Recruiting, Training and Engaging Your Capital Campaign Team

Amy Schiffman
November 30, 2017

Two weeks ago we began a conversation about capital campaign planning. We defined a capital campaign as an intense effort on behalf of an organization to raise significant dollars to fund a one-time project (or series of projects) during a defined time frame. This typically involves the purchase, building or renovation of a facility or piece of property. Last week we discussed the development and testing of a capital campaign goal and learned about the importance of a feasibility study to the capital campaign planning process.

Now we’re ready to talk about the development of campaign leadership and explore the recruitment, training and engagement of your capital team. We need strong lay and professional leadership in order to achieve our campaign goals, but let’s focus today on lay leadership. Many organizations underestimate the need for a trained, engaged lay team. Although we often require a smaller team during the feasibility and silent phases of a campaign (than we do for the community phase), we do need committed, influential, strategic leadership to drive what is typically the most critical work of a capital project. This must start with an organization’s board of directors. In fact, the dedication of board members and other key volunteers is often a primary indicator of success.

Making an assessment as to the feasibility of a successful capital campaign begins with an organization’s objective evaluation of a) how its mission and its case for fundraising are viewed by its lay leaders and b) whether quality leaders are available to help in the campaign.

Again - leadership from the Board and other key volunteers is the single most critical factor affecting the success of a campaign.

Without visible commitment of the board and key volunteers, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to motivate others to participate. They must commit themselves to seeing that a stated goal is reached because they themselves are unanimously determined that it will be. They should be clear that the majority of the dollars to be raised in your campaign will come through the efforts of board members and other lay leaders, even if they never actually solicit a gift themselves.

In successful non-profit campaigns, 30-60% of campaign revenue comes from board members and their connections or outreach. 100% participation (giving) from the board should be a non-negotiable! This is a powerful signal to other donors that the institution has vitality and vigor and the confidence and enthusiasm of its board, who, above all, should know the organization best.

The responsibilities of board members and other key volunteers in a campaign include:

  • Helping to structure the organization and the timing of the campaign
  • Approving the campaign goal and developing the campaign strategy (in partnership with staff)
  • Making an early leadership gift commensurate with individual ability
  • Attending and participating in Board “solicitation preparation”
  • Identifying, cultivating, rating and soliciting major gifts prospects
  • Showing appreciation to donors (thanking and stewarding the relationship).

Typically, the board designates a capital campaign committee (or major gifts committee) to oversee and lead the feasibility study, the silent phase and eventually the community phase of the campaign. This committee may start out rather small (4 – 6 individuals) and should be made up of both board and non-board members who are able to focus on major gifts. It’s important that this committee include those who can accomplish the roles outlined above – and especially those who can make leadership level gifts and have a network of peers they can ask to join them at this level. Don’t forget that most capital campaigns achieve 80 – 90% of campaign revenue from only 10 – 20% of their campaign donor base, so we are looking for generous, strategic, well-connected individuals who can help us access the top gifts in the campaign. Some may be active solicitors and others may be door openers – either way, this is a high level team that partners with staff to achieve the majority of the campaign dollars, so choose wisely. It is common for the president of the board (or the chair of the capital campaign committee) to ask others to serve on this committee.

Last, remember to offer training and excellent materials/resources to this committee (next week’s blog post will cover the development of these materials and review what is typically included in a capital campaign tool box).  Despite former leadership positions in the community and/or the nature of their professional roles, don’t make the mistake of assuming your leadership is familiar with your case for support, knows how to solicit gifts, or is comfortable serving as an ambassador for your nonprofit. Even excellent volunteers need guidance, training, support and great tools in order to be confident solicitors.

Many firms (like ours – contact us for more information or to discuss your organization's needs) offer solicitation training options, or you might have a volunteer who is able to offer training – but make the training session mandatory for all solicitors so that your team is speaking the same language out in the community.

For more on campaign leadership structures and role descriptions, feel free to download our freebie this week!  It offers some great tools to get you started!