Feeling Unprepared for Your Capital Campaign?

I attended a fundraising conference where a friend and fellow fundraising consultant presented a session on the 15 essentials to launch a capital campaign. The title made my heart skip a beat. Running a thriving fundraising program while trying to orchestrate a multi-million-dollar capital campaign can be so stressful. I had to learn more, so I tracked my colleague down.

After exchanging updates on family and business, I asked how he came up with so many requirements. His response, “They wanted me to talk for three hours, so I came up with 15 to fill the time.”

Funny, I thought, the amount of work needed for a successful campaign depends upon how much time your consultant has to speak?  The idea of 15 essentials is more than enough to instill panic in the minds of busy Development Directors! I imagined participants giving up before they even got started.

Capital campaigns emerged more than 100 years ago in the United States and are growing around the globe. There is no shortage of opinions about what is needed to be successful. A simple Internet search results in any number of essentials, but 15 was the most I’ve ever seen.

Since 1989, I’ve helped lead hundreds of capital campaigns and from experience, I can confidently say the essentials boil down to five. That’s right, I’ve found the following “essentials” at the core of most successful campaigns:

    Both institutional and volunteer leaders who will be actively involved in the campaign are needed to validate and share the campaign’s purpose with others.
    The needs that are articulated in your Case for Support must be extremely compelling and emotional. The Case must clearly demonstrate that a campaign is absolutely necessary to ensure that your organization can realistically achieve something important (change lives, change the world, etc.). Constituents will take your campaign seriously when they are convinced that the need is valid, urgent, and compelling.
    Organizing volunteers, meeting with donors, preparing materials, and guiding a campaign take time. You must have adequate internal resources to conduct a successful campaign. Resources include people, systems, processes, volunteer support, and a campaign budget.
    Every campaign has just one opportunity to be executed properly. Creating the proper leadership structure, a timeline with measurable milestones, and a strategy for early campaign momentum are imperative parts of a great plan.
    Obviously, sufficient contributable dollars must be available to achieve success. Therefore, you must be certain that the number of prospects needed to ensure success exists and that the proper proportion of prospects relative to capacity is available.

While I believe in the importance of these five, I have often seen campaigns succeed without strength in each area. Curious to know if my experience mirrors others, I reached out to more than a dozen experienced capital campaign consultants to get their thoughts. Here is what they confirmed:

First, very few organizations start their campaigns with all five essentials in place. Most have to “build the bicycle while they ride it.”

Second, if leadership is not in place at the start of a campaign, it is the most difficult essential to obtain.

Third, as the chart below shows, the experts consider leadership to be the most critical with a compelling Case for Support coming in second. As one noted, “Excellent leadership has the potential to obviate other deficits.”

If you have leadership at the beginning, it indicates that people with passion and capacity believe strongly enough in the need to use their resources to influence others to get involved. The remaining essentials can evolve. For example, the Case may not be articulated perfectly at the beginning but can develop along the way. And, part of a great plan can include how you’ll manage the campaign until “adequate resources” are in place. But if you don’t have great leadership from the start, you will be hard-pressed to get the campaign out of the starting gate.


 None of the experts considered adequate resources to be the most important. As one noted, “So far, every development team I’ve observed has been understaffed and under-budgeted for campaign work.”

How strong of a difference can leadership make? I once worked with an organization that had very little experience with philanthropy and the Executive Director had no interest in the campaign. She just wanted the money to help expand their services. The Board was not a “fundraising board” and very few donors supported the organization outside of buying tickets to events. However, one passionate and generous volunteer so loved the work of this organization that she went “all in” to make it a success. Not only did she make a very generous gift, she also met with at least one, more often two, donors a week throughout the duration of the campaign. As a leader, she almost single-handedly put the campaign over goal, and in the process deepened donor engagement and relationships.

With so much importance placed upon leadership, and knowing that most organizations must focus limited resources on the most critical activities, here is a list of suggested campaign readiness activities:

  • Internal Leadership

    Begin educating your organization’s executive team (CEO, CFO, etc.) about campaigns and the importance of a strategic plan and vision. The most successful campaigns are always rooted in a shared vision among the Board and staff, so make sure your internal leadership has spent time on this before campaign discussions begin.

    Consider sharing this blog post with your team so they understand how critical their involvement is. Ask for their help in guiding a process to identify priorities, create a budget, and show the impact of contributed dollars on the organization’s mission. Develop a practice of having monthly meetings to discuss campaign readiness, key donor relationships, and next steps. Help your team become more comfortable with the fund development process by involving them in meetings to thank donors, answer their questions, and share the strategic vision with them.

  • Board Leadership

    Work with a Board committee, such as Governance, to evaluate your Board’s current strengths, particularly as it relates to fundraising, and develop a plan for putting in place the strongest possible Board. Engage the committee in regular meetings to discuss leadership identification, recruitment, Board training, and next steps. Ask the committee to make sure every Board member can easily articulate the organization’s mission and why it is personally important to them.

  • Donor Leadership

    Identify three to five people who could make significant gifts to the campaign and who could influence others to give as well. Create a plan for building relationships with these individuals. Note, I did not say create a plan for asking them for a campaign gift (at least not yet). Involve them in discussions about the ideas for the campaign, with a focus on the impact a campaign could have on the lives of individuals, the community, and the world. Share their feedback with your organization’s leaders.

There is always more you could do to prepare for a campaign, but don’t let that paralyze your organization. Prioritize your focus on developing leaders, volunteer and professionals, who are passionate, determined, and have confidence in the unlimited potential of your organization. In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, attract leaders who “believe you can, and you are halfway there.”

Managing Director, Carter Global

For more than 30 years, Kristina Carlson, CFRE has guided nonprofit institutions in their efforts to secure major gifts and other resources necessary to make a significant impact. She is a proven leader, an entrepreneur, an author of the best-selling Essential Principles for Fundraising Success, and an in-demand speaker at national and international conferences and workshops. As Managing Director with Carter, Kristina works to inspire philanthropists, volunteers, nonprofit leaders, and development professionals to do more by defining and focusing on mission-critical activities, creating systems of accountability, and experiencing the joy of philanthropy.

Deep Roots In Philanthropy

Bob Carter outside

Philanthropy is so deeply rooted for Bob Carter that his volunteerism and career have melded into a life devoted to helping charitable organizations worldwide. While his classmates at Johns Hopkins University were electing careers in medicine and on Wall Street. Carter began teaching British and American literature. He was drawn into fundraising-eventually for his alma mater and then for Ketchum where he spent 15 years as President and CEO of its fundraising arm. Carter’s “retirement” lasted less than three months, and he founded his namesake firm, Carter, in 2011.

The company has grown to 30 professionals, each with less than 15 years’ experience, who work locally, nationally, and internationally, helping nonprofits with fundraising, governance, and strategic planning. Carter has aided West Coast Black Theatre Troupe’s capital campaign, Sarasota Ballet, Boys and Girls Clubs Manatee County, and is working with the Van Wezel Foundation’s performing arts center bayside. Carter has chaired seven nonprofit boards, including Mote Marine Laboratory’s board on which he still serves. He currently is volunteering with a committee to establish a foundation that will allow the World Health Organization to receive funding through private donations for the first time. Another project involves raising funds for a new university in Switzerland alongside a Russian entrepreneur.

Carter has received many awards throughout his career, inducing being named a Rotary Club Paul Harris Fellow. A gifted athlete who helped take Johns Hopkins’ lacrosse team to two Division I championships, Carter was a three-sport athlete at The Boys Latin School, which honored him as an Outstanding Alumnus. He and his wife, Carol, past Vice-Chancellor at the University of Pittsburgh, are both active in international and local philanthropy, and she now serves as an Anna Maria Island commissioner.

– used with permission from SARASOTA SCENE magazine

Nonprofit Expert Bob Carter Shares His Tips For Choosing a Charity


Beyond its award-winning beaches and abundant cultural attractions, Sarasota County has one more claim to fame. It’s overflowing with nonprofit organizations—2,154 of them, according to the Florida Nonprofit Alliance—making it among the top two or three counties in the entire U.S. for the number of nonprofits per capita.

Bob CarterThat’s from Bob Carter, chairman of Sarasota-based Carter, whose 30-member team of consultants advises some four dozen nonprofits each year around the world on strategic planning, governance and fund-raising campaigns—everything from the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s recent $8 million Heart & Soul campaign to World Vision U.S.’s current $1 billion Every Last One campaign to eradicate extreme poverty across the globe.

That Sarasota ranks so high is a dubious honor, he points out, because there’s so much duplication of missions and programs here, and such heavy competition for philanthropic dollars.

So, with more than 2,100 choices—not to mention the 1,368 nonprofits in neighboring Manatee County—what’s a newcomer to our area, or a recent retiree with time on his hands, or a professional who wants to burnish her C.V. to do when they want to apply their knowledge, skills and dollars to help a local nonprofit?

“Giving is 90 percent emotional and 10 percent rational,” says Carter, who is chair-emeritus of the Association of Fund-Raising Professionals international board of directors. But there are measurements to guide you.

Read moreNonprofit Expert Bob Carter Shares His Tips For Choosing a Charity

There’s lots of chatter about fundraising in 2019:

get out and fundraise

I can’t resist putting my take on it. It’s a result of weathering 5 recessions etc. etc! Here goes:

The best fundraisers will be successful if:
They will use the tools available in technology with applied analytics and continue to develop strong relationships with top prospects for major and mega gifts.
They will not spend time talking about the tax laws but will recognize that cases for support have always overcome tax changes.
They will treat all gifts as noble and donors as having the potential to grow their gifts if given opportunities that excite them to do so.
They will make sure their cases are relevant, urgent and emotional, remembering that giving is 90% emotional and 10% rational.

It’s all about human behavior. We should all remember that the appreciation in the USA equities market is extremely significant as it sat at 6500 in March of 2009 and now we worry about a 100-200 slide from 25,000 -23,000 or more. Most major donor prospects today have been investing and captured that growth for the last decade. fundraising drivers: equities and employment In other words, 2019 will be what you make it. Pick up your phone, Get out from behind the desk and remember that no fundraising happens at your desk!

Bob at Carter

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Twelve Days of Holiday Giving Ideas

holliday lights

Twelve Days of Holiday Giving Ideas
Bob Carter, CFRE, Chairman

There is almost no excuse today for people to not give in some way to help an important cause unless they are truly a Scrooge. Use these last days in 2019 wisely and you will truly know the joy of giving to others – making the lives of friends and family and people you may never meet, more joyful!!

(1) Make a direct gift by Cash or Check
(2) Contribute Appreciated Securities
(3) Donate your Real Estate
(4) Transfer ownership or add a beneficiary interest to a Life Insurance Policy
(5) Establish a Life Income Instrument
(6) Make a gift up to $15,000 in 2018 to a Family Member
(7) Designate your IRA Charitable Rollover
(8) Donate Food
(9) Give away Books or Computer Software
(10) Contribute Stock of an S Corporation
(11) Establish a Conservation Easement
(12) Volunteer Your Time and Talents!

Carter provides counsel to nonprofit organizations all over the world in the areas of fundraising, governance and organization planning. The company has offices in Sarasota and Vero Beach, along with 27 consultants living throughout North America and Mexico. Contact Carter

“Beyond the Ask: A Fundraiser’s Rise to the Pinnacle of His Profession”


By Holly Hall

Reaching the top of the fundraising profession involves so much more than perfecting one’s solicitation skills. Just ask Bob Carter.

Now chairman of Carter, his simply named consulting firm also known as Carter Global, this consummate fundraiser has climbed the ranks of the fundraising profession, raising money worldwide for more than a decade. He has also led difficult efforts to reorganize failing fundraising companies and nonprofit organizations—work that most development professionals are only too happy to avoid. His career offers several fundraising lessons, especially for those interested in consulting work or the financial rigors of running successful nonprofit organizations.

Carter’s experience reflects not only the high points possible with an international fundraising career—global travel, frequent flyer miles, well-placed clients, and lucrative pay—but also downsides like family disruptions from the constant travel. (Carter and his first wife, the mother of his two grown sons, are divorced. His second wife, Carol Armacost Carter, a seasoned fundraiser in her own right, is a managing director at his company. This year marks their 35th anniversary.)

Carter’s fundraising career started out of necessity: After completing a four-year degree at Johns Hopkins University, he found that he couldn’t make ends meet with his first job out of college: teaching English.

Read more“Beyond the Ask: A Fundraiser’s Rise to the Pinnacle of His Profession”