Important Lessons from the Front Lines of a Capital Campaign

by Elliot Levin, PRG President & Founder

PRG recently served as capital campaign counsel to the largest, successful campaign in recent Sonoma County history – the $48 million Caritas Center, developed by Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa – that brings hope and a new start to homeless families and individuals through a comprehensive mix of services that all lead to stable, permanent housing.

What is to be learned from this successful initiative that found itself in full campaign mode during a pandemic? There are many lessons, some new, others tried and true.

Here are 4 lessons for your campaign:

  1. Focus on great community leadership. While professional expertise is invaluable, nothing replaces the power of respected community leaders who fearlessly give and ask. Identifying, cultivating, recruiting, training, and deploying leaders remains the single key ingredient to campaign success. Yes, the mission must be important and relevant, but someone has to carry that message into action. The professional’s main job is to help get the right leaders to come on board, give them the tools to succeed, and support their efforts every step of the way. The Caritas Center followed these principles and became blessed with a cadre of respected leaders, many of whom had never been part of campaign leadership before.
  2. Be frank about the challenges, especially in turbulent times. Leaders and donor prospects expect transparency and honesty about what’s working or not. Candor reinforces your integrity. Costs rising beyond original estimates? Speak truth and explain where you may have to make cuts. Suffer disappointing responses from donors you hoped for? Report that to leadership and then move on. Are your clients experiencing tough times because of a service gap your project will remedy? That’s hugely relevant to donors too! The Caritas Center always took the high road whether it was neighborhood opposition, gift requests that fell short, or severe cost escalation of building materials.
  3. All systems go. Accurate, up-to-date data is the backbone of any successful campaign. Each individual or institutional donor is truly its own “mini-campaign.” Multiply that by scores of prospects and there is a mountain of information to manage and track. A successful campaign must have a reliable information management system. There are plenty of good CRM systems available, but the key is to invest in staffing and support that knows what to put in and how to get it out. Catholic Charities made that investment and it paid off.
  4. Build and Publicize Your “A-Team.” Any capital project, large or small, requires diverse expertise to be successful. Investors want to know not only who the public-faces like your CEO and campaign chair are but who else is behind the scenes. Your architect, project manager, contractor, campaign consultant, financial advisor, and attorney represent a team of experts that tell donors you’re serious and capable. Catholic Charities made these folks available to interact with donors when the time was right and so should you.

Reach out to PRG if you would like to speak with us about a capital campaign, feasibility assessments and getting started.

A Planned Giving Program is More Relevant Than Ever

by Andy Eber, PRG Senior Associate

Many nonprofits are just beginning a new fiscal year. Agency leaders are navigating the ever-changing COVID landscape and having survived the worst (we hope) of the pandemic, everyone is acutely aware of the need for financial reserves and revenue stability.

It may seem counterintuitive that, in the midst of such change, we at PRG believe that August 2021 may be the BEST time to reactivate or launch your Planned Gifts program. In fact, we suggest that there have been few other moments in the past fifty years when a Planned Giving program had a greater chance of success than now. Here’s why:

  • Donor conversations

When it became apparent in March 2020 that sheltering in place would not be a passing phenomenon, PRG urged our clients to double-down on contacts with their donors. Folks were stuck at home, contemplative, lonely and wondering how the charities they supported were coping and continuing to serve through those dark months. It proved to be a perfect time to talk to key supporters and those conversations, according to our post-COVID survey (insert link), yielded a significant increase in Major Gifts among 66 of the 88 respondents. Your donor relationships may have never been as strong or as personal as they are today and a deep relationship is the basis of sound gift planning.

  • Getting one’s affairs in order

Anxiety, spurred by the pandemic caused many to confront one’s mortality and take stock of estate arrangements. Estate Planning attorneys report that since March of 2020, calls from their clients to create or revise wills have increased by 50-80% over previous periods. Your donors may be more focused on changing their wills or creating new estate plans now than in any time in the past. Since 90+% of Planned Gifts you’ll receive will be bequests, having your organization front-of-mind when your donor is creating or amending their estate plan is key to being included in those plans.

  • Inflated net worth

While many suffered financial hardships during the past 18 months, other have experienced a phenomenal increase in their portfolios. From July 2018 to July 2021, the Dow Jones average grew by nearly 43%. This growth in assets has spurred some to explore gift planning strategies as a means of decreasing their tax obligations. A Planned Giving program with provisions for deferred (“Legacy”) gifts, provides your donors with attractive ways to contribute now AND in the future.

  • Massive wealth transfer

Each year an increasing number of the baby boomers are passing away, resulting in what a recent study by Boston College described as a record $59 trillion dollar wealth transfer to their heirs. At the nexus of this wealth transition is Planned Giving that enables donors to give much more than they ever could during their lifetime, now with added tax advantages. Because most wealth transfer occurs at the time of death, a robust Planned Giving program is the smartest way to put your organization in position to benefit from this phenomenon.

The best time to have begun a Planned Giving program was 25 years ago but the second-best time is now. Whether you’re starting from scratch or simply reactivating a stalled or informal Planned Gifts effort, PRG’s handy 7 Step Guide to Successful Planned Giving can allow you to take advantage of these trends and begin to build a substantial and predictable revenue stream from these often-overlooked gifts.

Contact PRG at for the Guide and Consultation on getting started with Planned Giving. We look forward to connecting with you.

Photo Cred by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash