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Board Members and Capital Campaign Solicitations: Do They Really Go Together?

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Several years ago I was working with a secondary school to conduct a $30 million capital campaign.

Looking through historical information I came across a campaign plan from an existing large consulting firm dated 1969. I read through it only to find that the plan presented is no different than so many of the campaign plans that I see today. Yet, so much has changed in terms of how we communicate, how we manage our lives and the competition for leadership and charitable dollars.

There is, however, a different approach to soliciting gifts for a campaign or major gift initiative. It doesn’t always have to include gathering the board or volunteers to go out and ask their friends for money.

In fact, how many of you, when asked to provide the names of friends to support a certain charity, would do so? This is oftentimes an exercise in futility. I won’t say that it doesn’t happen, but there are other ways to develop relationships with new people rather than leaning on the friendships of board and campaign leadership. There is a process to raising money and there are always variables you cannot control. The number one variable is the leadership at the executive level or the board. It is ever changing. And that leadership can have a direct impact on how gifts are solicited.

Earlier on in my career, I learned that much can get done with strong leadership at the organizations we serve. In all the campaigns our firm has conducted, except for a few, we have never had our volunteer leadership go out and ask for a gift. In those rare exceptions, a leader would come forward asking to be engaged in the process, but only after having made a significant financial contribution.

Instead, we ask leaders to:

  • make a gift commensurate with their giving ability
  • lend their name to the campaign
  • be an advocate for the campaign and if willing, host a small group function where we can share the case

We don’t ask for gifts in a group setting because everyone has their own personal story. It is our job to get to know what that is and where they stand relative to the work we are doing. We ask our boards to give 100%, but we never ask them to go out and ask for money. There is always a sigh of relief when we tell a board that this isn’t their responsibility.

Our success, rather, has come from working with the President, Executive Director, Development Director or a key volunteer willing to go on calls that are set up by the office to make the gift request. There is no greater teacher in fundraising than continually going out and asking for commitments. Having internal leadership engaged gains knowledge about the process and more importantly about the needs of the donor.

There are several ways to conduct successful campaigns. Not all require the process of setting up planning committees, volunteer chairs and regular meetings. What they do require is a sound plan with the fundamentals addressed:

  • what is your vision for the next 5 to 10 years?
  • who are your prospects and top potential donors?
  • what is the role of leadership and what is your plan to get there?

What is most important – regardless of how many people you work with – is building a plan on a strong foundation that works for YOUR organization. Not all successful campaigns have to run the same way. Having secured multi-million gifts for certain organizations working with just the President, Development Director and a few key leaders has proved successful for over 25 years.

Who in your organization is in the best position to take ownership of the campaign solicitations?

As part of Bloomerang’s Content Donation Program, $100 was donated to the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund.

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  • Sophie Penney, PhD

    Excellent points. Much is written and energy expended on attempting to have boards do work that they are ill equipped and/or unwilling to engage in. The roles you offered are positive and important ones, if only every board would agree that they need to be donors . . .
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