Six traits of a top volunteer campaign chair

Norma Hawthorne

When looking for volunteer chairs for fundraising campaigns, especially during uncertain economic times, organizations must ensure that whoever takes the helm has what it takes to communicate mission and impact.

Though many personality traits, experiences and abilities can merge to form a highly effective volunteer campaign chair, six characteristics should be top priority.

* Commitment to the values of the organization

Volunteer chairs can communicate effectively with donors only if they have a sincere belief in what the organization is trying to accomplish. When campaign chairs believe in the organization’s mission, it gives them more confidence to ask potential donors for their support.

Chairs also must have unwavering faith in the organization’s ability to steward gifts responsibly and honor donor intent.

* Networks and contacts

It can take between two and nine years for an organization to develop a relationship with a donor.

Campaign chairs who already have a network of people in place have a jumpstart on those two to nine years. Their prior connections with people in the community put them in a better position to build long-term relationships.

Potential donors should know enough about the person to trust that he or she wouldn’t come to them for just any reason. So when the campaign chair asks them for a gift, it gives the request an even greater sense of immediacy and importance.

* Ability to make a significant gift

When you’re asking others to make a significant contribution, it hurts credibility if you haven’t done the same yourself. Effective campaign chairs have to be role models as well as motivators. They have to convey that they have done something for the organization, and inspire potential donors to do something that has personal meaning for them as well.

* Loyalty

The most effective campaign chairs are loyal to the organizations they represent. Even if some of them have been stung by the economic crisis and are not in a position to give monetarily, they are always ready and willing to give their time and energy.

But loyalty should flow both ways. Campaign chairs must be able to communicate the organization’s mutual loyalty to its donors.

These are difficult times right now, and yet people are still giving. It might not be at the level where they had given before, but people still have a commitment to promoting charitable missions.

Campaign chairs have to appreciate the importance of donors, regardless of their present financial situation. They should strive to let loyal donors know how much their support is appreciated, and should have faith that their support will bounce back when the economy does.

*Ability to articulate needs and represent the organization

In order to instill a sense of enthusiasm in potential donors, volunteer chairs must have the ability to identify organizational needs, prioritize them and tell stories that make those needs more personal.

Many times this means the volunteer chair should have a personal experience with the organization. He or she could have once been a struggling student who never would have built a successful career without the organization’s financial support. Or he or she may have a child who suffers from a disease the organization is trying to cure.

When the campaign chair can transform organizational needs into meaningful stories, it helps transfer passion to potential donors.

* Ability to create a vision

People are not motivated just to give money; they’re motivated to support an ideal. They want to see something important happen because they’ve made a gift. Whatever the organization or its purpose, volunteer campaign chairs need to be able to translate the organization’s work into real societal benefit.

They have to articulate the long-term goals of the organization, where the organization plans to be in three to five years, and the role it intends to play in solving community or global problems.

The role of volunteer campaign chairs is to build excitement. And even more importantly, they have to make sure that excitement is contagious.

Norma Hawthorne is director of advancement at the School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and executive director of the SON Foundation.

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