What’s the Board’s role in a Capital Campaign?

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What’s the board’s role in a capital campaign? This is a question we are asked frequently by board members, nonprofit CEOs and fundraisers alike. 

We see many nonprofit board members who are unsure and even a bit nervous about an upcoming capital campaign. Often they worry that they’ll be asked to go out and solicit gifts – with no training or preparation.

Even more, nonprofit board members are often not quite sure of it all: the campaign strategy, the financial goal, and what they need to do to support the whole effort. 

Today, we want to share a simple guide to the nonprofit board’s role in a capital campaign. 

In our capital campaigns, we spend a lot of time working with the board members, early and often, to keep them enthusiastic and aligned with the campaign strategy. 

This approach certainly pays off with a board that is flying like geese as we say – all pointed in the same direction, focused on accomplishing the important campaign goal!

What’s Keeping Your Board Up At Night About Your Proposed Campaign? 

If you ask your board members what is keeping them up at night about your proposed capital campaign, they may say:  “Fear of asking,” and even, “Fear of being asked.”

Why are these their fears?  Because board members typically think that fundraising and capital campaigns are all about asking.  

They focus on the most awkward, most difficult thing they could imagine, having to make a cold call and ask for a gift. 

Even more, they fear the moment when they, themselves, will be asked to consider their own personal gift. 

Inspire, Influence and Invest: This is the board’s role in a capital campaign 

We like to take a very simple approach to the board’s role in a campaign, and boil it down to three important task areas. 

This is how we set each board member up to be in action in the community to support the capital campaign. 

We ask board members to take on three jobs to support the campaign, and that’s it:

  • Inspire 
  • Influence
  • Invest

(We like to follow the rule of threes, because anyone can remember three things!)

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In the video above, Kathryn and I are unpacking the three I’s. This is how we use this framework to motivate and engage board members in their own capital campaigns. And it works! 

Board members can be a campaign asset 

Your board members are people with energy and passion for your organization’s mission.  They bring special assets to help boost the campaign – but they just need a guide to direct them where they can do the most good. 

We’ve worked with hundreds of nonprofit organizations of all sizes and missions. They all face similar challenges when it comes to mobilizing their board for a capital campaign. 

That’s why we’ve boiled it down to these three main roles that everyone can remember: inspire, influence and invest.

1. INSPIRE: Board members’ first role: to INSPIRE 

When we speak with board members we ask – Why do you care about your organization?  The stories they tell are heartfelt, warming and……INSPIRATIONAL!    

Think about this.  Your board members really care about your nonprofit’s mission for very personal reasons.  

Board members can inspire others simply by sharing why they care about your organization and its work. This is something they can do very naturally anytime with anyone.  

All they need to do to start is say something like, “I learned something really interesting at my board meeting for XYZ organization today, may I share a bit about this?”  

Of course this is offered with great enthusiasm and excitement for sharing.  Attitude is everything!

So think how powerful it is when you have an entire group of board members out in the community sharing good news.  Even more, they are telling everyone about the wonderful new initiatives their nonprofit organization is undertaking to do more good in the world. 

One way to set board members up for success is to give them permission to be themselves when sharing why they care.  This does not require an “elevator speech.” 

They do not need to know every fact and figure – they just need to care.  That is all.  Their caring and their positive attitude will open doors.  Why? Because this is authentic. 

As a board member recently shared “I feel so much better and confident that it is ok I don’t know every detail and need to remember an elevator pitch.”  

And, to be truly inspiring, they need to remember that energy and contagious enthusiasm are a gift. They can shower this gift on every person they know. 

2. INFLUENCE: Who can your board members INFLUENCE to make a gift?

Keep in mind, board members have influence by just being board members.  So their presence and support is influential. 

And, each board member has a sphere of influence – people they individually can potentially influence to engage and support your organization.  But how you approach and support your individual board member to activate their sphere of influence is very important.

It starts by privately reviewing a few prospect names with key board leaders. Who do they know? Who could they possibly influence? Start with the board members you think will be most comfortable with this process so you build from success. 

Set up a one-to-one meeting and share a short list of potential donors you think they may know.  Ask the board member to brainstorm with you about what steps and who may influence these particular prospects.  And could they use their influence to get you in the door–or make the appeal themselves? 

If you have already made a solicitation and have yet to receive a response, ask your board member if they could do a “tap in” contact.  

These are touches to encourage the donor to respond.  Anytime a board member can share their “why” is helpful to moving forward. 

3. INVEST: How will your board members personally INVEST in your campaign?

Board members understandably may be nervous about their own financial commitment to the campaign. 

But, handled correctly, the conversation with each board member about their gift can be an engaging and exciting discussion. 

Why?  Because it’s all about what the board member believes in and what they passionately want to make happen in this world. Keep in mind at this point, they are individuals, not a collective group – the board.  

This is the way to take a gift discussion from “transactional” to “transformational.” By focusing on the big picture, the exciting change each individual donor (board member) wants to see. 

And yes, when it comes to their own gift, we hope that each board member will make a gift to the campaign that they are proud of. We call it their “proud, personal gift” commitment.

And, it’s fine to invite each board member to make an early and generous commitment to the campaign. However, that will look different for each person.

Each board member should be approached respectfully, like a valued major gift donor, with the ask and approach tailored to the individual. 

Some will be able to make a generous lead gift, others a more average donation. But each of these dedicated supporters should come away feeling great about their investment in the campaign initiative.

After all, they are also giving through their leadership, and that’s a valuable gift as well. 

And take note, fundraising staffers should not be the ones doing the asking. 

Board members should always be approached by a peer, which might include a member of the board development committee or board campaign leader.  

BOTTOM LINE on the Board’s Role in the Capital Campaign:

When your board is ready to inspire, influence, and invest in your capital campaign, you will be well on your way to achieving your vision.

If you are planning a capital campaign, we can help. Our solutions for building board engagement, enthusiasm and influence will turn your board into passionate advocates for your mission and campaign.  Email us at coaching@gailperry.com.


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