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Your Fraternity Needs a Capital Campaign. Where Do You Even Start?


Starting a capital campaign can be daunting for any fraternity chapter, big or small. Whether it’s for building an endowment fund or funding a new fraternity house or renovation project, managing a successful capital campaign is a lot of work.

Fraternity brothers fundraise for many reasons. Your fundraising chairman might manage a 5k race, car wash, dance-off or any number of one-time fundraising efforts during a given semester. You might do this for a philanthropy project or to invest in some aspect of the chapter.

However, how you plan a fraternity capital campaign has a lot to do with the scale of your project and how much money it’ll take to pull off.

For an effort that’s achievable in a single semester, it’s well within the chapter’s abilities to independently fundraise without too much hassle. Brothers can reasonably juggle classes, social lives and fundraising, which is a normal part of chapter responsibilities.

Yet sometimes a fundraising goal, such as for a fraternity house renovation, reaches into the millions of dollars and will take years to complete. In this case, the planning and execution are much more extensive. More often than not, a fraternity chapter doesn’t have the resources for this level of fundraising. There’s the issue of officer turnover semester to semester, plus time management and the higher level of expertise needed.

The beginning stages of fundraising can set the tone for success or failure. Think of your chapter as an Olympic gymnast who needs to time his leap perfectly to nail the landing. The stakes are high, and if you crash it won’t be pretty.

Pennington & Company wants to help you figure out Where to Start when Your Fraternity Needs a Capital Campaign.

Didn’t Get a Holiday Card from Alumni? You’re Not Getting Money for Your Capital Campaign, Either.

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It’s never a good sign when the holiday cards stop coming.

Usually, this signifies that something has gone wrong in a relationship. Even if you aren’t squabbling, people drift apart when both parties don’t put in equal effort to stay in touch.

When it comes to your fraternity chapter’s relationship with alumni, you don’t have to be besties on Instagram with every single one (although it can’t hurt). Sometimes you’re super-close and do everything together with people you care about. Yet when many alumni are living at a distance, and brothers are busy with school and life, that’s a tough ask. Sometimes a holiday card is sufficient.

Think of your alumni engagement efforts each semester as that envelope an alumnus will peel open by the fireplace, to find an affectionate, hand-written note to let him know you still care.

Fraternity capital campaigns start and end with alumni. They’re always going to be your main donors when it comes to large investments of time and money. They’re also people who, like you, want to be appreciated and acknowledged.

You may hang out with a few of the local alumni on weekends, but when your engagement efforts aren’t firing on all cylinders, your fundraising efforts will stall.

Alumni want to help, but they also want to be engaged by their chapter and recognized for their efforts and achievements. A fraternity alumni newsletter is a good start, but regular engagement at all levels is important.

Once you have strong, consistent alumni engagement, you must present alumni with a well-researched plan for your capital campaign that will be worth their investment. You need to understand the dynamics of alumni giving and that not all alumni will give, while only a few alumni will make the biggest contributions to your campaign.

Maximize giving and make alumni excited to be involved, in some cases volunteering to help manage your campaign. Offer them options for giving, such as recurring, automated donations.

Remember, when you need help to get the chapter house’s new wing built, having a strong bond with alumni--with relationships reaching beyond simply asking for money every so often--goes a long way.

What Does Your Fraternity Need out of a Capital Campaign?

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Let’s say you are remodeling your chapter house. This is a common reason a fraternity engages in a capital campaign, especially considering half of all Greek housing was built prior to 1950. It’s a complex, expensive project that may take years to complete, and it requires a lot of research.

You’re likely going to take a background role while coordinating with your housing corporation and national advisors. Still, it’s crucial that a chapter assess the need for a capital campaign and research the marketplace. Compare the costs of architects, engineers and contractors, and get their input about the property’s biggest needs.

A chapter must compare property values of student housing in your area to determine an accurate fundraising goal. Consider how those figures might affect housing costs for brothers down the line, to have the clearest picture possible.

Even before you’ve jumped into the deep end of managing a fraternity capital campaign, getting started can be daunting. Talk to your housing corporation about engaging a professional fraternity fundraising company to streamline your fundraising efforts and keep you on track.

A good fundraising specialist will advise you about how to approach alumni giving and how to build strong alumni relationships in general. They’ll also offer a feasibility study before your campaign begins, and they’ll help manage the campaign and donor gifts through the course of the project. At the very least, it’s worth your time to have a consultation with a fundraising specialist to decide if it’s right for your chapter.

Ultimately, a fraternity capital campaign is about preparation. If you get off to a good start, it’s much easier to guide a campaign successfully toward your chapter’s fundraising goal.

Are you planning a major capital campaign? What questions and concerns do you have? If you’ve pulled off a capital campaign in the past, how did you plan and what made the biggest difference? Let’s talk fundraising in the comments below.