If You Build It...

Remember the movie Field of Dreams and the famous line “If you build it, they will come”? The movie is about Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) who hears a voice in his cornfield telling him, "If you build it, they will come." He interprets this message as an instruction to build a baseball field on his farm. You could say that nonprofits hear the voices of those in need encouraging them to build a new or bigger community resource like a food pantry, church, shelter, health center, affordable housing, or veterans center.

Everywhere I drive in the Triangle I see new buildings going up. The growth is in residential, for-profit, and nonprofit buildings. As a consultant who provides counsel for capital campaigns for nonprofits, it occurs to me that the steps to planning a successful capital campaign are like constructing a new home or office building. Both take a lot of planning, involve many people, and require a lot of money.

Let’s look at the steps to build a home:


  • Survey the land chosen
  • Choose an architect
  • Choose a builder
  • Create a timeline
  • Estimate the cost
  • Make adjustments along the way
  • Plan for additional costs
  • Design the interior
  • Purchase furniture and decor
  • Move in and host a housewarming party
  • Maintain the home

Now take these same steps and equate them to a capital campaign for a nonprofit that needs a new facility to best serve its community:


  • Survey = Conduct a feasibility study to determine if raising funds is possible
  • Architect = Choose campaign counsel
  • Builder = Recruit a campaign cabinet
  • Timeline = Create a campaign timeline, including quiet and public phases
  • Cost = Set a dollar goal and determine how long it will take to achieve it
  • Adjustments = Some high-level prospects will give less, and some will give more than expected, so keep adding prospects and creating challenge-gift opportunities
  • Additional costs = Building costs tend to increase as ground is broken and design elements change
  • Interior = Naming opportunities provide recognition
  • Furniture and décor = In-kind donations will be needed as well as financial gifts
  • Move in and host a party = Celebrate with a grand opening acknowledging everyone who made the campaign’s success possible
  • Maintenance = Steward all campaign donors and ensure annual support after pledges are paid

Another way to think about the Field of Dreams message is “If the community has a need, a nonprofit will build it – and it takes the entire community to be successful.”

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