DickersonBakker Blog

Less than you may think.  Capital campaigns are the most cost-efficient method of fundraising that exists (perhaps with the exception of planned giving).  The key to this efficiency is scale. In a capital campaign, you are raising very large amounts of money, often multiple times more money than the organization has ever raised. 

So what does a capital campaign cost?  Like any good consultant the answer is: “it depends.” There are a range of factors that influence campaign expenses such as how large your campaign is, how well cultivated your donors are, capabilities of your staff, and how complicated the campaign may be (e.g. local campaign vs national).  Here are a few ratios to start with:

Campaign Goal Fundraising Cost (Average)
$1-5 million 5-10%
$6-15 million 4-8%
$20+ million 3-6%

Before readers get excited because there are percentages in the table, let me share that we agree that percentage-based compensation is unethical. That said, having a percentage-based ratio to understand and budget for campaign expenses can be helpful.

Here are some of the expenses that go into that number:

  • Consulting – For most campaigns, this is the largest chunk of a campaign’s fundraising budget. Just like an orthopedic surgeon is a highly specialized medical professional, campaign consultants are (or at least should be) highly specialized fundraising professionals. Most fundraising practitioners may engage in one or two campaigns in their careers. Campaign consultants lead dozens. That expertise applied to your campaign is an investment ensuring the greatest likelihood for success.  Consulting expenses include campaign planning (feasibility) studies, ongoing campaign counsel, and travel.
  • Staff – It is not uncommon for a nonprofit to hire staff to assist with the campaign. Who they hire depends on their needs, though it is typically one of two types of roles.  First, the agency may hire a major gift officer/campaign manager position. This is someone who is going to coordinate the campaign including campaign volunteers. This person may also develop a prospect list for the campaign.  Second, the agency may hire support staff who can free up time for the senior leadership and senior fundraisers to focus more time on the campaign instead of other duties.  
  • Messaging – Campaigns require a suite of messaging assets to effectively communicate the case and invite donors of all levels to participate.  Sometimes this can be something simple such as a case brochure. More often, campaigns need video, web, social media, and more robust print assets to best get the point across.  The value of these assets is not just to the donor, they can also inspire and empower campaign volunteers to be more effective fundraisers.
  • Other – There are a host of other expenses that can fall into a campaign budget.  For example, campaign events, travel, a CRM database, grant support, research, and more.

The key to remember with capital campaign expenses is that the campaign should pay for its own expenses. As such, the organization’s operating funds should not take a hit from the campaign.  Of course, it frequently takes about 4-6 months for the campaign to become a net positive. This period of time requires seed money that either comes from cash reserves or an early donor.  Either way, it is important to remember that campaign expenses should be viewed as an investment instead of as an operational expense. Where else can you regularly invest $5 and get a return of $100?  Honestly, I will take that arrangement to the bank every day of the week!

Considering a campaign but concerned about costs?  Contact Dickerson Bakker to learn more about how to get started with your campaign without breaking your operational budget. Contact us here >>

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