Capital campaigns often recruit volunteers to help with various functions. You might have a campaign steering committee, a kick-off committee, a committee to oversee the feasibility study, and a lead gift committee.

But sometimes, managing campaign volunteers may seem like more work than it is worth. Volunteer committees do require lots of work to make them function well. And when they don’t work well, they can undermine the success of your campaign. Plus, volunteers can become frustrated and unhappy when they think they are just window dressing and don’t have anything valuable to add to the campaign.

Why Go to The Trouble of Involving Campaign Volunteers?

There’s a method to the campaign committee madness. When people are actively involved in your campaign, more of them will give to your campaign and they will give more generously.

And ad hoc committees with meaningful assignments are great ways to get people involved. So rather than thinking of campaign committees as an intolerable and unwieldy burden, think of them as amazing opportunities to involve people in real and useful ways.

Of particular importance is the Lead Gift Committee.

The Lead Gift Committee – A Key to Success

In most campaigns, the Lead Gift Committee is charged with helping to identify, cultivate and solicit the largest gifts for the campaign. This committee, when successful, will have brought in well over half of the campaign goal.

The people who are recruited to serve on the Lead Gift Committee should be people who know the community well, people who are truly committed to the project, and people who aren’t afraid of fundraising.

Lead Gift Committee Member Responsibilities

Most lead gift committees ask committee members to take on these roles:

  • Make a personally significant gift to the Campaign at a level that demonstrates belief in the project and commitment to the mission.
  • Attend Campaign Committee meetings in person or by telephone conference call.
  • Assist with developing a fundraising plan and strategies for lead donors to the campaign.
  • Solicit lead gift prospects individually or in conjunction with others as appropriate.
  • Assist with communications and stewardship of key donors in the lead gift division as appropriate.

Lead Gift Committees often meet at least every month during the Quiet Phase of the campaign, and sometimes more often.

This committee may very well make you and your team anxious. It often includes powerful and well-connected people, and you’ll want to make sure that the meetings are well-planned and structured. Alternately, you may worry that many of the people on that committee don’t have lots of connections to wealthy people. And though you wanted to involve them, now that they are on the committee, you’re not sure what to do with them.

If you have those worries, you’re not alone. These are common problems. And to help ease your anxieties, here are some suggestions.

1. Major Gift Fundraising is More than Asking

First, keep in mind that most people—even seasoned volunteers—have a limited understanding of what it is to do real major gift work. They think the big task is asking. But once you understand major gift work well, you know that that’s the quick and easy part.

The real work of major gift fundraising is figuring out how to build a strong relationship with people who could be major donors that is based on their interests and inclinations.

2. Lead Gift Committee Meetings — A Simple Model

Here’s a model for your lead gift committee and some suggestions for making sure your Lead gift committee meetings work well.

Start every lead gift committee meeting with a campaign update. Let the group know where the campaign stands. How much money has been raised? How many lead gifts have been asked for? And who is in the pipeline for the next lead gifts?

Then, have a conversation about three potential lead gift donors. Pick the people you are going to discuss in advance and come to the meeting with some simple background information about the person that you can share with the group. Present the name and offer simple information about their history with your organization (if they have one). Then ask the following questions (not necessarily in this order):

  • Who knows this person? What can you tell us about him or her? (Topics might include their roles in the community, interests in other organizations, hobbies, lifestyle, philanthropy, and more.)
  • Who has connections to people who might know this person?
  • What do we know about this person that would indicate that they might have an interest in what we are doing?
  • What do these things tell us about how we might work to build a relationship with this person?
  • What might be the next steps?

Notice that whether or not someone knows these people, they will be able to
participate actively in the discussion.

Go through all three names in that fashion. And do another three at your next meeting. You’ll find that the discussion of each donor is likely to take at least 5 minutes—longer in some cases. The results will be a plan for each potential donor and committee members who feel engaged and starting to understand what major gift fundraising is really all about.

Combine that real and important prospect work with campaign updates and a discussion of the timeline or other campaign planning topics, and every one of your lead gift committee meetings will be excellent.

3. Good Campaign Committees Take a Bit of Know-How

Good committees take a bit of work, but not as much as you might think. Here are some simple things to do for every committee that’ll make them work well.

Create a short and clear description of the purpose and structure of the group. Let people know the charge to the committee, its goals and how often and how frequently it will meet. Remember that most people don’t read anymore — they scan. So, write in a scannable way.

Recruit or appoint a chair to run the committee meetings. This might be a volunteer or staff member. In either case, be sure they know when the meeting is to start and end and can manage the meeting accordingly. Here are some tips:

  • Email an agenda beforehand and very brief bullet-point notes afterward.
  • Set the expectation that the group will have a short duration—plus a clear beginning, middle, and end.
  • Make sure the meetings begin on time and end a few minutes early.
  • End each meeting by reviewing who has agreed to do what and the date/time of the next meeting (assuming there is one).
  • Have video conference meetings if you can. It saves time and energy. Most people also now appreciate the efficiency of virtual meetings. Keep in mind that virtual meetings require strong facilitation to make sure everyone is involved.
  • Whether your meetings are virtual or in person, make sure that every person is actively involved. It’s not hard to do that. Just get used to going around the table calling on people. You’ll find they appreciate it.

Once the charge to the committee is complete, draw it to a conclusion, thanking people for their service.

4. Get in the mindset of asking for help!

Don’t limit your use of campaign volunteers just to the Lead Gift Committee. If your campaign volunteers serve on committees that do meaningful work, they’ll be happy to participate.

  • Need some smart people to give you feedback on the draft of the case for support? Gather a group into an ad hoc committee to review the case.
  • Want a few capable people to select your consultant or oversee the feasibility study? Pull together a group to advise you on that.
  • Want some help fine-tuning and expanding your lead donor list? Ask a few of your largest donors to help you with that.
  • Want help organizing the campaign kick-off event? Pull together a group of experienced party planners from your board and donor list.
  • Need people to test and refine your public phase marketing plans and online fundraising tools? Recruit a team of volunteers who are already familiar with your case for support.

Every time you have something you could use help with, pull together a group of volunteers. Call it a task force or a committee, or don’t call it anything at all.

The bottomline: It’s time to change your mindset about campaign committees. They are valuable on many fronts. Once you make this shift, you’ll never think quite the same way again about asking people for help. And the more you ask people for meaningful help on your campaign, the more likely it will be to succeed.


Board Member’s Guide to Capital Campaign Fundraising

If you’re on the board of an organization that’s considering a capital campaign, there are things you need to know. This guide will help you understand your own role, and that of the entire board, during a campaign. Download this free guide today!

About Author

Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, and Andrea Kihlstedt

Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, and Andrea Kihlstedt are co-founders of the Capital Campaign Toolkit, a virtual support system for nonprofit leaders running successful campaigns. The Toolkit provides all the tools, templates, and guidance you need — without breaking the bank.

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