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What Do Your Board Members Need During a Capital Campaign?

Is your organization conducting a capital campaign? Are some of your board members anxious?

That wouldn’t be surprising! Your capital campaign is probably the biggest fundraising undertaking your board has ever approved. Most of your board members probably have limited capital campaign experience. For many of them, the idea of such extensive donor outreach and being able to raise 5 or even 10 times the annual fundraising goal seems downright scary.

But the success of your campaign will require your board to be fully supportive. You’ve got to find ways to make your board members comfortable with the campaign and fully understand their roles.

Board roles in capital campaigns fall into two categories, governance responsibilities and individual participation

Board Governance Roles in a Capital Campaign

Much of the work of a capital campaign is overseen by an ad hoc campaign steering committee that makes recommendations to the board at key points during the campaign. Primary areas of board responsibility fall into five categories:

  • Approve the project: Leading up to the campaign, the board approves the project plans. Often the plans grow out of an organizational planning process to become the basis for the campaign.
  • Accept the recommendations of the feasibility study: Many organizations test the plan and the campaign goal through a feasibility study. At the conclusion of the study, the board is called on to accept the study recommendations which include the preliminary campaign dollar goal.
  • Approve capital campaign budget: The board will also be called on to approve a separate budget to cover the costs of the campaign itself. That budget is often approximately 10% of the campaign goal.
  • Review campaign progress and approve changes to the campaign goal as needed: Then, throughout the campaign, which may last 2 or 3 years or more, the board will be given regular campaign reports and be called on to approve changes to the goal.

Individual Board Member Roles in a Capital Campaign

While the governance roles of a board are important, your board members are probably more concerned about what will be expected of them as individuals. They will want to know how much they will be expected to contribute to the campaign and what roles they will be asked to play.

Answers to those questions are more straightforward than you might imagine.

Board Giving During Capital Campaigns

Individual board members should give a gift to the campaign that is, for them, a significant gift. Their gift should be over and above their regular annual gift, and they should consider pledging their campaign gift over three years.

Because board members have different financial capacities, their gifts to the campaign may vary widely, with some giving very large gifts and others making much smaller commitments. And that’s just fine! There will be a wealth of other ways for all of your board members to step up and help the campaign over its entire duration.

Board Roles During Capital Campaigns

Board members are often worried that they will be asked to “hit up” their friends and neighbors. In reality, board members can play many roles in the campaign and should be asked to help in the way that best suits them.

Some board members may help solicit gifts if they’re comfortable doing so (and are trained to do so) and have valuable connections in the community. Some may work on identifying and qualifying prospective donors. Others might host or help with small cultivation events. And some board members can help thank and steward campaign donors.

While each board member will help in specific ways, every board member should be comfortable talking about the project and the campaign so that they can serve as campaign ambassadors in the community.

Once your board members understand what will be asked of them both collectively and individually, they will be less anxious and more enthusiastic about the campaign.

Prepare Your Board for a Capital Campaign

You have several options for bringing your board up to speed:

  • Provide materials for board members to learn from. There are tons of options available online today for nonprofit board training and about capital campaigns specifically. The Capital Campaign Toolkit offers a free weekly web-based discussion and an All About Capital Campaigns podcast.
  • Set aside time at several board meetings to discuss the campaign. Keep everyone updated on its progress, and continually reinforce the campaign’s core purpose and messaging to help board members be better ambassadors.
  • Plan a capital campaign training session for your board. This might be virtual or in-person. You could also set it up as a standalone meeting or series of meetings, or extend a regular board meeting to provide enough time for training.
  • Ask your consultant to design a custom training session for your board. Board training can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2.5 hours. The more interactive the training, the longer it will take but the greater the impact.

Wrapping Up: What Do Board Members Need to Succeed?

You and your board members need a clear understanding of their governance and potential individual roles as you head into the earliest stages of your campaign. You should also understand how each of those roles fits into the bigger picture of the campaign’s strategy and timeline. Take time early on to identify resources and share them with board members. Make it easy for them to find what they’ll need to give the campaign their all.

Preparation and planning from the very start are certainly essential, but your board’s roles shouldn’t be set in stone. There should be a spirit of continuous learning, improvement, and adaptation infused into your campaign. As individual roles and ad hoc committees evolve over the course of the campaign, make sure that concrete roles, responsibilities, and projects are clearly documented and communicated to the rest of your team.

And don’t forget the power of leadership. Board members will naturally feel anxious about jumping into their first campaign—that’s normal and expected! But while your campaign has high stakes, the tone you set for your team doesn’t have to be one of anxiety. You need to lead with vision and excitement to push the campaign and your team forward, from the board to your staff to your volunteers.

Published: February 11, 2022

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