If I told you that you’d have to have at least 7 committees for your capital campaign, it might send you into a tailspin.

As a seasoned development professional, you know the challenges of volunteer committees.

Here’s a list of some of the frustrating things you’ve probably experienced when you’ve relied on volunteers.

  • They don’t show up.
  • They don’t do what they say they’ll do.
  • It takes lots of time and energy to pull them together.
  • You could do it yourself more quickly and easily.

It really does often seem easier just to do all yourself.

So when you see that we call for 7 committees in the Capital Campaign Toolkit, you might break out in a case of hives. Or perhaps you’ll just decide that the Toolkit is giving questionable advice.

But not so fast…

Not only is it important to involve volunteers in your campaign, but if you do it right, you’ll avoid the standard pitfalls AND set your campaign up for success.

Quick Links — Click on any of the links below to jump ahead to that topic:

Why Volunteers are a MUST for Your Capital Campaign

Why Volunteers are a MUST for Your Capital Campaign

Let’s begin with a reminder that people don’t give large gifts because you need their money. They give because they care about the cause. Because they trust you and the project. Because they understand what the campaign is about, and because they feel involved.

That’s a passel of stuff donors need before they are likely to tap into their investments for your campaign.

Remember that for your campaign, you will be asking your donors to give more — sometimes far more — than they’ve given to your organization before. You’re not just asking for a standard, recurring gift that’s easy for your donors to make.

Ad Hoc Campaign Committees Engage Your Volunteers

For your campaign to be successful, you’re going to need donors to really step up. And they can’t do that from the sidelines! You’ve got to find a real, authentic way to involve them in your campaign. And organizing ad hoc committees is an excellent way to do that.

Some organizations naturally turn to their boards members to serve as the volunteers for their campaign. But it’s likely that most of your largest prospective donors don’t serve on your board. In fact, they may not have any interest at all in serving on your board.

In many organizations, while one or two board members may have significant wealth and become the campaign’s largest contributors, most of the largest donors do not serve on the board.

So, in order to engage your largest prospective donors, you’ve got to draw them in in other ways. And one effective way to do that is by asking them to volunteer and serve on an ad hoc committee to help plan or execute the campaign.

The Most Sensible Way to Use Ad Hoc Volunteer Committees

The Most Sensible Way to Use Ad Hoc Volunteer Committees

Ad hoc volunteer committees can drive you nuts if you don’t use them sensibly.

When I think about ad hoc committees, I think of construction paper chains. You know, the kind your kids make when you decorate a Christmas tree. Small paper loops, each connected to the next.

What, you might ask, does that have to do with ad hoc committees? It’s simple.

The Magic of Daisy-Chaining Committees

Throughout your campaign, you work with small groups of volunteers on specific tasks. They might meet only two or three times. When the work of the group is done, the group disbands. And another group is formed for the next task.

Now, here’s the magic of that simple system…

Let’s imagine that you’ve invited 7 people to serve on an ad hoc committee to help develop the case for support for your campaign. Of those seven people, four may be terrific volunteers. They show up. They’re responsive. They do what they said they would do. They are constructive in their approach to the work. One of the seven never shows up. And two of them cause more trouble than they’re worth.

Perhaps the ad hoc committee meets three times to complete the task. By the end of the third meeting, you thank everyone for their service and you disband the group.

Then, when it’s time for the next ad hoc committee, you call the four high-functioning members back (if appropriate) and you let the other three fade away. You might add another two or three on the new group. And, with some luck, two of those new folks will be stellar.

Through this process, you learn how people function and your volunteer groups become super effective and helpful!

A Simple Trick to Gauge Volunteer Effectiveness

The trick is to create short-term assignments for people you don’t know well so you can give them a trial run before inviting them to help with a longer-term assignment.

Of course, you don’t have to wait until you embark on a campaign to use this system. Make it a practice to involve people in the work of your organization. Keep the great ones involved and gently let the not-so-great ones slide away.

Keep in mind that the more effective your volunteer committees are, the more fun they will be to serve on and the more energy they will infuse into your campaign.

Eight Ways to Make Campaign Committees Function Well

Eight Ways to Make Campaign Committees Function Well

There’s nothing magical about running an effective committee, but there’s lots to know. Good committees don’t just happen; they are well-designed and well-managed. Here are some small lessons I’ve learned over the years.

1. Keep Committees Small-ish

I prefer committees of between 8 and 12 people (including staff). With more than 12, the group gets cumbersome and people are less likely to participate actively. With fewer than 8, if two or three aren’t able to attend a meeting, it feels like a skeletal crew.

There are times when you will organize larger groups, but whenever possible, keep them small.

2. Define a Clear Purpose and Timeline

Write up a sort of job description for the committee that outlines:

  • The committee’s purpose.
  • How many meetings you anticipate and how often.
  • How long you anticipate the committee will continue its work.

Review that description at the first meeting so everyone knows the expectations.

3. Take Advantage of Video Conferencing

While in-person meetings have advantages, video conferencing is convenient and effective. You might consider (once the pandemic ends) organizing the first meeting in-person and then moving to video conferencing.

There’s lots to know about facilitating meetings and if you find yourself doing that a lot, I encourage you to nose around the internet to bone up on some good virtual meeting practices.

4. Start Meetings on Time and end 5 Minutes Early

I find it to be good practice to start meetings on time — or no more than 3 minutes after the assigned time. And, if you can, end them early! No one ever minds being given some extra time.

It’s not your job to fill the appointed time. It’s your job to run a well-organized meeting and end it when the work is done. If you find the meeting may take a bit longer, ask permission to continue on for a specific amount of time. Don’t just run into overtime.

5. Work Hard on the Agenda

The best meetings result from a very well-conceived agenda that flows logically and efficiently. Take care to give people specific roles and make sure they know in advance what will be expected of them.

6. Use the Meeting time for Discussion Rather than Reports

If you have reports for the committee, send them in advance. Use the bulk of the meeting time for discussion that makes best use of the talent on the committee.

7. Send Clear Simple Meeting Follow-Up Notes

Make sure that someone is assigned to take notes during the meeting and that you send simple notes to the participants promptly after the meeting. The most critical aspect of the notes is the list of assignments.

8. Recognize Accomplishments and Celebrate Success

Don’t let accomplishment just drift by. Hold them up and give everyone a chance to feel good. Noticing accomplishments and successes requires practice and a bit of discipline. But once you get good at it, you’ll find that people on your committees are happy to be there and willing to stretch to accomplish even more.

The True Impact of Ad Hoc Campaign Committees

The True Impact of Ad Hoc Campaign Committees

If you make effective use of ad-hoc committees throughout your campaign, you’ll build a group of volunteers who feel (and become) responsible for the success of your campaign.

  • They will give more.
  • They will talk more glowingly of the campaign with their friends.
  • They will bring other people into the fold.

In other words, their success is your campaign’s success.

Remember, lousy volunteers are not worth having. But great volunteers who work effectively on campaign committees can amplify your effectiveness and make a huge, positive difference to your campaign.

So don’t go it alone — leverage the power of ad hoc committees and watch your campaign blossom.


  1. Laresa Griffin

    Thank you for this really helpful advice! Your article breaks it all down to remind us how essential volunteers and committees really are, and the benefits of investing well with them.

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      Thank you, Laresa. I’m so glad you found it helpful!

  2. Michelle DuBord

    The “True Impact” is a great reminder about the important role of volunteers within the organization.

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      Thanks Michelle. It’s easy to forget how much volunteers matter when we’re set on getting things done! 🙂

  3. Paul Jalsevac

    Great post as always. In reading this, I wonder if you are suggesting more use of ad hoc committees than just the 7 key campaign committees you suggest elsewhere. That is, even if you have a planning committee and a core committee reviewing the case, would you also schedule a couple other (or a few other) ad hoc committees of 3-4 top donors, (or particular groups like parents and alums) for just 1 or 2 sessions to review the case? Perhaps something similar to review your website?

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      Thanks for your wonderful questions, Paul. Yes, you have it right. While we map out seven key campaign committees, you can pull together small ad hoc groups throughout your campaign and ask them to help with all sorts of things. Develop a mindset of inviting help from others. You will start to see opportunities you hadn’t thought of before. And every time you get someone else to help, they will become closer and more involved in your organization and your project.

  4. Derry Deringer

    Andrea, thanks for the excellent post. My favorite part is the construction paper chain decoration analogy. An iterative process in a small series of “weeding” steps to build strong committees is genius – more to it all of course but love that simple design. Thanks again.

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      Thanks, Derry. I sometimes use that image when speaking with clients and I can see a light bulb go off… they get the strategy! You’re right, there’s more to it all, but understanding the concept is an important start. So glad you like the analogy. Feel free to use it. Ideas that work are meant to be spread!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *