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Capital campaigns: Setting the goal and duration

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Linda Lysakowski

Linda Lysakowski

Linda Lysakowski

If a capital campaign is in your organization’s future, you will want to do everything you can to assure success.

The two questions that usually surface first are: How much can we raise and how long will it take to raise it?

 Realistic goal

To determine the goal of a capital campaign, first start with the architectural study.

An architect will develop renderings to be used in presenting the case for support to potential donors. Donors will be motivated to give if the vision is inspiring.

Part of your goal might also need to include funding to cover the loss of program income while you are relocating, as well as moving expenses.

You also can include an endowment portion of the campaign since most organizations are building in order to expand programs; therefore, there will be additional expenses involved with these new programs.

Once your plans are in place, they need to be tested in the community, usually be means of a planning study.

The planning study also will determine the interviewees’ thoughts regarding the proposed goal.

It is important to realize that the case will be presented as a preliminary case for support, and that the feedback from interviewees may alter the plans in order to arrive at a realistic, attainable campaign goal.

How do we know if we can raise this much?

Talk to your donors in the planning-study phase. Developing a list of the right people to interview is a key component of the planning study.

Although your organization may not have a cadre of major donors, it is always best to start with those who have a relationship with your organization.

The top 10 percent of your annual donors should be interviewed.

Another group to interview is your “loyal donors,” those people who support your organization year after year.

You also will want to have the consultant interview key community leaders — those who have the ability to give major gifts and have contacts with those who could be major donors.

The planning study will help you determine how much community support is likely to be obtained.

Timing of the campaign

The study will also help you determine a reasonable time frame for the campaign.

Typically, a campaign with a goal anywhere up to $10 million can be completed in two years or less. Sometimes for smaller campaigns of $1 million or less, you might be able to complete your campaign in a year to a year-and-a-half.

Larger campaigns might take three years or more to complete. Some considerations that will help determine the timeframe are:

  • The infrastructure in place
  • The strength of your board and their willingness to embrace the campaign
  • Your annual giving history
  • The number of leadership-level gifts identified during the planning study
  • The readiness of these lead donors to commit to the campaign

Often donors need additional time for cultivation. In some cases, you may even need to take more time to identify potential donors.

The planning study is your best bet for determining both a reasonable goal and a logical timeline.


Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE, is president and CEO of Capital Venture, a full-service consulting company that specializes in capital campaigns, development audits and plans and board development and training.

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