Capital campaigns are large-scale fundraising initiatives that help your nonprofit raise the capital needed to expand your capacity. Construction projects, equipment investments, and the creation of large endowment funds are common objectives of capital campaigns, and they often take a year (or several years) to complete from start to finish.
This means that capital campaigns are serious undertakings and represent a major investment of your time and resources. So whether you’re planning your nonprofit’s first campaign or you’re a veteran fundraiser, capital campaign consultants make invaluable partners.
Hiring a fundraising expert to help plan and lead your campaign is standard practice for capital campaigns, but their help is especially valuable now—after a year of crisis messaging, strategy pivots, and virtual event fatigue, your large-scale campaign planning skills might be a bit rusty.
But, as with any type of consultant, you’ll need to devote time and attention to the hiring process in order to find the ideal partner (and not just another vendor) for your organization’s campaign.
At the Capital Campaign Toolkit, we’ve guided countless nonprofits through the process of planning and conducting these campaigns, so we’ve been through this process plenty of times. This quick guide will walk through the key responsibilities to expect of your consultant as well as four key qualities we recommend prioritizing in your search. Let’s dive in.
What to Expect from a Capital Campaign Consultant
If you’ll be working with a campaign consultant for the first time, it helps to understand the services that they generally do and don’t offer to nonprofits:
Capital Consultants Do:
- Provide direction and planning. A consultant can help you refine your goals and lay out a complete roadmap for your campaign from beginning to end.
- Conduct and guide feasibility studies. These studies are a crucial early part of the planning process and involve interviewing stakeholders to determine how feasible your campaign’s goals are. A consultant might conduct the study for you or guide you through the process of handling it yourself. As we explain in this Capital Campaign Toolkit overview of campaign feasibility studies, a guided approach can help deliver more long-term value for your team.
- Train your leadership team. Your nonprofit’s leaders and board members will need to play active roles in your campaign. A consultant can get everyone on the same page and provide training for running the campaign and asking for major gifts.
- Maintain your timeline and check in on progress. Capital campaigns are long, so your consultant should proactively check in to review your progress and keep your team on track.
- Help solve problems as they arise. All kinds of disruptions and changes can occur during a capital campaign. A consultant should be able to use their experience to troubleshoot and help pivot your strategies in real-time.
Capital Campaign Consultants Don’t:
- Identify donors and solicit gifts. It’s important that you develop and sustain donor relationships yourself. The work of conducting prospect research, identifying prospects, cultivating relationships, and asking for gifts will fall to your nonprofit’s team.
- Recruit volunteers. Capital campaigns can involve large teams of volunteers to join committees, run your marketing strategies, and staff events. Your own relationships will be more valuable here than any recruitment help from a consultant.
- Plan campaign events and sell sponsorships. Campaigns often include a variety of events, from small gatherings of prospects to large-scale celebrations during its later public phase. Consultants can’t plan these events for you, but they might be able to offer some general direction about what these events should accomplish.
- Create brochures and marketing materials. Once your consultant helps you refine your capital campaign’s core argument or case for support, your own team can create a full range of marketing materials and printed content for use throughout the campaign.
- Track gifts and manage campaign data. Your organization should handle the process of tracking your progress and keeping your data organized. A robust CRM platform can help to drastically simplify this process.
- Directly handle compliance-related logistics. Fundraising can involve a lot of requirements around registering to solicit gifts in different jurisdictions and accurately tracking your financials for tax purposes. Compliance experts and CPAs will be the most helpful resources for these tasks, not your fundraising consultant.
Your organization should generally handle these kinds of tasks yourself. After all, you know your mission and community better than anyone, so you should play an active role in any face-to-face aspects of your campaign. Your team’s personal involvement will also go a long way to build stronger relationships with donors that you can continue leveraging long after your capital campaign has ended.
But don’t hesitate to reach out to other experts as needed. These campaigns can be complex, so you shouldn’t leave anything to chance if you’re not positive that your team can handle it on your own.
As mentioned above, compliance experts and CPAs can help keep your fundraising logistics running smoothly. Prospect researchers are another common example, especially for organizations that are new to capital campaigns or major gift fundraising. Explore Donorly’s guide to research consulting for a crash course on what these experts can offer your team.
Qualities to Look For in a Consultant
We believe that a capital campaign consultant should serve as an active partner and guide, not simply an outside party who completes tasks for you. Organizations ultimately derive more value from these collaborative partnerships by getting hands-on experience with the planning and fundraising processes.
Here are four qualities we think nonprofits should prioritize when researching potential partners for their capital campaigns:
A consultant with a history of experience with capital campaigns of different shapes and sizes will be invaluable. This will ensure that they have a wealth of examples and solutions to draw from and then apply or adapt to your unique fundraising context.
Experience will also help make your consultant a more authoritative voice for your whole team. This is especially important for getting your leadership bought-in and on the same page during the early stages of your campaign.
As you research candidates, look for testimonials from their previous clients. From there, spend some time researching campaign impact reports from nonprofits that you know recently worked with that consultant. Once it’s time to get in touch with potential partners, don’t be shy about asking for references.
As you consider the experience of different candidates, don’t forget the list of key responsibilities above. Consultants may have firsthand experience with a variety of situations that can come up during your campaign, like overcoming virtual event challenges or trying out new marketing tactics. However, remember that you’re hiring them specifically for their expertise in campaign strategy, not event planning or marketing support.
Discipline might not immediately come to mind as something to look for in a campaign partner, but it can be a major factor in the success of your relationship. An effective consultant will be able to provide deadlines and accountability to keep your team on track. To bring discipline to your campaign, they should take these kinds of actions:
- Scheduling meetings well in advance to put them on your team’s radar and give everyone time to prepare.
- Proactively checking in between these meetings to stay up-to-date on your progress.
- Offering encouragement along the way, course-correcting in a timely manner, and reinforcing or celebrating big wins that your team has accomplished.
Capital campaigns are complex and long, sometimes lasting upwards of three years. A consultant who brings a sense of focus and discipline will ultimately be a more valuable partner for your nonprofit. Plus, it shows that your consultant is respectful of your organization’s time and goals and ultimately wants you to succeed.
Your consultant should provide a sense of direction and a concrete roadmap for your capital campaign. Once you’re familiar with the general trajectory of these campaigns, your consultant should work closely with you to hammer out a solid strategy and timeline based on your goals and base of support.
After your initial roadmap is in place, your consultant should also be able to keep providing guidance and direction when things don’t go exactly as planned.
For instance, if major gifts are coming in slower than expected in your campaign’s quiet phase, your consultant should actively help you recommend solutions, adjust expectations, and stay flexible—always with an eye on your big-picture objectives.
Finally, your capital campaign consultant should demonstrate courage. Fundraising is hard work, and it’s often nerve-wracking to ask for major gifts and other large commitments.
A strong partner should give your nonprofit the courage it needs to feel truly confident in its decisions. Their guidance, experience, and external perspective will give you the courage to lean on as your team gets up and running.
If you’re considering your organization’s very first capital campaign, try looking for consultants who have a proven track record with other growing nonprofits. If they can successfully guide a smaller team through the campaign process, they can help you, too.
Capital campaigns are complicated, but they’re also a critical step along the path of sustainable growth and increased impact for nonprofits. Without the capacity to scale up your operations, growing your impact and pursuing your mission more effectively is extremely difficult. Capital campaign consultants should serve as true partners in this process, showing you the ropes and offering a sense of focus and direction from start to finish.
If your organization is conducting a capital campaign in the next year or two, start by fully understanding what these experts can and can’t do for your organization. From there, you’ll have a clear idea of what to expect and what types of qualities to look for in a partner.
Capital Campaign Readiness Assessment
Is your organization ready for a capital campaign? This simple assessment tool will help you find out. You’ll assess six key areas of your organization. Take this free assessment now and find out if you’re truly ready for a campaign.
Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, and Andrea Kihlstedt are co-founders of the Capital Campaign Toolkit, a virtual support system for nonprofit leaders to run successful campaigns. The Toolkit provides all the tools, templates, and guidance you need — without breaking the bank.