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Recruiting campaign leaders

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Carol O'Brien

Carol O’Brien

Carol O’Brien

When a nonprofit searches for staff, it has a job description with specific responsibilities and qualifications.

But when a campaign is on the horizon, the roles and responsibilities for campaign leadership often are poorly defined or even at odds with the strategic necessities of the organization and its philanthropic challenges.

The right leadership

With apologies to Lewis Carroll: “If you don’t know what kind of volunteer leadership you need, any volunteer will do.”

It is imperative to determine:

  • What leadership attributes are required at various stages of the campaign?
    -Expertise in planning, policy and case-statement development
    -Pace-setting lead-gift donor
    -Peer solicitor of board members
    -Ability to identify, cultivate and solicit non-affiliated prospects
    -Ability to express meaningful stewardship
    -Affinity for special constituencies, such as young donors, planned-gift prospects
    -Some combination, or even all, of the above
  • Do we have the capacity and expertise to support campaign leadership as defined? If not, can we manage a smaller group of leaders? Note: If you can’t support campaign leaders, you are probably not ready to be in campaign mode.
  • Should we sequence the leadership phases of a campaign and recruit smaller groups of volunteers for different aspects of the work, including planning and goal setting; quiet-phase solicitation of board and lead gifts; public phase for comprehensive, broad-based appeal; and celebration and stewardship of donors?

Research repeatedly proves that campaign or other fundraising volunteers give twice as much, and often more, than non-volunteers.

A thoughtful analysis of your leadership requirements is the prerequisite to having a compelling rationale to recruit campaign leadership and to increase their giving.

Only a gift?

One reason board members, or other potential campaign leaders, tell me they won’t agree to serve on a fundraising committee is they believe it is a poor ruse for simply securing a gift.

Thus, the second part of the process is learning enough about each potential volunteer to make it self-evident that the prospective campaign leader is the best, or one of the best, possible matches for your campaign.

One community organization, for example, approached a visible and generous philanthropist with a very candid proposition: “We know that many of your personal and professional associates are supportive of our mission, but we have not had a volunteer who could help us kindle their interest.  Would you be willing to serve as an advocate for our work and introduce our CEO to these specific people?”

The volunteer knew this was an authentic request and that he was truly one of the best people to build these relationships.

He was assured that once those connections were in place, the organization’s CEO and other board members could and would solicit and steward these people. The volunteer said yes.

With the same candor, the recruiting board member told the same volunteer: “We are not going to ask you for the kind of gift we know you make to similar organizations. In fact, we won’t ask you for any gift. However, if you come to believe in our work and our people and if you wish to join our campaign as a donor, we would welcome your financial as well as your voluntary and moral support.”

With that escape hatch, the volunteer ultimately became a donor, and then a solicitor.

People to people

It is important to find the perfect person to motivate the potential volunteer to say yes.

In giving, we look for peers.

But sometimes in asking for help, which is what campaign-leadership recruitment is, the best “asker” may be from a different part of that prospect’s life – someone who will benefit from the funds to be raised, such as a child, or someone who once helped the person, such as a faculty member.

Make it easy

It is hard to refute the volunteer’s response that he or she does not have the time to do the work.

But sometimes we can be creative in how we support that person.

Several years ago, an organization was seeking four co-chairs who each had leverage with distinctly different constituencies.

One was a successful entrepreneur who served on several boards and campaign committees. He was a donor to the organization and had a professional affinity to its mission.

But he was selling his business and had to oversee a busy two years of reorganization.

With the endorsement of the three co-chairs, he was asked to serve “in name only” for two years while the three chairs, the committee, the CEO and experienced staff ran the campaign. In the third year he would join the group and solicit a handful of his peers.

As the co-chair became engaged, he exceeded the minimum assignment and even encouraged the organization to raise its goal.

Several years later, he was instrumental in mounting the institution’s next campaign, which he chaired.

Lessons learned:

  • Have a clear outline for the composition of the leadership group you seek
  • Be certain the person being asked is a terrific, perhaps unique, fit for your volunteer role
  • Ensure that the right person, or people, extend the invitation
  • Tailor the volunteer’s support to ensure he or she can succeed and enjoy the work
  • Provide appropriate, timely and sincere appreciation

Carol O’Brien is president of Carol O’Brien Associates, a Durham, N.C.-based fundraising consultancy.

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