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Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE

About Linda

Identifying and Cultivating Donors in a Capital Campaign (Part 4)

As mentioned in our first article in this series, one of the key ingredients of a successful campaign is having a pool of donors to solicit. In today's installment, I'll talk about cultivating donors in a capital campaign.

In a Nutshell

This is Part 4 of a multiweek series on conducting capital campaigns by Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE. This series follows Linda's Capital Campaign Readiness Series, which focuses on making sure the organization is ready for a capital campaign. In today's installment, Linda discusses identifying and cultivating donors in a capital campaign. Linda is the author of two popular books on capital campaigns published by CharityChannel Press, Are You Ready for a Capital Campaign? Assessing Your Nonprofit's Ability to Run a Major Fundraising Campaign and Capital Campaigns: Everything You NEED to Know.

For many organizations, this is fairly easy—perhaps they have a solid base of steady donors, thousands of alumni, or list of grateful recipients of service. For others, this task may be more challenging because they have no donor history or built in pool of donors. However, every organization has people with a vested interest in their success. The trick is determining who they are, what is their ability to give, and are their level of commitment to your organization.

One mistake a lot of organizations make is that they think they need to go out and find a whole new group of donors for their capital campaign because they don’t want to ask their loyal donors once again. Or, sometimes organizations think they can raise all the money they need for their capital project through grants. While grants will usually play an important part in the campaign process, it is important to remember that over 80 percent of all contributions to charitable organizations come from individuals. Another principle of fundraising that is important to remember is that the most likely donors to the capital campaign will be those who are already supporting the organization.

The first place to start is with the “family” of your organization—board, staff, and others close to your organization. It will be crucial to have 100 percent board commitment before asking others to support the project. A staff appeal should also be held early in the campaign, in order to show the public that the family of the organization has given its full support to the campaign. If your organization has an annual giving history, the first place to start is by searching your donor records. Using a good donor software system will facilitate this task. First run a list of the top 10 percent of your donors. These are good prospects for lead gifts. Another key is to search the records for loyal donors, those who have given consistently to your organization, even if not at significant levels. Often these donors have never been asked to give at a higher level, or have not been aware of the bigger vision of the organization.

Want to Learn More?

Learn more about identifying and cultivating donors in a capital campaign. Pick up a copy of Capital Campaigns: Everything You NEED to Know, by Linda LysakowskiLinda goes into much more detail on capital campaign volunteers in her book, Capital Campaigns: Everything You NEED to Know, published by CharityChannel Press. You can order it from the CharityChannel Press bookstore,, Barnes & Noble bookstore, or at a bookstore near you.

Even if you think you don’t have alumni or a built in constituent base, you will probably have a pool of prospects that are close to your organization. Many organizations have “alumni,” groups of people who have received services from them or have given service to the organization. Those who have given blood, adopted animals, hold a library card, etc. are likely donors when an organization they are connected with launches a capital campaign. Volunteers are another good source for campaign donations. Many organizations hesitate to ask their volunteers for money, knowing they are giving of their time. However, remember that a person’s time is often more precious to them than their money, and if they are giving of their time, they are likely to want to support the organization financially as well. Vendors of your organization are another likely pool of prospective donors.

If you cannot identify a pool of natural prospects, the campaign cabinet and board will be called upon to help identify prospects that, after some cultivation, might be prospective donors.

Once a pool of prospective donors has been identified, the campaign leadership needs to determine the each prospect’s readiness to be asked for a gift. If it is determined that the prospect is not familiar enough or enthused enough about your organization’s mission, the campaign committee will need to plan an appropriate cultivation strategy for each prospect. Cultivation can include one-on-one meetings, invitations to tour the organization’s facilities or meet with agency leadership. Group cultivation events may also be used, such as having a board or cabinet member host a small cocktail party in their home, bringing the prospects in for a breakfast or luncheon in the organization, or other such events. During the cultivation period, donors are not asked to donate, but are provided with information, presented with the case for support and provided with an opportunity to meet those who benefit from the organization’s services.

Cultivation may take several months or several years in some cases, depending on the amount of the gift and the level of interest the prospect has in the organization. In some cases the prospect may not be ready to make a gift for this campaign, but cultivation for the future is important even if there is not a significant gift at this time. Patient cultivation for major gifts is better than rushing the prospect into a decision that may result in a smaller gift and a lack of commitment to the organization’s vision for the future.


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