How to Find Top Gifts for Your Nonprofit’s Capital Campaign
You’ve sketched out your nonprofit’s fundraising budget. You’ve set your sights on a reasonable goal. Your next most important need is to identify campaign leadership — a team or committee of volunteers who are willing to cheerlead on behalf of the campaign, make personal visits and calls, and sign letters asking for contributions.
These leaders may be board members, but you should also include some people from outside the board if appropriate enthusiasts can be identified. Not only do their efforts ease your board’s workload, but their contacts also expand the pool of possible donors, and their involvement illustrates broader community support for the campaign.
Each campaign develops its own strategies and each organization has distinctive strengths to call upon, but most of them use the same diagram, which is based in conventional wisdom. It’s called a gift table, and it looks like a pyramid.
Remember the old saying, A handful of people do most of the work? A capital campaign works that way. Only a few donors are able to contribute large gifts. They go at the top of the pyramid. Smaller gifts from many other donors fill in the lower levels as the campaign moves forward and the pyramid takes shape.
We know you don’t start at the top when building a pyramid, but that’s where you begin with a capital campaign.
Say you’re driving across town and pass the Janice Knickerbocker Symphony Hall, the Engin Uralman Medical Center, and the Jerome Kestenberg Museum of Natural History. What do Janice, Engin, and Jerome have in common? Generally, those people whose names adorn buildings made the contribution of 10 percent or more of the campaign total. They’re called the lead donors.
When you conduct your feasibility study, one thing you’re trying to determine is the size of the campaign’s largest gift and whether it totals 10 percent or more of the campaign total.
Your lead gift becomes one of your campaign’s attractions. Some contributors may support a capital project because they like or admire the person after whom the scholarship fund or building is named, even if they have little connection to the cause or organization.
After the lead gift is in place, your organization begins seeking the other major gifts that make up the first one-third of the funds to be raised. Individuals usually give these lead gifts that they pledge during personal visits from nonprofit staff and board members.
Continuing down the pyramid’s structure to the widening middle, an organization usually moves beyond board members and major donors to seek grants from foundations and corporations.