This post was contributed by Capital Campaign Toolkit.
Among all of your nonprofit’s stakeholders, few have such a direct impact on your day-to-day operations as your board of directors. These individuals help make decisions both large and small, playing central roles in the overall strategic direction and management of your nonprofit.
One of the most impactful ways that your board members help to shape your organization’s future is by signing off on major campaigns and initiatives, like capital campaigns, designed to fuel your growth and scale up your operations through capacity-building.
Your board can (and should) actively participate in your capital campaign beyond giving it the initial greenlight and simply letting your development team loose to do the heavy lifting.
However, many board members, especially at smaller or younger organizations, might not have much experience with these campaigns or understand exactly how they can get involved. Plus, while many board members make contributions to their nonprofits’ capital campaigns, that’s not always the case for every campaign or for every organization. This means the director or development professional leading the charge needs to fully understand the various ways in which board members can support their campaign aside from simply making a donation.
At the Capital Campaign Toolkit, we’ve guided countless organizations of all sizes through the process of planning and conducting successful capital campaigns. We’ve seen firsthand the different ways that board members can help drive campaigns to completion, so we’ll walk through five key board member responsibilities to keep in mind for your next initiative:
Capital campaigns are complex, often multi-year undertakings, so it pays to have a united front from the very start of the planning process. With your entire team on the same page and ready to tackle your campaign head-on, you’ll be off to a great start. Let’s dive in.
Your board is the core decision-making body of your nonprofit, so if there were any one element of a capital campaign in which their involvement is critical, it’s the planning process. Your board will need to sign off on your campaign plans and goals anyway, so take the opportunity to get them more actively involved from the start.
Encouraging them to help shape your campaign in this early stage will be invaluable for keeping them invested and engaged throughout the entire duration of your campaign. Securing their buy-in and active participation can go a long way to create a smoother, more productive experience down the line.
Work with your board members to hammer down some early specifics for your campaign, like:
Before or during the planning process, consider any training that board members might need, as well.
For instance, if they haven’t before played a significant role in your nonprofit’s major gift fundraising, give them a crash course on the cycle of prospect identification, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship. Illustrate your points with case studies about past major gifts that you’ve secured from donors. This foundational understanding will be essential for your board members’ success in other donor-facing responsibilities they may take on over the course of your capital campaign.
Speaking of the major gift fundraising cycle, your board members can play integral roles at each of the stages in this critical process (which will yield the bulk of your capital campaign’s revenue), starting with identifying prospective donors.
Your board members’ connections to the community are a key part of what makes them so valuable for your organization. If you’re planning a capital campaign, now is definitely the time to make the most of those valuable connections! As you plan your campaign, ask your board members to draft lists of potential donors whom they know personally or professionally and then flesh out details like:
Even if the lists that your board members come up with are relatively short, they can give your development team an invaluable head start. This is especially true if they’re able to personally introduce the prospective donors to another leader at your organization. Personal connections to your cause are often extremely promising indicators when it comes to major gifts, so your board members’ involvement at this stage can have huge impacts on your capital campaign’s overall success.
Although providing lists of prospective donors is the most immediately helpful way that board members can kickstart your campaign, some might even be willing to lend a hand with your development team’s research efforts. This list of prospect research tools by Donorly includes a few resources that your board members can easily access on their own, including SEC filings, LinkedIn, and Guidestar.
Once you’ve identified prospective donors at the various giving tiers outlined in your gift range chart, it’s time to build your relationships and explain your campaign’s purpose. Again, your board members’ personal connections can be extremely valuable at this stage, particularly if they introduced your nonprofit to those prospects in the first place.
If board members identify viable prospects and make introductions, ask them to play an active role in keeping those prospects engaged with your campaign. Additionally, even if your members weren’t able to personally put you in touch with prospects, encourage them to get involved with the cultivation and engagement process. Specific ways they can help include:
The main idea is that personal attention from a board member lets your prospects know that your entire team, not just your paid staff, values their time and support.
After all, your board members are a core part of your nonprofit’s team and can (and should) serve as a public face for your campaign. Encourage board members to play active roles in building relationships with prospective donors however possible, but be sure to let them know what to expect ahead of time—major donor cultivation can be a time commitment that they’ll want to plan ahead for.
Once you’ve identified prospects, built your relationships, and explained the purpose of your capital campaign, it’s time to ask for support. Take some time in advance to consider how your board members might play a role in this critical step in the process, but don’t flatly ask everyone to handle solicitations on their own.
Even the most engaged board members won’t always play a role in this stage, and they may not feel comfortable asking for gifts from their friends and colleagues. However, regardless of exactly who ends up soliciting gifts, it’s worthwhile to gauge board members’ interest anyway.
If you find that board members are interested in pushing major gifts through to completion, consider how they can help on a prospect-by-prospect basis.
You can find ways—even small ones—for them to help with prospects who they personally know. And if your cultivation efforts were effective, the board member who worked to build that relationship may actually be the ideal person to make the ask anyway (or they can at least set up the meeting during which another team member makes the ask). Just be sure to provide your board members with the training and support they’ll need if they do play a part in solicitations.
After the solicitations are made, your entire board can definitely help with donor stewardship and follow-up. Board members can handle tasks and activities like:
As your team begins making solicitations, ask board members to start brainstorming ways they can support your post-donation engagement goals. This kind of personal touch from such central team members can be especially meaningful for donors and will help to build stronger long-term relationships.
As mentioned above, your board should serve as a public face for both your campaign and for your nonprofit in general. But if board members aren’t comfortable or able to directly support the various aspects of the fundraising process, they can almost certainly lend a hand when it comes to promoting your campaign during its public phase. Recruit board members to:
Your board members might already be serving with other supporters and staff on a campaign committee. If they’re on your kick-off or promotions committee, planning and tackling these types of tasks will be an expected part of their role.
However, even if a board member isn’t directly responsible for promoting your campaign during its kick-off and public phase, there’s no reason why they can’t still contribute in meaningful ways. In today’s digital-first environment, it’s actually simpler than ever to help promote your campaign online, so this should be a fairly easy lift for everyone on your team.
If a board member wants to help with campaign promotions, be sure to provide them with guidance and materials they’ll need to represent your efforts well to the public. An overview of your branding best practices, specific instructions for where to direct readers to donate or learn more, and a library of pre-made campaign graphic design collateral will all be extremely helpful.
As your next capital campaign begins taking shape, proactively consider how board members can play roles in its success.
We recommend kicking off this process by (politely) putting board members on the spot. At your next board meeting, set aside some time for each member to brainstorm five to ten specific activities they can do or would like to do to support the campaign. Their early input will help you assign tasks based on interest and skills, making for an overall more productive and enjoyable experience.
Most importantly, remind your board that your entire organization needs to work together as a team. Capital campaigns are major undertakings that can take your nonprofit to the next level, so fostering a feeling of excitement and keeping open lines of communication will pay dividends once your campaign officially begins.
A 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!
Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, and Andrea Kihlstedt are co-founders of the Capital Campaign Toolkit, a virtual support system for nonprofit leaders to run successful campaigns. The Toolkit provides all the tools, templates, and guidance you need — without breaking the bank.