The Psychology of Capital Campaign Gift Giving

Posted by David G Phillips on Aug 9, 2018 9:15:44 AM

Capital campaigns are set off from other fund-raising projects because they simply require larger gifts. The capital campaign goal is usually extraordinary and requires extraordinary gifts. But, capital campaign funding strategy is abnormal. Normal is annual fund giving or special event giving. We call it transactional or traditional fund raising. I ask, you give; you get something for your gift. It goes on every year at about the same time, and the donor learns to expect it.

Capital campaign giving is not usual and takes place in an irregular pattern. Capital campaign fund raising is relational. If I am going to ask you for a mega-gift and if I am hopeful of that gift for my capital campaign, I have to establish a relationship with you. That relationship has to be built on trust. There already may be a relationship through a board affiliation, as an annual donor, as a volunteer. But I have to be nurturing if I am going to succeed in getting your help for my capital campaign. I have to prove to you that I am a good steward of your gift and your relationship with our organization.

As an annual fund donor, you may give my organization $1,000 once or twice a year. As one of those who I rely on to attend my special events, you may give my organization $500 or $1,000 annually to attend the annual gala. You are generous. You like the attention. We appreciate the support. But, what motivates someone to make the largest gift of his or her life to a capital campaign?

You are asking someone to move from a $1,000 a year level to a $100,000 level for a capital campaign. First, your research better be good because you never want to embarrass a donor by shooting too high or too low. You must know your prospect’s capability. Do they have the financial capacity? Do they have an intense interest in what you are doing? Do they have a charitable nature when it comes to a gift this size? Are they willing to invest in your capital campaign and commit to your ideas?

The traditional annual fund drive or the usual special event are cut and dried. The donor knows where the money is going. But a capital campaign is different. You have to ask the prospect to dream with you, to see your vision and to make it their vision. That is a heady task. You are taking an idea and making it a reality through a series of gifts that people are unaccustomed to making. It is an unusual process.

By taking risk and asking all the right questions, a prospect might just start to believe in your mission. He might just start to see where his mega-gift might fit in. He might be seeing for the first time the results of the largest gift he has ever made to any organization. You have been persuasive, you have invited participation, you have sought input, you have transferred knowledge, and you have gained consensus.

With the passion of the process and the emotion of the gift must come a sense of purpose. I have to state the course of my purpose and not waver from what it is we actually need versus what the donor thinks we need. I am not going to sacrifice a project by taking a misdirected gift. The prospect will appreciate someone who sees clarity through emotion.

The capital campaign gift process is unique. It has to be plotted carefully. The planners have to be stewards of ideas and dreams. The capital campaign will succeed with determination, enthusiasm, and patience.

John Warren is Vice President of Funds Development for The Homewood Foundation in Williamsport, Maryland. The Homewood Foundation, Inc. is the fund-raising arm of Homewood Retirement Centers, Inc., a network of Continuing Care Retirement Communities serving the needs of today's families in Maryland and Pennsylvania since 1932.

Custom Development Solutions, Inc., (CDS) is among one of the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada. If you have a fundraising question, please call  CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to

Topics: Annual Fund, capital campaign, capital campaign fundraising, capital campaign planning, capital campaigns, Capital Campaigns, donor, fund raising, gift

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