perhaps endowment. Most campaign objectives include a line for the overhead costs of administration and fundraising.
  • Goals

    • Campaigns can have both financial and non-financial goals. The financial goals are the combined cost of the campaign objectives. Non-financial goals might focus on visibility, aspects of the fundraising program, or even goals relating to the composition of the board.
  • Gift Range Chart

    • The gift range chart shows the pattern of gifts needed to achieve the financial goals you have set out. It lists the number of gifts needed at various levels to reach the goal. The gift range chart or donor pyramid is a foundational campaign document that you’ll heavily rely on while fundraising.
  • Donor Recognition Plan

    • Your campaign plan should include your plan for recognizing donors who give at various levels. If your organization will offer naming opportunities, like on buildings, plaques, and installations, a specific plan for naming levels should be part of your plan.
  • Campaign Committee Structure

    • Campaigns often have several ad hoc committees throughout the campaign period. It is best to outline a plan for this structure early in the campaign. Will you have a lead gift committee? An event planning committee? Determine details like how often your campaign steering committee will meet, and so forth.
  • Campaign Budget

    • You will need a budget for campaign expenses that covers the entire scope of the campaign. If your campaign is going to take three years, your campaign budget should be drawn up for the entire period. Most campaign budgets are between 7 and 10 percent of the campaign goal, depending on the size of the campaign. Understand your usage and reporting requirements if you’ll be seeking or using grant funding to help support a campaign or contribute to its goal.
  • Campaign Staffing

    • Because your campaign will be concurrent with your annual fundraising, you will have to increase staff to get it all done. Your plan should outline the responsibilities of staff members for your campaign in different departments and how they will work together and share information.
  • Communications Plan

    • Your campaign plan should include a communications plan that spells out the audiences, messages, and vehicles you will use to get the word out about your campaign during each of the campaign phases. Later your communications team can develop specific email, phone, and print templates for use in the campaign.
  • Timetable

    • Your plan should include a calendar with all of the key dates for your campaign spelled out by campaign phase. Though the timeline will become more specific over time, your plan should include the basics of the campaign timetable to serve as an underlying structure that can be refined as you go.
  • Campaign Policies

    • Campaign policies should cover key questions about your campaign including start date, pledge period, gift accounting practices, solicitation strategies at various gift levels, gift management, and more. Effective policies can give you the options and flexibility you need to drive your campaign to success, so don’t neglect this early step.

These elements, when pulled together into a well-organized document, will constitute the plan for your capital campaign. Having such a document will provide structure and clarity for your campaign. When you share it with staff members and key volunteers, it will be an essential reference for the many, many decisions you will have to make during your campaign.

With a well-thought-out, comprehensive, and adaptable plan in place, your nonprofit, school, or church will be set up to conduct a successful and inspiring campaign.

Step-by-Step Campaign Checklist & Guide

This intuitive guide breaks down each step of your campaign, and the timeline allows you to visualize your whole campaign, from start to finish. Download this free campaign checklist now!

About the Author

Andrea Kihlstedt | CEO & Co-Founder of Capital Campaign Pro

Andrea is the author of Capital Campaigns: Strategies that Work, now in its 4th edition, as well as How to Raise $1 Million (or More) in 10 Bite Sized Steps, in addition to other books. Andrea has been leading successful capital campaigns for more than 30 years. To learn how Capital Campaign Pro can support you through a capital campaign, visit

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