When planned and executed well, capital campaigns fund major expansions and investments that allow your nonprofit to reach the next level of impact.
But what if now’s not the time for a multimillion-dollar campaign or you don’t have a need for a massive new investment? The scale of traditional capital campaigns is a limiting factor that makes organizations hesitant to plan them—which makes sense considering the time and resources they require.
However, that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t benefit from a smaller-scale injection of capital and energy.
Chances are a smaller, more digestible campaign that builds on capital campaign methodology could give your nonprofit the jumpstart it needs to grow its impact without needing to commit to a high-stakes multi-year project. Nonprofits are increasingly adapting the model for this very reason.
What’s a mini capital campaign?
A mini capital campaign, also called a capacity campaign, involves using capital campaign tactics to build capacity for your organization in smaller-scale and more diverse ways rather than funding a single large project.
Understanding organizational capacity
Expanding your nonprofit’s capacity is the underlying reason for capital campaigns (of all sizes). Your capacity can be broadly defined as your ability to pursue your mission, which is bounded by a number of limiting factors including your budget, staff, governance, infrastructure, and capital (i.e. all the assets that you use to run your nonprofit and deliver programming).
Your capacity essentially determines how many constituents you can serve and the scope of your impact on the community.
When you’re operating at capacity, you have limited time or resources to do things other than meet constituent needs and cover your overhead expenses—not a good recipe for growth and increased impact. With greater capacity (more staff, a bigger annual budget, upgraded tools and facilities), you have the breathing room to grow sustainably with expanded services and programs.
A campaign designed specifically to help you increase your capacity in one way or another can help propel your organization to a new level of growth and impact.
What can capacity campaigns accomplish?
So what are the specific capacity investments that a mini campaign can fund? Here are some common examples:
- Building projects, like renovations and repairs
- Equipment and tech upgrades
- Additional staff and staff training
- Organizational assessment, planning, and professional support
- Communications planning and strategy development
- Startup funds for new programs
These are similar to the objectives you may lay out for a typical capital campaign but at a smaller scale. However, even if the investments you want to make are relatively modest, the items on this list can help you expand your capacity and become a more effective organization.
Capacity campaigns can be built around a single objective or several grouped together. For instance, instead of trying to cover these needed capacity investments in your operating budget one at a time each year, you could instead seize the opportunity to tackle several at once in a special one-time capacity campaign.
How does a mini capital campaign work?
A mini capital campaign follows a plan and strategy similar to what you would prepare for a typical capital campaign, just on a smaller scale and shortened time frame. The key differences are that you’ll rely on gifts from a smaller group of lead donors to reach your goal. Your goal will be lower, for example, $250,000 rather than the multi-million dollar goal of most full-scale campaigns. And you’ll need to put extra thought into explaining your objectives in compelling ways if they’re not attached to a shiny major project.
A mini campaign will adapt the standard phases of a full-scale capital campaign but make them simpler and shorter:
- Planning. Determine the campaign’s objectives and working goal.
- Feasibility study. For a mini-campaign, you aren’t likely to do a full feasibility study, but you should have more casual discussions with lead donors to explain your plan and gauge their interest. The idea is simply to gather knowledge and secure buy-in so that you can make adjustments and move forward confidently.
- Quiet phase. This is when you’ll focus on gathering the lead gifts that will make up the bulk of your fundraising goal.
- Kickoff. Announce your new capacity projects to the community at large.
- Public phase. Collect the remainder of your fundraising goal from smaller donations and public events.
- Follow-up. Execute your new projects or investments and thank everyone for their help.
Note that this model is extremely flexible! If you have a passionate major donor who’s excited to help you knock out a modest project, they very well may cover the majority of the funding and you might skip the kickoff and public phases. Major supporters might even be drawn to this type of campaign as a way to have an outsized impact in a more digestible way.
Even though your mini campaign goal is relatively small, you must concretely define your objectives, determine what you’ll need to raise to achieve them, research your top prospects, and talk to them to communicate your plan. From there, you can design and adjust your campaign in the ways that work best for your unique context.
What is “campaign thinking,” and why is it useful?
Capital campaigns thrive on a certain type of thinking, and so do their smaller-scale cousins.
“Campaign thinking” entails thinking from abundance and possibility rather than scarcity and pessimism. After all, the whole point of this kind of campaign is to expand your capacity beyond its current limits—focusing too hard on what holds you back can defeat the purpose and deflate your vision and goals. Think about what you could accomplish if there were no economic or material constraints, and use that vision to lay out an inspiring campaign plan.
Of course, you still need a realistic balance of mindsets to be a responsible leader and steward of your nonprofit’s resources. But if you overly constrain your vision for your organization’s future, it’s unlikely you’ll ever find the motivation and buy-in to truly level up your impact.
Remember that your organizational capacity is determined by an intricate set of factors. Jolting your organization with an influx of capital (in the form of facility upgrades, new staff members, professional consulting, or whatever you need to drive greater impact) is what allows you to expand your capacity and secure the footing you need to ramp up your operations.
But this is difficult to do if you rely only on annual fundraising, slow donor acquisition, and a protective scarcity mindset without making meaningful investments in your own ability to grow.
A mini capital campaign is an approachable and highly flexible way to provide your organization with the kickstart it needs to invest in its own growth.
This is why nonprofits shouldn’t wait too long to conduct them! Full-scale capital campaigns come around every ten or fifteen years. But between those big campaigns, you can fuel sustainable growth in a lower-stakes way through smaller mini-campaigns.
New to capital campaigns? Explore Capital Campaign Toolkit’s library of campaign resources to learn more about this kind of fundraising and what a mini or full-size campaign tailored to your nonprofit could achieve for your mission.