Let’s say you’re a fundraiser for a local public history organization. Your team launched a large-scale fundraising campaign, and you’re on your way to raising more than ever before to renovate your museum, invest in new software, and hire another program coordinator.
This is called a capital campaign. It’s how nonprofits drive transformative change for their missions and make important capacity investments to take their operations to the next level.
During the course of your campaign, you’ll connect with a lot of people—major funders, partners, sponsors, public figures, and many donors at all giving levels. The majority of your fundraising activities will occur offline as you work with your top donors and funders on a one-on-one basis.
But once the finish line is in sight and it’s time to go public with your capital campaign, being able to connect with wide audiences will be essential. And your nonprofit’s web presence will have a crucial role to play.
Learn tips for developing a digital-savvy public phase strategy that will boost your visibility, engage the community, and drive results—but first, some context.
What is the public phase of a capital campaign?
The public phase comes toward the end of a capital campaign, and it’s when you open up your fundraising to the broader community rather than just a small group of your most impactful donors.
Prior to the public phase, you’ll have secured the majority of your campaign’s funding through one-on-one cultivation and solicitation of major donors in the quiet phase. When you can confidently move forward assured that your campaign will be a success, you kick off the public phase with an exciting event, press releases, and more.
During the public phase, you’ll appeal for gifts of all sizes from your entire audience, promote the campaign and the important investments it will fund, and host events to connect with the community. The public phase ends when you’ve successfully hit or surpassed your fundraising goal—then it’s time to celebrate, steward your donors, and break ground on your project.
What’s the purpose of the public phase?
The public phase serves three main purposes:
- This phase promotes your project and campaign to the public at large, ensuring that all of your donors (not just major funders) and your broader community are aware of it.
- The public phase helps you secure the rest of your funding to reach your goal.
- This period should generate energy and excitement in your community, creating a buzz that will push you over the finish line and sustain your project’s rollout in the months and years to come.
As added bonuses, a successful public phase will help you acquire new donors and greatly boost your nonprofit’s visibility. Remember that capital campaigns are big, special occasions. Putting careful thought into how you promote the campaign and connect with the community can pay all kinds of dividends over the long run.
How can you make your campaign stand out online?
Up until the public phase, your campaign will occur mainly offline in conversations with donors and partners. But once it’s time to go public, your nonprofit’s web presence will be very important. Standing out online will help you make the most of this critical last phase. Here are five tips:
1. Create a dedicated microsite.
Your capital campaign needs its own digital home. Create a dedicated micro-website to serve as the central hub for information about the campaign and what it will accomplish.
Follow web design best practices to create an organized site that encourages engagement. Highlight the campaign’s impact by transparently explaining what it will accomplish. Include pages that people will be looking for, covering information about your nonprofit and campaign, a calendar that lays out the campaign timeline and upcoming events, ways for supporters to get involved, an easy online donation process, and more.
By centralizing your campaign’s web presence, it’s much easier to promote it online. Whenever emailing supporters, posting on social media, or issuing press releases, simply link to your campaign’s site for readers to learn more.
2. Use compelling visuals and multimedia.
A picture’s worth a thousand words, especially when you’re trying to describe the anticipated impact of a project or construction that hasn’t begun yet. Prior to and throughout the public phase, collect a library of visual assets that you can use to promote the campaign both online and in printed materials. Examples include:
- Photos of your nonprofit at work, constituents, and the community
- Renderings of your upcoming project, if it’s a building or renovation
- A PDF one-pager of your campaign’s case for support
- Infographics on the current state of your mission and the projected impact you’ll have post-campaign
- Video clips of your on-the-ground work and past in-person events
- Recordings of presentations, Q&A sessions, and virtual events you’ve already hosted
- Produced videos promoting the campaign and upcoming project
- Multimedia tools to be hosted on your website, like interactive maps, timelines, calendars, and digital campaign brochures
With a library of these materials ready to go, you’ll be able to quickly develop new content for your website, email, and social media pages to keep your public phase moving full steam ahead. Not to mention, high-quality visuals can be much more engaging than text alone, which is especially important since a successful public phase requires catching the attention of broad audiences.
3. Host quick and easy virtual events.
The public phase is the ideal time for hosting events to rally your community and raise your campaign’s visibility. A few in-person events can go a long way, but don’t feel the need to exhaust your team by planning a jam-packed calendar.
Virtual events are more common than ever, and they’re incredibly useful for driving engagement. In most cases, they’re also quicker, easier, and less costly to plan than in-person gatherings. As you chart out your event and promotions calendar for the campaign’s public phase, add a handful of small-scale virtual events at strategic points to keep the energy high. Try these options:
- Q&A sessions about the project the campaign will fund
- Roundtable discussions about your mission and community
- Celebrations and virtual mixers to present updates and engage supporters
- Virtual screenings of your campaign’s video assets or relevant films
Lean on your campaign volunteers and previous campaign donors to help organize and host these events. And don’t forget to take the opportunity to make a quick donation appeal or two during your virtual events. Attendees should always leave with an idea of the next steps they can take to push the campaign forward.
4. Leverage your community partnerships.
During a capital campaign, your nonprofit might rely on a range of external partners like corporate sponsors, foundations, other nonprofits in the community, and local public figures to help drive results.
The public phase is the perfect time for these partners to plug you into their own online audiences to boost the campaign’s visibility and secure more donations.
For instance, ask them to shout out your campaign in social media posts. Provide them with easy templates, images, and links to the pages of your campaign’s site that readers should be directed to. Sponsors and other organizations might also be happy to help co-host your virtual and in-person public phase events. Reach out to them to ask for logistical or financial support once you have a specific event in mind that they’d be interested in joining.
Take stock of your various partnerships as you head into the public phase and find ways for them to get involved digitally. And for any support they provide at in-person events, make sure it’s reflected online with mutual social media posts and email blasts promoting the partnership and explaining the importance of the campaign.
5. Roll out a peer-to-peer fundraising push.
Peer-to-peer fundraising is an excellent social media strategy for reinforcing and growing the excitement surrounding your campaign both on- and offline. It’s especially effective when built around promoting a grand finale event or an upcoming fundraising deadline.
Recruit fundraising volunteers to take the lead on social media. You might also create a DIY option on your campaign’s website for anyone to get involved (although you’ll need to intentionally promote this option). Establish specific goals and objectives for the fundraising push, whether that’s raising $X by a specific date or securing X registrations for an event.
Next, plan a series of virtual gatherings for the peer-to-peer push, like volunteer training sessions and parties, that lead up to a grand finale. Provide volunteers with social media templates, images and videos, and templated language for discussing the campaign and its impact. Develop an engaging twist or two, like photo contests and polls, that you can deploy to maintain momentum. Then, unleash your peer-to-peer campaign on social media.
Your volunteers will connect with their own networks to promote the fundraising push or upcoming event, funneling extra attention, support, and registrations to your campaign. This tactic can be very effective because of the power of social proof—when people see their family, friends, and colleagues actively supporting your nonprofit’s campaign, they’re much more likely to take note and get involved.
Although the bulk of capital campaign fundraising occurs offline, you can’t overlook the importance of standing out online during the campaign’s last phases.
Effective public phase strategies will generate excitement and spread the word far and wide about your campaign’s objectives and what they’ll mean for the community. Not only will you reach (or exceed) your fundraising goal, but you’ll also grow and rally your base of support to sustain your work for years to come.
Step-by-Step Campaign Checklist & Guide
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Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, and Andrea Kihlstedt are co-founders of Capital Campaign Pro. By leveraging technology and expert advising, they have created a unique community that provides nonprofit leaders the support they need to manage campaigns efficiently and effectively.