If your organization is heading into a capital campaign, you may have some concerns about your board members — and rightfully so. Ask yourself:
- Are your board members often stubbornly wrong-headed?
- Do they have beliefs about capital campaigns that could threaten to undermine the entire venture?
- Just how well-educated are your board members when it comes to capital campaign fundraising?
I’m always surprised to hear where some board members think the money will come from. You might be surprised too — keep reading.
3 Common Campaign Myths Board Members Tend to Have
Here are three misconceptions that are common among board members, followed by what you can do to correct them. (NOTE: The stories below are fictional, but are based on real situations I’ve dealt with.)
Myth 1: The Famous Person Myth
Whoopie Goldberg, Ellen DeGeneres, Michelle Obama, Meryl Streep… those are just a few of the names I’ve heard over the years from board members who believed that their second- or third-hand connection to one or another of those famous people would be the key to their campaign’s success.
Case in point — a board member utters one of the following statements:
“My cousin knows [famous person].”
“I met [famous person] at a party recently.”
“[Famous person] gives to children’s causes like ours all the time.”
And then the board member offers to connect that person to your campaign.
Their intentions are terrific. And it’s alluring to imagine that some famous person will make a very big gift and will draw attention to your campaign. But 99 times out of 100, it’s not going to happen.
This is what typically happens instead:
- The board member inevitably can’t make the rich and famous person connection, but valuable time is spent hoping and waiting for it to happen.
- The board member can make the connection, but the rich and famous person isn’t interested or willing.
- The board member connects, and the rich and famous person talks a big game and then does nothing.
The misguided thinking that somehow a rich and famous person will be responsible for the success of a campaign is damaging. It leads to the thinking that the campaign won’t (or can’t) be successful simply by focusing attention on their community of donors.
Myth 2: The Even Increment Myth
Most boards have at least one member who is convinced that the best way to raise your campaign goal is in equal amounts.
For example, if your campaign goal is $1,000,000, you should get one hundred donors to give $10,000 each. Or, even worse, to get 1,000 donors to give $1,000 each.
I can hear the board member now:
“Let’s just get 1,000 people to give us $1,000 each and we’ll be done. With the internet, that won’t be hard.”
Often, this idea is coupled with offering donors of $100 bricks or tiles or some other unit of recognition.
Of course, raising money in small amounts from lots of donors turns out to be expensive and difficult, and even impossible for most organizations. Local organizations don’t have that kind of reach or knowhow. And the even-amount approach isn’t an effective campaign strategy.
Myth 3: We Don’t Have Any Big Donors
Board members of most organizations that haven’t experienced capital campaigns before fall prey to thinking that because donors haven’t given large gifts yet, they can’t or won’t do so.
A common refrain goes something like this:
“The largest individual gift we’ve ever gotten is $10,000. And those are few and far between. We just don’t have any big donors.”
To be frank, we hear that worry from inexperienced board members and from staff members as well. They worry that because donors haven’t given big gifts in the past, they aren’t able and/or won’t make big contributions to the campaign.
In fact, in every campaign, the largest individual gifts come from the very same people who give small or modest annual contributions.
Donors — even wealthy donors — tend to regulate their annual gifts with the intention of giving at a level that they can sustain every year. They calibrate their campaign gifts quite differently because they are special gifts that won’t continue year after year.
How to Educate Board Members and Dispel Myths
Board member misconceptions do not spring from ill-intent. They simply don’t know enough. And it may be your job to alleviate their fears by providing accurate information and education about how campaigns work.
Here are some ways to help your board members understand what to expect:
- Hire an experienced consultant to provide pre-campaign training on an ongoing and regular basis.
- Invite the board chair or ED of a local organization that recently completed a campaign to come to a board meeting for 15 minutes to tell their campaign story.
- Work with a Capital Campaign Pro advisor who will provide ongoing training.
Effective training is seldom a one-time event. We encourage you to provide continuing education for your board members prior to a campaign, and throughout the campaign, as you approach each campaign phase and stage.
A parting thought which is a tad self-promotional, but true all the same — all Capital Campaign Pro clients and their board members are invited to regular board training opportunities. We know how important it is that your board members understand the nuances of a capital campaign.