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5 Common Capital Campaign Myths & How to Educate Your Board

By Andrea Kihlstedt posted 10-16-2023 17:04


While capital campaigns allow organizations to raise funds for significant projects that grow their capacity and impact, many board members have misconceptions about what they are and how to run them. 

This is understandable—they’re much larger projects than anything else most nonprofits attempt to tackle, rooted in major gift fundraising, and only come around roughly once a decade. 

Your board will play a pivotal role in your campaign’s success, so they should all be operating from a shared understanding of campaign best practices. Educating your board members will help ensure they don’t fall prey to the most common campaign myths.

Here, we explore five common capital campaign myths and offer guidance on how to educate and equip your board members for success.

Myth 1: Capital Campaigns Are Only for Large Organizations

Many board members believe capital campaigns are reserved for large, well-established nonprofits. 

In reality, organizations of all sizes can benefit from capital campaigns. Smaller nonprofits undertake campaigns for vital projects like building renovations, equipment upgrades, or expanding services. 

In the 2023 Benchmark Report on the State of Capital Campaigns, the data shows that campaigns conducted by organizations with budgets of under $1 million were every bit as successful in reaching their campaign goals as those conducted by larger organizations.

To combat this myth, provide your board with examples of successful campaigns from organizations of various sizes, showcasing their impact.

Myth 2: Capital Campaigns Are Solely About Money

While fundraising is a primary goal of capital campaigns, it’s not the only focus. Campaigns also serve to engage and educate the community, raise awareness about your organization’s mission, and foster stronger donor relationships.

Capital campaigns bring valuable long-term internal benefits beyond the new investments they fund. In the study cited above, nonprofits reported these additional benefits following a successful campaign:

  • Strengthened relationships with major donors
  • Becoming more effective at soliciting large gifts
  • Increased effectiveness of their development staff
  • Improved fundraising systems
  • Improved board fundraising engagement

All of these benefits together (plus the money raised) will set up a nonprofit to truly thrive in the years to come.

To dispel the money myth, emphasize the broader impact of campaigns, such as how they align with your organization’s strategic goals and values.

Myth 3: Board Members Don’t Need to Be Involved in Fundraising

Some board members believe their roles are purely advisory and that fundraising is the staff’s responsibility alone. It’s a common problem—40% of nonprofits report the board’s lack of engagement and excitement as a core capital campaign challenge.

However, effective fundraising requires board involvement. They need to help set the tone, make connections, solicit gifts, and (in many cases) give meaningful gifts themselves.

To educate your board on this matter, clarify their role in fundraising, including identifying potential donors, making personal contributions, and leveraging their networks for support.

Myth 4: The Campaign Goal Should Be Set Conservatively So It’s Easy to Achieve

Board members may underestimate the campaign’s fundraising goal, thinking it’s best to set a

lower target that’s more attainable. 

Setting a goal that is too low limits your organization’s potential. Goals should certainly be achievable, but you don’t need to put a tight cap on your own opportunity for growth unnecessarily. The whole purpose of the feasibility study—one of the most important first steps in planning a capital campaign—is to test and refine your goal so that it’s ambitious yet realistic.

Educate your board about the importance of setting an ambitious goal that reflects the project’s actual needs and inspires donors to give generously.

Myth 5: Capital Campaigns Can Be Completed Quickly and With No Additional Staff

Board members might assume that capital campaigns can be completed in a matter of months.

In reality, these campaigns often span several years and require hiring additional development staff. Expenses considered “overhead,” like new hires, consultants, and tools will naturally occur during such a large and impactful project, but they’re important investments (and their costs are often folded into a campaign’s overall goal).

Educate your board on the timeline, emphasizing the need for patience and consistent effort. 

Encourage them to commit to the long-term success of the campaign and maintain enthusiasm throughout its duration.

Dispel the Myths: Educate Your Board about Capital Campaigns

To effectively educate your board on these capital campaign myths, consider the following strategies:

  • Board Workshops: Conduct workshops or training sessions specifically focused on capital campaigns. Invite experienced campaign professionals to conduct a training session specifically designed to help your board understand capital campaign fundraising and what a campaign for their organization might look like.
  • Campaign Resources: Identify resources that would be helpful to your board members and instruct them about capital campaigns. Share these documents with your board to facilitate discussions.
  • Guest Speakers: Invite guest speakers who have firsthand experience with capital campaigns to address your board. Hearing from people who have successfully conducted campaigns in your community can be highly impactful and dispel misconceptions.
  • Individual Conversations: Schedule one-on-one meetings with board members who may have concerns or doubts. Tailor your discussions to address their specific questions and reservations.
  • Board Involvement: Actively involve board members in campaign planning and execution. Assign specific responsibilities to each member, so they feel personally invested in your campaign’s success.

A Well-educated Board Will Increase Your Likelihood of Success

Educating your board about common capital campaign myths is crucial for a successful fundraising effort. 

By allaying doubts and actively engaging your board in the campaign process, you can harness their support, expertise, and networks to achieve your organization’s goals and make a meaningful impact in your community. 

Capital campaigns are not just about raising funds; they are about realizing your organization’s vision and serving your mission effectively.