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How to Set a “Just Right” Capital Campaign Goal

A successful capital campaign strategy is typically based on the amount to be raised. Even if it is eventually changed (hopefully raised), a preliminary campaign goal drives important considerations, like the gift chart, prospect pool, and staffing. Setting a campaign goal can entail both risk and opportunity. A goal that is unattainable can demoralize staff and volunteers and imperil your organization’s reputation. A goal that is too low won’t maximize your return on investment. It’s critical — and difficult — to find the right balance in setting a “just right” goal.

Determining the right goal ensures you can meet your campaign’s most important objectives. These may include strengthening your capacity to raise funds in future years or filling your pipeline with new prospects. So while it’s essential to know how much money you intend to raise, your campaign goal should be made up of more than just a financial target.

Your goal should also consider motivation and mission — and getting clear on those elements requires deeper thinking. Is your primary interest surpassing the last campaign’s amount? Is it engaging the involvement of a specific donor? Is it making a bigger impact on a social cause? The answers to these questions are linked to your campaign’s strategies.

Arriving at the right goal, then, isn’t solely a matter of metrics. Nor should it be merely the result of a heartfelt vision. Realizing campaign success relies on proven methods that integrate both head and heart. 

Define the Nature of Your Campaign Goal

Your campaign’s financial outcome is directly impacted by how well you attend to both mission and money. The way you execute your campaign also influences the way your donors, supporters, and the general public perceive your organization.

Two general questions will enable you to precisely define your campaign goal.

Will your campaign rely on a conquest or cause approach?

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for capital campaigns. They generally fall into a continuum from conquest to cause. Your first priority is to get clear on which approach is best for your campaign. That decision has a host of implications, from the proper dollar amount to the most effective solicitation messages.

Conquest or Cause: Which Approach is Right for Your Capital Campaign?

Your campaign approach determines everything from monetary goals to messaging. So getting clear on which approach is wisest is mission critical. Let this comprehensive guide help you determine whether your head or your heart should lead the way.

When it comes to conquest goals, “bigger is better” is the mantra. A conquest campaign’s success depends on an astronomical goal and big gifts. Data drives the campaign forward. Accolades and past accomplishments drive the Case for Support.

Cause campaigns, on the other hand, highlight the common good. In a cause campaign, success is measured in terms of social impact, which is enabled by dollars. Passion builds the campaign’s momentum — and stories rally the donors. 

Knowing what approach you’ll lean on — conquest, cause, or a hybrid — is an essential step to achieving your desired outcomes.

What is the right campaign goal?

Once you’ve honed in on your campaign approach, you’ll have more insight about an appropriate goal.

“Dream big” might be a good starting point for a conquest campaign. A cause campaign, though, will take more creative thinking. You’ll have to consider how to fuse the financial target with measurable impact. For example, how many programs will you aim to fund with each tier of support? 

An outside partner can be instrumental to inform these decisions. When you work with an experienced fundraising consultant, you’ll have a better idea of the possibilities for your organization’s campaign goal. Your consultant can carry out a planning study and propose a strategy that balances risk with opportunity. 

Leaning on an objective assessment can empower you to make the best decisions. A consultant can nudge you to one end of the risk spectrum or the other — and back up the advice with data. 

Once You’ve Defined a Campaign Goal, Test It

Now that you’ve selected an approach and a preliminary dollar amount you’re comfortable with, it’s time to test your goal’s viability. 

Test 1: The preliminary case for support

A preliminary case for support is the first test. This early-phase document articulates the rationale for your campaign goal, the target dollar amount, and the projected impact of achievement. This is an eye-opening exercise. When your goal is laid out in detail, your internal stakeholders must agree with and be accountable to the same vision.

That shared vision is a prerequisite for three additional tests of your campaign goal’s viability. 

Test 2: Assess donor interest

Conversations with key stakeholders—including major donors—will provide information that can serve as a barometer for your goal’s feasibility. Build rapport by sharing your coherent campaign vision. Talk about potential sources of financial support , including their own intentions for the campaign.

An honest conversation with an influencer will reveal where your campaign falls in their charitable priorities. What will affect whether they will give — and how much? 

Influencers’ self-identified gifts for your campaign (and the larger context of their typical gift giving) gives you a benchmark. You can determine whether other influencers might respond similarly. Conversations with these key donors directly inform both the range of possibilities and extent of acceptable risk for your campaign goal.

Test 3: Evaluate past giving trends

Your new campaign goals will take into consideration the success or failure of past campaigns. Long story short? If your last campaign met or exceeded your goal, you’ve still got a high to ride on. However, if your organization missed the ball, you need to hit it this time. If you have a history of missed goals, a win is monumentally important. 

Your wins and losses affect your reputation and your ability to achieve objectives. But your “score” also affects the morale and commitment of potential leaders and volunteers. Even if they care deeply about the goal, they want to play on a winning team. 

Test 4: Expose blind spots

Running a campaign comes with pressure — both internally and externally. It’s nearly impossible for you to keep a 360-degree view of your own campaign. A fundraising consultant can shed light on what you can’t see. 

A consultant can hold a holistic view and identify what you’ve missed in your calculations. Sometimes that means pointing out costs you haven’t considered. It could also mean offering a truer picture of what your community can be asked to do and give. 

When you decide on a final campaign goal, you want to ensure you have considered everything that could support your efforts. And more than likely, that takes a pair of expert eyes.

Choosing the right campaign goal has many implications. It’s a tough job! You need grit, and you also need proven strategies. With the right mix of both, you have an excellent chance of leading a winning team. 

Laura MacDonald has earned a national reputation for her dedication to the nonprofit sector. She is a Certified Fund-Raising Executive (CFRE) with decades of experience in nonprofit leadership, fundraising, and philanthropy. In 1999, she established Benefactor Group to serve the needs of those who serve the common good.

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