Conducting a capital campaign is a significant undertaking for any organization, no matter its size. A long-standing fundraising axiom is that raising $5 million is every bit as challenging as raising $50 million, depending on the size and fundraising experience of the organization. Whatever the fundraising goal, leadership needs to establish a compelling case for support, recruit volunteer committees, establish prospect lists and timelines, and plan events.

While every campaign has certain common elements, Schultz & Williams has noted some meaningful distinctions between small and large campaigns. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s define a small campaign goal as less than $10 million with larger campaigns aiming for $10 million or more.

1. The case for support
Small campaigns tend to have a highly focused case that includes one or two major projects. For example, an independent school may seek to fund a new building and an endowment to support programs that will take place there. The school will make the case that the new facility and the programs it offers will elevate or complete their students’ educational experience. Larger campaigns are more likely to be comprehensive and may include all philanthropic support for the institution. In a comprehensive campaign, the case is often made that investments across all programs will advance the institution to a higher level of regional or national excellence.

2. The role of volunteers
Strong volunteer leadership is essential to any successful capital campaign—it must be a priority for Board members in both large and small organizations. Campaign volunteers in small organizations are often more “hands on” than those in big organizations, where larger development and executive staffs can carry more of the load. Some of our smaller campaign clients bring together a small and active campaign leadership team for two to three meetings per month, while a larger organization’s campaign committee tends to meet less frequently, perhaps quarterly.

3. Campaign timeline
Small campaigns favor a shorter timeline—24 to 36 months is not unusual for a campaign with a goal of $3 to $5 million. The accelerated timeline is not solely determined by the size of the goal. Capital campaigns require extensive time and energy from the limited staffs of small organizations. For that reason, they are inclined to raise the money as quickly as they can and get back to business as usual. Larger institutions, on the other hand, are often motivated to raise as much money as possible—maximizing giving from current donors and using the campaign to accelerate new donor relationships. Thus, they are more inclined to stretch campaign timelines up to five years and beyond. And because they often have more mature fundraising programs, they usually have a sufficient number of well-cultivated constituents whom they can approach over a five-year effort.

4. Campaign gift table
Surprisingly, the rules of the campaign gift table are fairly consistent, whatever the size of your campaign. The top-level campaign gift should represent 15% to 20% of the overall campaign goal, and the top 10 gifts will frequently represent 40% to 50% of that total goal. In a recently completed capital campaign for a national financial services college, 50% of the $50 million campaign goal came from the eight largest gifts. The traditional 80/20 rule has now moved beyond the 90/10 benchmark and is quickly approaching the 95/5 rule—with 95% of campaign giving coming from 5% of your constituency.

5. Planned gifts in the campaign
The larger the campaign, the more likely it is that planned giving will play a significant role. Consider a small arts group building a new theater; they need funds today to complete construction and may not have the financial resources to bridge a pledge that is unlikely to be realized until well into the future. Larger institutions with comprehensive campaigns can easily accept planned gifts, especially if they are designated for endowment.

These are just a few examples drawn from S&W’s extensive experience in planning and implementing both large and small campaigns. Every campaign is unique, and we are ready and able to help you plan a campaign that meets your distinct particular) needs and circumstances.

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