Season 3, Episode 14
Successful capital campaigns involve volunteers. If you’re skeptical that working with volunteers is worth the struggle, don’t miss this episode with Amy and Andrea to learn how to leverage volunteers for your campaign.
The best, most successful capital campaigns are those that have a team effort, and you really should not be doing a campaign all by yourselves. Stay tuned to hear more.
Hi, I’m Amy Eisenstein. I’m of course with my co-conspirator collaborator, Andrea Kihlstedt, and today we are going to be focusing on why successful campaigns engage lots of people. Andrea, get us started.
Working on a Capital Campaign Can Be Lonely
Amy, I’m so happy to be talking about this topic. As I think about why you shouldn’t do it alone, I’m struck by how lonely it is.
How lonely it is if you’re a Development Director, the head of development and your board says, “Well go and do a capital campaign,” and all of a sudden you’re sitting at your desk and you’ve never done one before, and the goals are huge and high, and everyone’s looking to you to figure out how to do this and to make it succeed.
And the idea of doing it alone by yourself on your own is honestly horrifying. That’s the first thing that comes to my mind. It’s like this is too big a responsibility for any staff person. No matter how good or how responsible or how effective or how experienced you are, it’s too much pressure for any one staff person to carry.
It’s true. I mean, fundraising is a lonely profession in and of itself. In a regular annual fund year, there are so many one person or small development shops, and even if you’re at a bigger shop, sometimes it feels lonely.
Fundraising can feel lonely, and a campaign is really an opportunity to get rid of that because you can’t do it alone. It’s not feasible.
And so the question is how do you engage others staff, board members, and an extended volunteer pool to help you be successful? And there’s so many reasons, in addition to just simply not being feasible and not being lonely, that you really want to engage others.
One BIG Reasons to Involve People in Your Campaign Process
Let me give you two of those, Amy. I’ll give you two of those reasons.
Engaged People Give More Readily
So the first reason, which I think we often think about, is that we know that when people are engaged in something, they participate more effectively. And in fact, they participate as donors more effectively. More of them give and more of them give more. And that’s been well documented.
I mean, again and again as I’ve done campaign after campaign through my rather long career, you get to the end of the campaign and you start tallying, okay, who has made gifts? And of those people, how many of them have been campaign volunteers? The numbers are staggering. It’s often 60 or even 70% of the people who have given have some way volunteered for the campaign.
So if you really look at that, that means that if you’re running a campaign need very early on to make a decision that every time you have an opportunity to involve people as volunteers in the process of the campaign, you will do that. Not just because you want them to help — because you don’t want to be lonely — but because if they are involved, the chances are very much higher that they will give and that they will give more than they would’ve given had they not been involved.
So that’s a super important reason to involve people.
Let’s stick on that for one second before we get to the stick and reason. So I think a lot of Development Directors and nonprofit leaders have the experience of corralling volunteers as herding cats and that’s the expression that’s used and volunteers not showing up and not following through and being unreliable generally. And so I think sometimes the instinct is to go it alone and to do it without them.
But the reality is that in fundraising campaign after campaign, both in annual fund and in capital campaigns, my experience and the data shows us that when volunteers are involved, organizations raised significantly more money than they would’ve had those volunteers not been involved. So I don’t want people to take that lightly.
It is challenging to work with volunteers sometimes, and it does take a lot of thought and planning and strategy, but the pros and the benefits significantly outweigh the headache and the hassle.
And so there are strategies in place that we use at Capital Campaign Pro with our clients to mitigate the risk and the difficulty and the challenge so that people can be successful at engaging large numbers of volunteers at different points throughout their campaign.
And as you said, the proof is in the pudding because at the end of the campaign, when you look back and you see who gave, it’s primarily people who were involved and engaged. So I didn’t want to leave that lightly.
It’s very significant.
Involving People in Your Campaign in a Proactive Way
Yes. Well, let’s talk about how to create a campaign structure that involves volunteers in a way that isn’t going to drive you crazy. Because volunteers can drive you crazy.
Some of volunteers are fantastic, and they do exactly what you hope they would do, and some of them honestly are just a pain. So we’ve devised a strategy that we think really works. And rather than just saying, well, you need one big campaign steering committee that’s going to go from the beginning of the campaign to the end, we suggest that you have multiple campaign committees — ad hoc committees or work groups — whatever you want to call them.
In fact, we think that at every phase of the campaign, you can put together a different work group, people who will help with the pre-campaign planning, people who will help with the feasibility study, people who will help with creating the campaign plan itself, people who will help with the quiet phase or leadership phase of the campaign, even people who will help design the campaign, gala and kickoff, you know you have people who love to organize parties. And those are going to be different people from the people who will help with the leadership gift phase of your campaign.
So the different phases of the campaign have different needs from people and different volunteers will be involved. So you organize them as ad hoc committees of a fairly short duration. Some of them you might invite to come to three meetings, for example, in pre-campaign planning.
Really you want them to help with developing your case for support to make sure it’s compelling and to make sure what you’re saying is clear. Well, it doesn’t take more than two or three meetings to do that. So you can put together an ad hoc committee to do just that. You invite them in, they get the work done, you thank them very much, and you disband the committee.
Volunteers Come and Go
Now here’s the amazing part of that. Let’s say you’ve had six people help you with that, and three of them are fantastic volunteers:
- They read what you want them to read;
- They participate in a constructive way in the meetings;
- They show up, they do what they say they’re going to do.
They are just quintessentially perfect volunteers. And then of the other three:
- One is a no-show simply never shows up;
- And two of them are disruptive — they either haven’t done the homework, they haven’t read the stuff, so they can’t talk about it well, or they have strong opinions and won’t let them go, or they dominate the meeting or they’re hard to manage.
I mean, this happens when you deal with volunteers. So you figure out how to deal with them, but at the end of those three meetings, you disband the committee and guess what? They’re gone.
Right, you thank them for their participation and you don’t need to invite them back. I mean, the way you’ve designed the structure, the committee structure, the subcommittee structure, the task force, the working group structure, whatever you want to call it at your organization, that’s how we coach our clients at Capital Campaign Pro. And the benefit of that, of course, is that you don’t have these disruptive or difficult volunteers for three years on your campaign committee, but they’ve served, you’ve thanked them, you’ve released them, and of course, the three wonderful volunteers you invite to serve on the next task force or subcommittee.
And it’s a wonderful structure to keep the really productive volunteers throughout the campaign. But of course, you’re only asking for short commitments. If you ask wonderful, busy people for a three-year commitment, many of them may say no, but if you ask them for a two-month commitment or a three meeting commitment or for help with a small part of the campaign, they’re much more likely to say yes. And then of course, once they’re involved and engaged, hopefully they’ll stay involved and engaged.
I have something funny to add to that, which is that we think about that with regard to capital campaigns, but we also do something similar in our private lives, or my husband and I do anyway, we like to have dinner parties. And it’s always interesting and fun, and we always try to invite a couple that we don’t know particularly well where we like to expand our circle. And I’ll tell you, if we invite people we don’t know very well and they come and they get drunk or they take over the whole party or they won’t stop talking about themselves or whatever they do this bad, we simply don’t invite them back again.
It’s the same strategy and we can do it with our social lives, but we can also do it with the capital campaign. It just makes sense.
Right. No, that makes good sense.
Another BIG Reasons to Involve People in Your Campaign Process
Okay, so we talked about engaging volunteers, and we started with the idea that engagement leads to bigger gifts, which of course we know it does, but there’s something else very important happening. I don’t know the expression the means to the ends is maybe bigger campaign gifts, but there’s something brilliant that happens along the way.
So let’s talk about what the other really important reason to involve volunteers in your campaign is?
Right. And here’s what it is.
Different Perspectives Lead to a More Successful Campaign
As brilliant as you may be, right, and as good at your job as you may be, you only have one perspective. All of us only have one perspective. We try to broaden out, but we often get stuck when we bring other people in. It enables us to think differently. It enables us to see and hear other people’s perspectives. It enables us to wrangle and wrestle with ideas and ways to do things. And out of those conversations, you often get a far better product because it’s not just you stuck in your viewpoint, right?
You are forced to open up your viewpoint to hear others, and that’s worth a ton. You don’t even know how narrow, any one of us, not just you listening, Amy and me, all of us we’re stuck in our own viewpoints. So if we invite other people in and invite them in specifically for constructive conversations about a particular topic or piece of work, the result of that work will end up much stronger and much more powerful and will stand us in good stead for the entire campaign. Because our campaign then will be a reflection, not just of our views, but of a whole bunch of different views.
So let me give you two quick examples of that:
- So one, of course, is if you’re fortunate enough to have volunteers who have been actively engaged in other campaigns, you are going to get wonderful advice, recommendations, suggestions, and learning from them. I mean, they can talk about how they’ve solicited others, how they’ve been solicited, what’s worked, what hasn’t worked. And they can teach not only you, but other committee members. And it’s very powerful coming from a volunteer as opposed to a staff member. So there’s the campaign learnings that can happen.
- Another example, very frequent example that we run into when an organization is looking for property, as they often are for a capital campaign, they’re looking to buy land to renovate a building, and maybe they’re not having success bringing in people in the community who are aware of real estate holdings or sales or things.
I mean, there’s concrete, tangible expertise that volunteers can lend to a campaign that you don’t necessarily have on your team. So it can go twofold. It can be campaign-specific, and it can be expertise that’s well outside your area of knowledge.
So don’t take the idea of using campaign volunteers for granted because it seems like a hassle. There are huge benefits to involving and engaging volunteers. Ultimately, you will raise more money, but there’s so much more than that, and I think it’s a really important aspect of any campaign.
Alright, I just want to reemphasize that we have this structure and job descriptions for campaign committees or task forces, or subcommittees, ad hoc committees. There are lots of ways to think about it in every phase of the campaign and the Capital Campaign online toolkit.
So if we’ve piqued your curiosity today, I hope that you will come on over to the Capital Campaign Pro website and explore what we have to offer and how we can help support you through a campaign. Thank you so much for joining us, and we’ll see you next time.