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Ask an Expert: Nonprofit Capital Campaigns and Pledge Cards

For even the most seasoned development professionals, nonprofit capital campaigns can come with a bit of uncertainty. You may be unsure about your team’s readiness for one, about hiring capital campaign consultants, and about whether board and staff members will be ready to assist with the campaign.

A capital campaign is an all-hands-on-deck endeavor, which can be scary for nonprofits of all sizes. Team members may be concerned about how they will manage their other work in addition to the campaign. Fundraisers may not know if their board of directors will assist with prospective donor meetings after you have identified the potential of these donors.

Some people may not agree on whether to conduct a feasibility study or if the campaign fits their strategic plan. Some development professionals worry the capital campaign will sink their annual fund or impact fundraising events.

Throughout the campaign’s planning, quiet, and public phases, fundraisers need the right data and tools. The right tools can help you achieve your campaign goals.

While planning a capital campaign and understanding readiness, it is essential not to overlook one important tool: the pledge card. The pledge card might not be the first thing that comes to mind when planning a capital campaign, but, like the gift range chart, it can potentially raise donors’ sights.

Both the gift range chart and pledge card can assist with smaller donors up to major gift prospects.

In this interview with an expert, we asked Leslie Ulrich from the Prenger Solutions Group team for her best advice on using pledge cards in capital campaigns.


Q: What are your top three suggestions for development directors around using pledge cards in capital campaigns? 

A: 1) One size does not fit all. Just like for an annual appeal, do not ask everyone to make the same gift OR leave the pledge card open. Use the available data to personalize the pledge card.

2) For major donors, do not rely on the pledge card to do the asking for you. Use a staff member or volunteer to personally solicit for the capital campaign gift.

3) Make it easy for donors to give. If you ask capital campaign donors to submit a paper pledge, clearly outline expectations. The pledge card should collect information on the gift’s total amount, payment frequency, and length of pledge.

Let donors select whether they want printed reminders mailed to them and over what period of time. Encourage gifts via credit card or bank account, but only collect those gifts online to protect the donor and organization.


Q: Why does personalization on pledge cards work during capital campaigns? 

A: A successful capital campaign relies on loyal donors to make significant gifts that might be beyond what they had ever considered. Personalized pledge cards not only give the donor an idea of the type of gift we hope they might make but also one that is realistic for them if we rely on their giving history to determine a personalized ask string or ask amount.

A “significant” gift is a different amount for everyone, but in using the data we have available, we can do our best to present significant but appropriate amounts to donors when we invite them to give to the campaign.


Q: Are there any other insights from your experience assisting clients that you want to share regarding pledge cards during a capital campaign vs. pledge cards during an annual appeal? 

A: One of the comments I heard commonly through my campaign days was that if we run a capital campaign, our annual appeal will fall. That rarely turned out to be true!

In my experience, annual appeals would actually grow during capital campaigns and particularly when they concluded because so much effort was being put into communicating the mission of the organization.

Capital campaigns allow donors to invest in an organization’s future, and many want to maintain that investment beyond the campaign itself. We would also see spikes in online and recurring giving during capital campaigns, contributing to steady growth for annual appeals.

Also, campaigns force development offices to be proactive with pledge cards, communication, and other materials. So often you find them implementing best practices for campaign materials, even if they had been resistant to changing things before with the annual appeal. When nonprofits see the campaign’s success, they are more likely to make those changes to the annual appeal as well.

Leslie had insightful advice to consider. In addition, we compiled these seven tips for using personalized pledge cards during the nonprofit capital campaign:

  1. It is Essential to Specify Ask Amounts in Letters: Not including a specific ask amount in the letter can be risky. This is a different approach than with an annual appeal.
  2. Multi-Year Pledge Clarity: For multi-year pledges, the amount should be prominently indicated both in the letter and on the pledge card.
  3. Personalization of Pledge Cards: Pledge cards should have personalized ask amounts, reflecting the individual’s capacity and relationship with the organization. This personal touch can significantly enhance the response rate.
  4. Special Handling for High-Value Asks: For donations of $100,000 and above, a more personal approach, such as a direct visit, is recommended. Remember to segment donors.
  5. Use of Ask Strings for Lower Amounts: For smaller donations, employing ask strings on the pledge cards can be effective.
  6. Open-Ended Cards for Higher Donations: For asks over $10,000 (and potentially as low as $5,000, depending on the organization and what you consider major gifts), using open-ended pledge cards is advisable.
  7. Consideration of Donor History: Customizing donation amounts should consider the donor’s previous giving history and capacity, ensuring that the ask is appropriate and has a higher chance of success.

Like all aspects of fundraising, planning and execution are key. Before launching a capital campaign, make sure your nonprofit organization’s board members are ready to help. Board members can play a crucial role in connecting with major donor prospects.

For additional help personalizing asks during the nonprofit capital campaign, check out this gift range calculator. Having the right data and tools available can help any nonprofit team set itself up for success during a capital campaign.

If you haven’t thought much about the pledge card for your capital campaign, spend some time revising this essential tool today. Prenger Solutions Group gathered top tips for designing pledge cards in The Ultimate Guide to Fundraising Pledge Cards. Check it out today.

With these resources and a personalized approach to inviting donors to participate in your important mission, you can significantly impact your campaign goals.

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