If your organization is thinking about starting a major construction project like building or renovating a building, you’re not alone. One of the most common reasons nonprofits plan capital campaigns is to fund a large construction project that will support their mission.

Whether you want to build a more sustainable facility for your programs or renovate the site for your food pantry to accommodate more community members in need, the results of this endeavor can be highly rewarding. But any capital campaign is a major commitment, with several steps needed before you can start fundraising to build a building:

  1. Evaluate Your Needs
  2. Get Board Approval
  3. Purchase the Land
  4. Meet with an Architect
  5. Finalize Construction Plans

All of the steps involved in planning and launching a capital campaign can feel daunting, but rest assured that any organization can be successful with the right strategies and support. Preparation is everything, so let’s explore these steps to give you the knowledge you need to succeed.

1. Evaluate Your Needs

The first step is to thoroughly evaluate and understand your nonprofit’s building needs. Take time to define exactly what kind of construction project you need, what its purpose will be, and any building specifications your organization needs. For example, if your goal is to build a more sustainable facility, you might specify that the building should be energy-efficient and the site should include space for a community garden. 

Once you’ve defined some logistical needs, you can move on to finances. Determine projected costs for the project, then set an initial topline fundraising goal for your capital campaign. Important costs to account for include:

  • The cost of land if you don’t already own land to build on.
  • Hiring costs of an architect, contractor, and capital campaign consultant.
  • Cost of building supplies and construction.
  • Overhead fundraising costs.

Additionally, hire an outside fundraising consultant to conduct a feasibility study to analyze your donor base and ensure that you have enough support from major donors. Major donors will be responsible for the majority of your fundraising during this campaign, so it’s crucial to understand their willingness to give before you go too far into the planning process.

2. Get Board Approval

After evaluating your needs for the project and ensuring that it’s feasible, it’s time to get everyone on board with your capital campaign. This includes key players like: 

A graphic of nonprofit capital campaign team members, listed in the text below.

  • A capital campaign chair to guide the project.
  • Your nonprofit’s board members.
  • Committee members (often board members and staff) who will plan and steer the campaign.
  • Loyal volunteers to help with fundraising, kickoff events, etc.
  • A capital campaign consultant who can conduct a feasibility study, help you with planning and strategy, and guide you through every stage of the campaign.

Start by getting approval from your board. According to Donorly’s capital campaign guide, it’s crucial to get buy-in from your board members upfront since they will need to approve all major decisions about the capital campaign. Take time to give them a thorough overview of your vision for the campaign, the goals of the construction project, and how it will help further your organization’s mission.

If you work with a fundraising consultant, they can help educate your board on capital campaign best practices and convince them of the project’s viability. Board members are also often expected to contribute to the campaign themselves, so this is a good time to get a feel for their willingness to donate in addition to their annual giving

3. Purchase the Land

If your nonprofit already owns the land you plan to build on, you can skip this step. If not, look to the local real estate market and consider factors like lot size, availability, location, and any zoning regulations. Find a few options that meet your needs, then consult with your board to get their input.

Based on the pricing of the land you choose, update your campaign fundraising goal to account for the additional costs. While some organizations may be able to purchase the land with existing resources and initial donations, most will need to factor the purchase price into the overall fundraising goal and timeline. 

You might also consider seeking out a grant or corporate sponsorship to cover some of the costs. According to 360MatchPro, plenty of companies give financial and in-kind donations to nonprofits as part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives. If your organization has existing relationships with any businesses, consider reaching out to them to see if they’d be willing to help get your project off the ground in exchange for prominent publicity during and after construction. 

4. Meet with an Architect

Next, start looking for an architect and general contractor to work with. They’ll take the lead on the design and construction of your new building, so it’s important that they’re well-aligned with your organization. For the best results, look for contractors and architects with nonprofit experience. They’ll be familiar with common budgetary restrictions and organizational goals.

Once you select an architect, meet with them and your general contractor to discuss the project’s logistics. This may include:

  • Scheduling and construction timelines
  • Estimated cost of materials
  • Initial plans for the building’s design
  • Cost of labor
  • Contractor availability

Additionally, make sure you get renderings of the building from the architect. These renderings will not only allow your team to ensure the design aligns with your priorities, but they’ll also be useful for creating campaign materials like your case for support. Donors will want to know what the building will look like before donating, after all. 

5. Finalize Construction Plans

Once you have the land secured and the architect on board, you can finalize plans for the building’s construction. Based on the space you purchased and the architect’s input, plans may need to be slightly adjusted. Or, if purchasing the land or hiring an architect took up more of your budget than anticipated, consider cutting back on some building costs by updating your construction plans. 

Your team should be able to give you a general idea of the construction timeline at this point, which you’ll want to consider as you create your campaign fundraising plan. For instance, many nonprofits plan to announce their capital campaigns publicly only after the majority of construction is completed. However, this timeline may change if any construction issues arise, so prepare to be flexible. 

After taking these crucial first steps, you can start thinking about other aspects of your capital campaign plan, like cementing a campaign timeline and choosing the stories you’ll include in your case for support. Capital campaigns and construction projects involve a lot of moving parts, so don’t be afraid to be candid with your fundraising consultant and get the support you need to make the project a success.