Key Elements of a Successful Campaign Plan

The Anatomy of a Capital Campaign Plan
The Anatomy of a Capital Campaign Plan


October 26, 2023

For every school, the right preparation ensures a campaign's success. A campaign plan lays out the design and proposed steps for implementation: identify your prospects; engage your constituents; and solicit, recognize, and steward your donors. Your plan illustrates what the campaign will look like from establishing goals to achieving results.

What you develop is as much a marketing tool as it is a planning document. And while your campaign plan will be polished and complete, bear in mind that it is still a draft. A campaign plan is a living document, one to review periodically and change to adapt to new circumstances.

What helps a campaign be successful?

Foremost, your plan is mission-driven. Your school’s purpose and values are reflected in your campaign design. Like your mission statement, your plan must be well thought out and clear. You don’t want a document so loaded with legalese or jargon that it becomes unreadable; you want a logically organized, coherent document the intended audience understands.

The complete plan should be thorough and concise, but also be a useful organizational tool.

There are many contributors to a campaign plan. In addition to Trustees and Development Office staff, you can invite major prospects to give advice. Your plan should be inclusively developed. The campaign plan is an evolving piece created during the campaign readiness phase.

Your campaign consultant will help develop the plan with input from key members of your community. Look within your community for knowledge! Those with prior experience in other campaigns, who have worked at the leadership level, can provide invaluable insight on how to proceed.

While the development process is inclusive, the distribution of the campaign plan should be selective. At all stages, this remains a draft document, subject to changes. You do not want people to misconstrue that the plan is locked in.


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What elements should you include in your campaign plan?

Much of what is included in your written plan will depend on your school and its needs. These vary based on your school's size, the intended goal, and the supporting community. ISM offers the following suggested structure covering ten basic elements that should be spelled out in your campaign plan.

1. Purpose (Case for Support) and Campaign Goals

The campaign's purpose (as articulated in the Case for Support) and goals must be clearly spelled out. This is the most important element of a campaign plan, and one of the hardest things to get right. This narrows the focus of your efforts and provides transparency so everyone internally will know what the intended result is.

2. A Prospect Profile

Knowing the capacity, inclination and interest of your prospects and tapping them in constituent groups, such as alumni, increases the reach and potential of the campaign. But the message must be tailored. For example, a philanthropic grandparent requires a different approach than an educational foundation.

What plans are in place to engage your prospects in the Case for Support? How will you evaluate your prospects’ interest in the various purposes of the Campaign?

3. Progress to Date

You may ask yourself if you should reference progress-to-date during the initial planning stage. Remember, this is a draft that will be revised many times. When you receive input from those you have contacted, some may want to get on board immediately.

The campaign plan should probably include what the benchmarks are, but not necessarily if they've been met. Whether benchmarks are met is part of the regular reporting on the status of the campaign. You don't revise the campaign plan every time a benchmark is met.

The benefit of showing the percentage of the goal reached—even before the campaign is officially launched—is a potential boost for marketing.

4. Campaign Leadership and Organization

A successful campaign requires strong leadership and logistical support. Experienced people need to organize and execute the plan. It is especially important that everyone works cooperatively with a full understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the campaign leaders.

For example, the Head is the chief fundraiser, working in close collaboration with the Development Director who leads the Development Office team. And the importance of the Board as the group that approves the campaign plan and its goals and also provides the initial financial support of the plan.

5. Staffing and Campaign Management

Think about who will be in charge of the campaign. Are you recruiting your Development Director to act as manager, or will you create a new position and hire someone to lead the team? How about consultants? Will you hire a firm to lend advice and experience? The answers to these questions should be spelled out in your plan.

But in all cases the Head is the ultimate authority, and the Development Director works closely with the Head. If they decide to hire outside fundraising counsel, counsel works for them, not the other way around.

6. Campaign Timetable

The timetable is especially important. An open-ended deadline is not helpful for keeping your goals on track. The timetable keeps everyone engaged and motivated to reach the target.

7. Campaign Budget

This is also a vital component of the campaign plan. Everyone wants to know who is going to pay for this. Is the school’s budget going to cover expenses or will these costs be taken from the proceeds of the campaign? Transparency here is essential.

8. Projected Range of Gifts to Reach the Campaign Goal

Typically, a campaign plan will outline the types of gift the school will accept, the gift acceptance policy and the ways of giving, and the pledge time period.

This is sometimes called a “gift pyramid.” Displaying the number of gifts at specific dollar amounts necessary to reach the goal. This pyramid is just to be shared with those who are designing the campaign, not the future prospects.

9. Solicitation Strategy and Process

Solicitation is a process in itself. This includes the all important step of donor research. How much do you ask for? You have to understand your donor's capacity, their interest in your case, and their life situation.

Develop a detailed plan that determines timing, how to extend the invitation, and whether you will approach each individual prospect as a team or by a single solicitor. Make sure you craft persuasive conversations to have with prospective donors.

10. Recognition and Stewardship

How are you going to acknowledge your donors? Recognition of contributions is often an incentive for people to give. Is it possible to offer naming opportunities? How will you reassure your donors that their gifts will be put to good use and have a lasting impact on the school? Whatever your school decides, this follow-up should be part of the campaign plan.

What happens when a campaign is successful?

Your successful efforts go far beyond reaching a funding target. You now have what you need for present financial security, and also what is required for your future vision. The proverb “Nothing succeeds like success” is absolutely true. Morale for the entire school community, including student pride, improves with a successful campaign and the subsequent enhancements it funds.

The project, program, or capital improvements funded by the campaign can serve as compelling recruitment tools—the new athletic complex, arts building, or library can easily become the centerpiece of campus tours, while new programs in the music, sports, or academic disciplines can draw students particularly gifted in those areas.

Schools see increased admission demand following capital improvements to their campuses—including facilities and equipment. By engaging your constituents in a capital campaign, you can expect annual giving programs to grow. There is a positive effect on the community and on the school that generates momentum for future goals.

A successful capital campaign accomplishes more than just your immediate goal. Proper planning and organization ensures future success and the benefits that come with it.

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School leaders aren’t sure what strategies are effective, what will work in their communities, or how to structure their campaigns to achieve long-term success. The truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for fundraising—each strategy must begin with your unique needs and build on your strengths to achieve your goals. Learn how to develop successful strategies to engage and bring donors closer to your institution. No matter your school size, history, or pedagogy, explore how to plan, implement, and evaluate your fundraising strategies to realize your full potential.



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