How to Run a Capital Campaign

Alexandra Nichols of Winnetka is one of the exceptional women in the northern suburbs who have run multimillion-dollar capital campaigns. She admits to stumbling a bit through the process.

“I’d do it smarter the next time,” she says. But the results of her campaign are very smart indeed. She grew the Music Institute of Chicago to include the appropriately named, acoustically perfect Nichols Hall.

Her strategy secrets include:

HIRE A CAPITAL CAMPAIGN CONSULTANT
That person can help you formulate a plan. A pyramid of boxes depicted their “Overture To The Future,” with 20 percent of the donors giving 80 percent of the gifts during the “Quiet Phase” of the campaign. “My happiest day was seeing all the blocks colored in on that pyramid,” Nichols declares.

BROADEN SUPPORT WITH YOUR CHAIRS
When Nichols drafted her husband, John, former Chairman of Illinois Tool Works and current President and CFO of the Marmon Group, friends and music enthusiasts like Kay Mabie and Priscilla Richman quickly joined as committee chairs.

USE HUMOR
Nichols ended every campaign committee meeting on an upbeat note, with cartoons sent by friends from around the country.

SOLICIT FOUNDATIONS
The Kresge Foundation’s savvy staff located and helped repair the “chinks in the armor” of their plan and organization before giving its maximum amount.

EDUCATE POTENTIAL DONORS BEFORE ASKING FOR MONEY
Nichols countered the public’s perception that the institute “just offered nice little music lessons for children” with an articulate presentation on the plethora of programs that benefit all ages and abilities throughout Chicago.