Jul/Aug 2006

Capital Campaign Communications: Giving Major Gift Prospects the Right Kinds of Updates

by David G. Phillips, President, Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS)

Picture a pyramid that comprises all of the people a development professional could communicate with about his organization's capital campaign. At the bottom is the general public, in the middle are those who have some direct experience with the organization (clients, volunteers, mid-range donors, etc.) and at the top are the few known to be major gift prospects.

These few at the top are the key to fundraising success. They can make or break a capital campaign since 90 percent or more of a campaign's gifts come from 10 percent or less of its prospective donors. Yet, so many campaign communications plans are designed to broadcast to the entire pyramid — thousands of people having little or no stake in your organization.

It is imperative to create a capital campaign plan that focuses on communicating primarily with those top people who have demonstrated a desire to give money to the organization. Such a plan consists of several tools:

  1. Case for support — a document that states the organization's unique ability to fill the demonstrated need of an identified constituency, outlines the campaign and conveys a sense of urgency.

  2. Fundraising brochure — a more concise version of the case statement that also shows ways to give, gift tables and other diagrams helpful to donors.

  3. Motivational messages — conveyed in a variety of forms to energize campaign volunteers and excite prospects and donors.

  4. Publicity plan — one for the entire pyramid and one for the pinnacle. Keep the general public and friends informed with press releases announcing the campaign's milestones, such as the introduction of the campaign leadership and goal, the kickoff event, outstanding gifts received and the meeting of the campaign goal. But, allot 90 percent of the campaign communication schedule to implementing a highly customized and frequent "one-on-one" communication plan for the top of your pyramid.

Three ways to keep your top donors informed

Many top donors are the campaign's leaders. In addition to receiving the updates described below, they will receive campaign news during meetings and solicitation briefings. But for the rest of the donors, consider one or more of the following tips:

  1. Online:

    • Give the campaign a prominent place on the home page of your Web site, and keep the page updated. Make it easy for donors, prospects and casual visitors to keep abreast of the progress of the campaign.

    • Create a "Leader's Letter" for the top 10 percent, including your campaign leadership. Provide "insider" information about campaign leaders, profile donors and report on motivations for gifts in this weekly memo.

    • Design a monthly e-newsletter — short, newsy and uplifting. This only works if your prospects have and like email (and you have the address!). But this is the way to drive information to a group of prospects beyond your campaign leadership.

    • Develop a micro-site. If some people prefer to initiate the e-contact, send them to your campaign micro-site — a specific Web site address that tells them campaign-specific information (e.g. campaign status and major gift news). You also can archive the content of your e-newsletter here for reference. Usually, micro-sites are emotional and make a specific offer or call to action.

    • Take advantage of the sophisticated Internet tools available for database management and CRM (often referred to as constituent relationship management). They will help you to follow the patterns of your constituents with regard to their habits of opening and reading your online newsletters and visiting your micro-site. In turn, you will get a better understanding of their preferences and how they like to be reached — all based upon careful inquiry and evaluation of their online interactions with your organization.

  2. Publications:

    • Send a quarterly campaign newsletter — the old-fashioned, hard copy kind that many people still prefer.

    • Send letters. Be sure that the salutation, at the very least, is customized. They should be signed by the campaign chair and sent throughout the campaign as news warrants.

  3. In person:

    • Visit prospects periodically just to give them an update, describe construction progress or tell about a family that will benefit from the donor's gift.

    • Plan events throughout the year, make campaign announcements if possible and ensure that someone meets and informs your most important guests about campaign news.

Timetable for highest impact

Set up a schedule for all communication vehicles, bearing in mind that you'll want to be flexible with it so that you can respond to good news, such as when the million-dollar gift comes in. Audiences will overlap sometimes, so use your judgment as to how often communications should occur. Your schedule should unfold in the following way:

  • Weekly — General updates for the campaign team and meeting preparation information just before campaign meetings.
  • Monthly — News for donors/top prospects and before a planned event and as needed for exciting major gift news.
  • Bimonthly — News for other prospects and before a planned event.
  • Quarterly — News for your donor base or general database as desired.


By focusing on effective communications with your circle of known supporters, you will help keep all donors excited about the campaign at its launch and into its early months that are so critical to success.

David G. Phillips is President and CEO of Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) in Charleston, SC. CDS, which is among America’s fastest growing fundraising consulting firms, specializes in the strategic planning and tactical execution of fundraising campaigns for nonprofits large and small throughout North America. Learn more about CDS and Mr. Phillips at dgp@cdsfunds.com or 1-800.761.3833.


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