Using Data for Smarter Capital Campaign Planning: 4 Tips

Build a better capital campaign with these four tips.

If it’s time to grow your capacity with a large-scale campaign, you should definitely take all possible steps to maximize its effectiveness and impact, starting by digging into your data. 

Your organization’s data is an invaluable resource for planning an effective capital campaign. Since these undertakings are long and intensive, refining your strategy with data will help safeguard all of the time and resources you invest in it. This is especially important after a year of new challenges, budgetary adjustments, and messaging overhauls.

Of course, your core objectives and goals are the primary shapers of your capital campaign. Data is useful for filling in the blanks and guiding the individual prospecting, cultivation, and marketing tactics that you’ll use during different phases of the campaign. It can help you better prioritize your efforts and focus your attention on the donors who’ll have the most impact, ultimately saving you time and resources once your campaign is underway.

At the Capital Campaign Toolkit, we’ve guided nonprofits of all shapes and sizes through the campaign planning process, and we’ve gathered a few tips to share. Here are four ways you can use your data to sharpen your plans:

  1. Actively track relevant performance data on an ongoing basis.
  2. Take a data-driven approach to prospect research.
  3. Use data to strengthen your case for support.
  4. Segment your audience for public phase promotions.

Data can and should actively contribute to your capital campaign’s plans. With these foundational tips, you’ll be able to compile a data-driven strategy that kickstarts an efficient and impactful campaign. Let’s dive in.

1. Actively track relevant performance data on an ongoing basis.

Without a solid foundation of fundraising and engagement data to begin with, drawing new insights to guide your capital campaign strategies will be difficult. Your nonprofit should actively track incoming data from all of its fundraising and marketing activities using a database or CRM platform

Then, on an ongoing basis (and before diving into a new campaign), you can study this data to answer questions like:

  • Who is our average donor? What are their demographic and giving characteristics?
  • Who are our average donors at different giving levels?
  • Which campaigns have historically performed the best in terms of revenue? In terms of engagement?

Use this foundation to dig deeper and find connections when planning various aspects of your campaign. For instance, you might correlate successful (or unsuccessful) campaigns in the past to the particular appeal strategies that you used in them. These insights can immediately inform your approach when targeting similar segments of donors in your campaign.

The best practice of actively recording and leveraging performance data applies to all types of fundraising campaigns you may conduct, not just capital campaigns. It lays the foundation for modern, more efficient fundraising across the board and can yield significant benefits when fully baked into your nonprofit’s planning processes.

2. Take a data-driven approach to prospect research.

Now turning more specifically to capital campaigns, remember that your data can and should inform your prospecting process, not just your appeals and marketing tactics. A capital campaign’s quiet phase involves identifying prospects, building relationships with them, explaining your campaign’s goals, and asking for major gifts. It’s important work that will directly determine your campaign’s ultimate success, so let your data help however it can.

Prospect researchers already rely on information from databases to learn about the philanthropic activities and wealth markers of individuals in their communities. However, your organization’s own historical data can definitely play a role, too. For example, you can learn a lot by analyzing these types of data points about your prospects:

  • Their giving history, including the recency, frequency, and amounts of their past donations
  • The specific types of campaigns that they’ve supported in the past
  • Their broader engagement history, including volunteering and event attendance

This data can give you a birds-eye view of your nonprofit’s relationships with prospects. Then, use these insights to shape your development team’s conversations with them throughout the entire quiet phase. For example:

  • A prospect who recently gave a mid-size gift may be open to making a larger gift to the campaign, but you’ll have to adjust your ask accordingly.
  • A prospect who already gives on a monthly basis could be reminded of the cumulative impact they’ve had on your mission to inspire them to grow their impact even further.
  • A prospect who regularly attends your events may be eager to engage with virtual cultivation and community events during each phase of your campaign.
  • A prospect who historically gives to a certain type of campaign might be approached with similar messaging or appeal strategies.

Your development team should use your data to first identify potential prospects, but remember that the longer cultivation process should take a highly personalized, one-on-one approach, too. Major and mid-level donors want to feel that they’re valuable partners for your organization, so proactively shaping your conversations based on what you know about them is a no-brainer. 

3. Use data to strengthen your case for support.

Your capital campaign’s case for support should be your entire team’s north star. An effective case for support will connect your mission, campaign objectives, goals, and other contextual details to make a compelling argument about why your campaign is worth supporting.

Get started creating a case for support during the earliest phases of your campaign. Your campaign’s feasibility study will then help you refine it even further. By getting input on your campaign plans from stakeholders, you can start shaping your strategy and learn its most exciting and motivating angles. Many nonprofits choose to work with capital campaign consultants to conduct the entire study, but we recommend taking a more hands-on approach to get the most value out of this exercise. 

But where does data come in? Concrete data can be used to strengthen your case for support in order to first secure buy-in from stakeholders and then to guide your messaging to prospects. 

Remember that any compelling argument is made up of emotional appeals and harder logic. Your mission and your audience’s connection to it handles the emotional aspect, but you’ll need concrete data and projections to complete the argument. During the pre-planning and planning phases, compile data that can help sharpen your case for support, like:

  • Statistics on the specific issue your organization works to combat at the community, national, or global levels
  • Trends in the need your organization sees for its services, particularly if the events of 2020 have drastically increased that need
  • Projections on the impact of successfully completing your project and growing your capacity
  • Detailed breakdowns of how campaign contributions will be allocated

This information, presented in a variety of forms, can help you make a compelling argument to your board members and major prospects alike. Even if your prospects don’t necessarily want or need all of this data to make their final decision, having easy access to it will be invaluable for your fundraisers. They can use this data to tell a complete story about your campaign—tying your mission, campaign, and impact together in ways both emotionally and logically compelling.

Your case for support is a critical piece of your campaign’s strategy. If you’re planning your organization’s first capital campaign (or just need a refresh), study up with this Capital Campaign Toolkit guide to learn how to write one.

4. Segment your audience for public phase promotions.

Once you’ve secured the majority of your funding during the quiet phase and kicked off your campaign’s public phase, you’ll need to reach and motivate a wider audience of supporters. Public events, email campaigns, social media pushes, and more can all help you bring in the smaller donations that will put your campaign over the finish line.

But while casting a wide net is certainly helpful during the public phase, narrowing your focus slightly for various types of messaging can yield better results more efficiently. By segmenting your donors into groups based on shared characteristics, you can focus your appeals more deliberately. This will allow for more targeted messaging that’s more likely to make an impact and result in a donation.

Look back to your CRM and donor data to find trends. Try answering questions like:

  • Which types of broad appeals have yielded the most donations or the most engagement?
  • Which marketing outlets do you see the best results from?
  • Who are the donors that give to particular types of appeals?
  • How much do these sets of donors give on average?
  • Are any donors eligible for matching gifts through employer programs?

Analyzing your data for these types of insights can help make your public phase appeals more effective. If a certain segment of your donors is most responsive to social media, while another prefers email, you can immediately direct your strategy to meet them where they are.

Multichannel marketing and fundraising campaigns are the new norm, using a variety of marketing outlets to generate engagement and funnel attention towards a target action, in this case making a donation. However, this strategy can easily become overwhelming without an idea of where to focus your energy and who to focus on. Segmentation is the answer, giving you the ability to confidently place your marketing attention where it’s most likely to have an impact.

Capital campaigns are complex, large-scale undertakings—there’s a reason nonprofits only conduct them every ten to fifteen years! As significant investments of your time and resources, safeguarding your strategies with data is the natural choice for modern organizations.

These four tips can give you a solid foundation in data-driven campaign planning. Just make sure to start by ensuring you’re actively collecting the data that you need.

Step-by-Step Campaign Checklist & Guide

This intuitive guide breaks down each step of your campaign, and the timeline allows you to visualize your whole campaign, from start to finish! Download this free campaign checklist now!

Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, and Andrea Kihlstedt are co-founders of the Capital Campaign Toolkit, a virtual support system for nonprofit leaders to run successful campaigns. The Toolkit provides all the tools, templates, and guidance you need — without breaking the bank.

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