By Aaron Dahlstrom, Vice President of Digital Marketing at Graham-Pelton

During a capital campaign, nonprofits use a variety of in-person and online fundraising strategies to invite donors of all giving levels to contribute to a large-scale project. An important part of promoting your capital campaign to potential donors, volunteers, and supporters is unifying your mission with your campaign messages.

However, some nonprofits find it challenging to manage their messaging during such intensive projects. In this post, we’ll help you advance your messaging strategy for your next capital campaign by covering five steps you should take to improve how you market and promote your campaign and cause. 

Let’s start by going over the basics.

Why is clear messaging crucial for your capital campaign?

Simply put, without a clear understanding of your goal and what you’re trying to achieve, donors will be less likely to give.

Because campaigns are long and complex, it’s particularly important that everyone on your nonprofit’s team can accurately describe the campaign’s objectives. They should also understand how their own roles fit into your campaign’s success as well as the various audiences you’ll need to speak to over the course of the campaign.

Additionally, as part of the capital campaign process, nonprofits usually conduct a feasibility study during which they test their message with external stakeholders to determine if their project and the associated financial goal is currently feasible or should be adjusted. At this point, your team should already be familiar with your message and be able to clearly articulate it to major donors, foundations, and anyone else you’ll be reaching out to during the feasibility study. Clear messages will result in greater understanding and more funds raised.

Steps for Clear Messaging During Your Capital Campaign

These are the steps to ensure that you have clear messaging during your capital campaign:

  1. Create a case for support.
  2. Plan your quiet phase strategy.
  3. Prepare your campaign materials and tools.
  4. Promote your capital campaign kick-off.
  5. Send regular messages to donors.

As you begin planning your campaign and its messaging strategy, make sure you have a well-trained and fully qualified staff to help you. Because campaigns are multi-year efforts, it’s essential that your staff is aligned, prepared, and enthusiastic. Putting initial thought into recruiting talented individuals is an investment that will pay dividends over the course of the campaign.

1. Create a case for support.

For clear messaging, all of your communications should be rooted in your case for support. Here are a few things you should include in it:

  • Mission/purpose. Plainly state the goal of your capital campaign. Include your nonprofit’s mission and align it with relevant big ideas to help communicate why your cause is important.
  • Clear audience. Make it clear who your audience is. Ask yourself who you will be targeting during the quiet and public phases of your campaign, what demographics they fall into, and how you can adapt your case for support over the course of the campaign to best motivate them to give. 
  • Compelling narrative. Your case for support should tell a story about your nonprofit and its cause. Your narrative will explain to the reader why your project deserves their support. Address the key points and most important aspects of your campaign.
  • Data. It’s not enough to simply state that your nonprofit’s cause is significant—you must also have evidence to back up your claims. Prepare a variety of metrics that shows the positive impact you’ve made on your nonprofit’s beneficiaries and the projected outcomes of your successful project.
  • Anecdotes. Including anecdotes from your beneficiaries, donors, volunteers, and supporters can add an emotional appeal to your case for support that will help attract potential donors.

Building a clear fundraising case for support will help you create all your messaging for your capital campaign. While the case is most immediately useful in quiet phase meetings and solicitations, the message it contains should be distilled into all your materials over the course of your campaign. 

2. Plan your quiet phase strategy.

The quiet phase of a capital campaign is the period of time before when you announce your campaign to the general public. During this phase, you’ll aim to raise at least 65% of your goal by cultivating and soliciting major gifts. 

Your quiet phase strategy should include conversations with the following groups:

  • Board members. In most capital campaigns, board members are expected to give personally significant gifts. Assisting with fundraising is also a normal board member responsibility, so plan ahead to engage and involve them in communicating with donors.
  • Major donors. Graham-Pelton suggests evaluating your prospect portfolios to decide which major donors you should prioritize communicating with for your capital campaign. Identify who each major donor’s assigned gift officer is, and have a conversation with them to better understand the major donor before anyone on your team reaches out.
  • Foundations. Communicate with foundations and apply for grants for which your campaign’s proposed project would be a good fit. Be brief, concise, and clear, as grantmakers have a large amount of applications to read over.
  • Corporate partners. You may be able to solicit large gifts from corporations in exchange for advertising or other CSR opportunities. Consider offering corporate sponsorships with different levels so that corporations have multiple price points for partnering with your nonprofit during the later public phase.

Remember that your messaging and approach can be tailored to individual prospects. Knowing a major donor’s key motivation for giving or how a foundation has supported you or similar organizations in the past can help you create custom talking points or even a personalized version of your case for support.

The quiet phase is a critical period for the success of your capital campaign. Depending on how much you raise during this phase, you may need to adjust your final goal. Take your time with this phase and anchor all your communications in relationship-building.

3. Prepare your campaign materials and tools.

During the public phase of a capital campaign, when you turn your attention to raising smaller gifts from a larger pool of donors, things are fast-paced and hectic. Make sure to prepare your materials well in advance so that you have a steady stream of communications to fall back on. Consider preparing the following materials:

  • Campaign website
  • Campaign brand kit
  • Brochures
  • Public-facing case for support
  • Email streams
  • Ad collateral
  • Social media templates
  • Social media posting schedules
  • Project renderings

You should also decide on and set up the software and tools you want to use during your public phase. You may want software for donor management, email tools, or social media management platforms to help you automate and personalize your messaging during this busy period.

4. Promote your capital campaign kick-off.

Although the majority of your funds are raised during the quiet phase, the capital campaign kick-off that begins the public phase is still important for connecting with and attracting individual donors. Its purpose is to announce your final goal to the broader community, so its success hinges on clear, impactful messaging.

Here are some things to consider for your capital campaign kick-off:

  • Inclusivity. Having an inclusive event means that more people can attend, which means broader reach for your nonprofit and your campaign.
  • Hiring an event planner. Since you want your campaign kick-off to run smoothly and garner attention, consider hiring a professional event planner. They will have the experience to plan a stellar event and ensure that it goes well.
  • Enlisting volunteers to help. Recruiting volunteers for your kick-off event is a great way to quickly increase your nonprofit’s capacity to host a great event. Your volunteers should be passionate about your cause and able to communicate that with attendees.
  • Timing. You want your kick-off to receive lots of press, so be aware of any other important events happening at the same time. Ensure that there are no national, regional, or local events being held that might take attention away from your kick-off.
  • Create a sense of urgency. The public phase is one of the shortest periods of your capital campaign, and usually lasts around three months. Instill a sense of urgency into your event and let donors know that they have a limited amount of time to support your nonprofit.

Remember that your kick-off is important to drawing donors to your organization and reaching out to a wider audience. It allows your nonprofit to generate excitement and urgency around the remaining amount you need to raise to meet your goal. During the kick-off, you can communicate what still needs to be done, inform about how the community can help, and recognize donors and volunteers who’ve already helped.

5. Send regular messages to donors.

During the public phase, it’s important to reinforce your messaging by sending regular messages to donors. Here are a few ways you can keep your donors up to date:

  • Email newsletters. This is one of the most popular and effective ways to communicate with your donors. Include fun graphics and videos for higher engagement.
  • Text messages. According to Snowball Fundraising, texts have a much higher open rate than emails. Your texts should be under 160 characters to ensure that they don’t get cut off.
  • Phone calls. If a donor has just made a gift, give them a call. Let them know how appreciative your nonprofit is and if you’ve hit any campaign milestones.
  • Social media. Consider including a fundraising thermometer in your promotional materials and making a new post on social media every time you reach a milestone. Ensure that your social media posts and profiles have links to your campaign website and donation page.

You should use a variety of communication methods to keep donors informed and engaged. Make sure that your various methods are aligned with your overall messaging strategy. You might also consider automating your communications to free up staff time or revamping your donor segmentation strategies. This will help you target different parts of your public phase audience and appeal to the aspects of your mission that donors are interested in.

Remember that any campaign, including capital campaigns, is an opportunity to attract new donors and retain existing ones. By implementing clear messaging strategies in your capital campaign, you can dramatically grow your nonprofit’s donor base, become a more visible fixture of your community, and turn a single moment of giving into a lifetime of support.