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Volunteer Leadership: The Bedrock of a Successful Capital Campaign

If you’re in the early stages of planning for a capital campaign, you undoubtedly have a number of big dreams for your organization. You want to make a meaningful impact on your community, and you know significant funds must be raised to make those dreams a reality.

Long before you ask for a gift, you’ll need to put several foundational elements in place. From conducting a feasibility study to engaging campaign counsel, there’s no shortage of important work to complete. 

Recruiting committed volunteers to lead your steering committee should also be at the top of your campaign planning priority list. Why? Because successful campaign fundraising demands effective leadership.

To that end, here’s how to identify and engage the volunteer leaders who will help your campaign thrive.

Run Your Capital Campaign Like a Marathon Pro

Running a marathon and implementing a capital or comprehensive campaign have much in common. You wouldn’t show up at the starting line for either without putting in the necessary early work. And you wouldn’t start celebrating success at mile 17 when there’s still a long way to go.

In this white paper, we cover the phases of a capital or comprehensive campaign and their contribution to a successful outcome—all through the lens of getting ready for and completing a marathon. Because that’s what you’re getting ready to do.

The Power of Strong Volunteer Leadership

There are many stories we could tell illustrating how volunteer leadership can make or break a campaign. However, one success story stands out. 

Not that long ago, one of our clients – a food bank with a bold vision for hunger relief – launched an ambitious multi-million dollar campaign. On paper, their goal was a stretch. But, largely thanks to a small group of powerhouse volunteers, the organization reached their goal in just 15 months

These volunteers kicked off their service by making meaningful gifts of their own. They then personally championed this worthy cause, advocating for the campaign within their own extensive networks. And importantly, they were willing to open doors for staff – so the organization could make lasting connections with key community leaders.

Your campaign’s success also depends on the volunteers you put in place. Proactively investing time and resources in recruiting, onboarding, and training the right leaders is paramount.

The Characteristics of Effective Volunteer Leaders

It can be tempting to build a campaign leadership team as quickly as possible to create momentum and begin making strides toward your ultimate goal. However, we’d urge you not to move too quickly. Finding and recruiting the right volunteers with the right characteristics takes time. 

Start by compiling a list of potential leaders, including:

  • Board members and volunteers (past and present)
  • Community leaders
  • Business and industry leaders
  • Donors and important stakeholders (e.g., alumni, members, local philanthropists)
  • Past campaign leaders and volunteers
  • Constituents who will benefit from your campaign initiatives

Then, assess the characteristics each prospective volunteer brings to the table. Ask yourself:

  • Will this volunteer lead by example? Are they willing to make a meaningful gift of their own in support of the campaign? 
  • Is this person knowledgeable and passionate about our mission? Do they genuinely  care about the unique role our nonprofit plays in making the world a better place? 
  • Is this person influential? Can they open doors, make connections, and broaden our base of support?
  • Can this volunteer commit to doing the work a campaign requires? Will they not only show up for meetings but also do the in-between work necessary to move the campaign forward?
  • Will this person persevere even if they encounter obstacles? Can they push through discouragement and stay focused on the end goal?
  • Is this volunteer coachable? Are they willing to take direction from our internal staff members and campaign counsel in order to level up their performance?

It may not be possible to find volunteers who possess every attribute. That’s OK. By recruiting leaders with this list in mind, you can ensure your committee as a whole has the complete set of characteristics you’ll need to see your campaign through to success.

How Benefactor Group Can Help

Best-case scenario, your nonprofit has spent years — even decades — building fruitful relationships with people who can make your campaign a success. However, if you’re still in the early stages of forging those connections, you may need help identifying, recruiting, and training leaders to spearhead your campaign effort.

An experienced campaign consultant like Benefactor Group can help in two critical ways.

1. Identify Potential Leaders as Part of the Campaign Planning Study

Conducting a planning study is about more than gathering the information you need to set a just-right campaign goal (although that’s undoubtedly an important outcome). It’s about offering your stakeholders, donors, prospects, and community members the opportunity to provide candid, unfiltered feedback on your campaign’s priorities and direction. 

It’s also an excellent way to identify and gauge the interest of potential volunteers. How? As part of study conversations, Benefactor Group will ask participants – who are typically an organization’s closest and most significant supporters –  for insight and advice regarding campaign volunteers. Consultants will explore with participants who should be recruited to serve in a leadership capacity, and ask about each individual’s own willingness to serve as a potential campaign volunteer. 

Asking donors and leaders to share their insights in an authentic, meaningful way helps to increase their engagement – and perhaps will even inspire them to step into a leadership role.

2. Equip Volunteer Leaders to Serve 

Once you have your campaign volunteer leadership team in place, it’s time to establish clear expectations. It is best to lay out exactly what you need the group to do and provide training to set them up for a positive experience.

Benefactor Group can facilitate this process by:

  • Preparing a campaign leadership charter that describes the overarching purpose of the volunteer committee or group.
  • Creating position descriptions outlining the responsibilities and expectations for each volunteer role.
  • Setting timelines and deadlines so leaders know when the work should be done.
  • Serving as a project manager to keep the steering committee on task along the way.

Capital campaigns are marathons — not sprints. Your campaign counsel should play an instrumental role in keeping your volunteer leaders focused and motivated.

Recruit Leaders Who Will Propel Your Nonprofit Forward

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” 

That’s precisely what good campaign leaders can do for your nonprofit. Passionate, dedicated, influential volunteers will help you blaze new trails, reach new heights, and change the world for the better.
Benefactor Group can help you assemble an effective campaign leadership team and equip them for the challenges that lie ahead. When you’re ready to get started, let’s talk.

With more than 20 years of nonprofit management, fundraising, and consulting experience, Paul supports clients in preparing for and operating …

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