Is Your Campaign A Recipe For Failure

Is Your Campaign A Recipe For Failure?

Those not familiar with how fundraising works often offer simplistic solutions. Once I was consulting for a community-based ministry that desired to raise $3 million for a building expansion. In our campaign committee a well-intentioned person commented, “What you need to do is find 10,000 people who will each give us $100.” I thanked him for his suggestion but then replied, “Your idea sounds good. Ten thousand donors each giving $100 to raise $1 million is great math but presents two problems: 1) our campaign goal is $3 million, and 2) only 12,000 people live in this town.” 

Yes, we want as many people as possible to partner with us in a campaign but starting from the grassroots usually is a recipe for failure. Campaigns are built from the top-down not the bottom-up. A successful $3 million campaign requires several significant lead gifts. That’s why it’s crucial to conduct a feasibility study before launching a campaign. Test your assumptions by asking your donors if your project is compelling to them, if the timing is right, if they would give, how much they would give, and would they volunteer to find others. 

Here are some capital campaign metrics to guide your thoughts: 

Pareto’s Principle

Pareto’s Principle

When we apply the 80/20 rule to fundraising, we discover that approximately 80% of the dollars received will come from about 20% of your donors. A strong major donor component sets the pace for a successful campaign. Major donors provide the momentum and confidence to other donors that your project will move forward. If your key major donor has the appetite to fund a significant portion of your project, you may not need any other donors. But if you plan to run a traditional campaign you should consider these donor metrics when determining your campaign goal. 

While 80/20 is the rule of thumb, the trend is that five to ten percent of the donors will provide 80-90% of the goal with some campaigns showing numbers as high as 97% of the donations from three percent of the donors. At a minimum your lead gift should be ten percent of the goal (preferably twenty percent), and the next two gifts each should equal five percent of the goal.  

The Priority of Top-Down Fundraising

Robert Pierpont, a faculty member with The Fundraising School at the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy, made the following observations on 1 Sequential fundraising (see attached document):

~ The ten largest gifts set the standard for the entire campaign. 

~ Failure to adhere to the top-down pattern lowers giving sights across the board. 

~ Extended solicitation and participation at lower levels will not offset major gaps in the upper ranges. 

~ Once the big-gift-first sequence has been seriously violated, the entire program is in jeopardy. 

Recipe For Success

Major donors are critical to your capital campaign success. If your top ten donors don’t give at the levels you projected, you will need to lower your campaign goal. You can’t extend your campaign long enough to replace a few top gifts that didn’t materialize. Don’t deceive yourself into thinking that your ministry is different. Instead, focus on identifying, cultivating, and soliciting major donors in your circles of influence. Once you’ve done the groundwork with your key supporters, you can then move forward with confidence. 

1 Pierpont, R. (2002). Capital Campaigns. Retrieved from The Fundraising School.


Ron Haas, Vice President of The Timothy Group, has also served the Lord as a pastor, the vice president of advancement of a Bible college, a Christian foundation director, a board member and a fundraising consultant. He’s authored two books: Ask for a Fish – Bold Faith-Based Fundraising and Simply Share – Bold, Grace-Based Giving. He regularly presents fundraising workshops at ministry conferences and has written fundraising articles for At the Center magazine and Christian Leadership Alliance’s Outcomes magazine.

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