Successful Capital Campaigns Help Annual Fund Donor Acquisition and Retention

Successful capital campaigns not only raise money…but also help with the annual fund donor acquisition and retentionDavid Mersky sq

We have managed many capital campaigns in our 24 years of service. Almost invariably, we confront the question of how to avoid cannibalizing the annual fund in favor of the more attractive case for the capital campaign.

Several years ago, with a synagogue client, the blueprints for the renovation to improve and expand their historic building seemed to fulfill the organization’s every need and want. Everyone agreed that the restoration was an essential part of answering the demands of the current membership as well as the future, anticipated congregation.

But there were concerns. Valid concerns.

Was it possible to raise $6.5 million for a capital campaign without ‘robbing’ support from the High Holiday appeal? After all, the High Holiday appeal provided essential annual operating funds. Could their congregation really raise that much money? Could they establish the necessary confidence in both the plan and the leadership?

We listened to the leadership and their concerns. And determined that the best plan of action was for the “ask” to include a request—as appropriate—for multi-year commitment to the High Holiday campaign at the same time they were asking for a substantial contribution to the capital campaign. The annual fund pledge that would be sought would be at the same level (or, better, an incremental increase) as previous years’ donations, but pledged this year for each of the next five—the period during which capital campaign pledges would be fulfilled.

When the campaign leadership presented the case for this unique “double” ask to the select group of major donors, every individual or couple agreed to give to both the capital campaign and the annual fund. And they gave with a sense of confidence. Because of their trust in the leadership, they knew that they were providing meaningful support for all of their congregation’s needs.

In fact, the annual fund is much healthier than ever before. In the first year of the capital campaign, while soliciting the advance phase that focused on leadership gifts, the congregation expects to realize commitments for more than 70% of their annual goal. And, they had confidence that that number would be a solid base for the next four years—a foundation upon which they could build. The leadership was able to convey to each successive donor whom they solicited an assurance that the congregation will be able to have the annual operating support for the new and improved facilities.

What was the “secret sauce?” They reached out face-to-face to each and every donor to build momentum. And the confidence that was created and the excitement at the success has been retained long after the renovation and expansion of their building had been completed.

The leaders of this effort recognized how important it was—not only for the capital campaign but also the annual fund—to build and improve donor loyalty, commitment and value.

By their actions, they were able to convey to each donor their effectiveness in sustaining the mission as well as managing the resources of the congregation.

Donors had realistic expectations that were met with each interaction with the congregation.

Every donor was

  • acknowledged in a timely way,
  • received regular reports of results of the campaign and the value of their gift,
  • offered further opportunities for engagement with time and talent not just treasure,
  • and, only then, asked again for their next gift, if that were appropriate.

Each donor was treated as an individual whose involvement was truly valued.


These are not only the values of a successful capital campaign, but also how to strengthen the annual fund, both in terms of donor acquisition and retention.

NEXT MONTH: Creating Community