Successful capital campaigns use lots of volunteers. Volunteers serve as campaign chairs, on the steering committee and on a host of other ad hoc committees that help with specific aspects of the campaign.
Recruiting and selecting the right people to help with your campaign is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your campaign’s success. In this extensive post, you’ll find some practices that will help you put together a winning campaign team.
Quick Links — This is a long post, so you can click on any of the four topics below to get to that specific section:
- Choosing Capital Campaign Volunteers
- The Best Way to Recruit Capital Campaign Volunteers
- Capital Campaign Volunteers: 8 Recruitment Tips
- Concluding Thoughts on Capital Campaign Volunteers
In the first section, you’ll learn what kind of campaign volunteers you need. Then you’ll find out how to recruit them. And finally, you’ll get ten simple and powerful recruitment tips.
Choosing Capital Campaign Volunteers
Capital campaign goals tend to be high — likely higher than any fundraising goal you’ve ever undertaken. And to raise that much money, you’ll need to ask people for big, bold, even transformational gifts. That kind of bold fundraising seems risky. And few people want to be associated with something they fear might not be successful. So you have to take great care in building confidence right from the start.
If you build a volunteer team like that — a team that makes the success of your campaign feel somehow inevitable, you’ll be off to a great start.
Who are the Right Volunteers for Your Campaign?
If you get right people engaged in your campaign early, many others will want to be part of your winning team. Who are the right people?
- They are the people who are inevitably associated with successful projects.
- They are the people in your community who, when they sign up for something, have the ability, will, courage and determination to make it happen.
- They are the people who, for one reason or another, make things happen.
- Sometimes they have great wealth and are generous contributors.
The best way to create a sense of confidence that your campaign will succeed from the start, is to get the right people on board. Who are “the right” people? They are the people with proven track records of fundraising in your community. Some of them are people who themselves can make large gifts and some of them may be people who are known for getting things done, and done well!
The RIGHT Volunteers Set Your Capital Campaign Up for Success
If you recruit your most important campaign volunteers early and carefully, and you make sure they have a great experience, many of them will serve on multiple committees, one after the other.
Additionally, because your most important volunteers are involved in your campaign, you will find it easier to recruit others to help throughout the duration of your campaign.
What Does A Strong Campaign Volunteer Look Like?
Think about it for a minute. What kind of volunteer do you want to serve with? Here are five questions to answer that will help you ferret out the truth.
- Would you rather serve with someone who has great wealth and never shows up or someone who isn’t so wealthy but pulls more than her weight?
- Would you rather serve with someone who listens well at meetings, adding her voice when she has something to say or someone who forces her ideas on the rest of the group?
- Would you rather serve with someone who is passionate and inspiring about the cause, or someone who is well known in the community but doesn’t really care?
- Would you rather serve with someone who steps up and offers to help or someone who leaves early before assignments are made?
- Would you rather serve with someone who makes what is, for her, a very generous gift or with someone who makes a token gift that is far short of other gifts she’s made in the community?
I think you know what I’m getting at. While you should identify and recruit people who are leaders and philanthropists in your community and can make generous gifts to your campaign, those qualities, by themselves, aren’t enough.
You must also look for passion and commitment and follow through. It may take a while to find the right people, but the results will be well worth the effort.
Engage Volunteers Through Capital Campaign Volunteer Committees
Through the course of your campaign, you will have ample opportunities to engage volunteers. The standard committees include these:
Campaign Core Committee or Cabinet
This is a small group of staff and volunteers who huddle behind the scenes to make sure the campaign is proceeding in the right way. The dedicated volunteers on this committee are the driving force throughout the campaign.
Campaign Planning Committee
The campaign planning committee only meets a few times, but has the important job of reviewing and finalizing the campaign plan.
Campaign Steering Committee
The steering committee will include some of the people who have already been involved in the other committees. The people on the steering committee often take on other campaign roles and use the steering committee to report on the progress of their work.
This is a short term committee (approximately 3 meetings over 8 weeks) which helps select the feasibility study process, perhaps an outside consultant (if you’re using one), and reviews the report before sharing recommendations with the board.
Nucleus Fund Committee
People on this committee solicit the gifts raised during the quiet phase of the campaign, including the lead gifts and gifts from the full board and campaign committee members.
This committee is responsible for planning a celebration event announcing your campaign to the community.
In addition, you may use small volunteer groups to help with organizing prospect cultivation events, campaign communications, major gifts solicitation and even donor stewardship.
For more information about capital campaign committees, see our capital campaign committees guide.
The Best Way to Recruit Capital Campaign Volunteers
You have to recruit your key volunteers as personally as you will solicit your largest donors. They are every bit as important. So always recruit people in a personal way.
In other words, don’t write a single letter or email to recruit volunteers and copy it over and over, sending it to everyone you want to recruit. That’s bound to get disappointing results. Take time to think about each person and personalize the request.
Each personalized invitation to participate should include most or all of these elements.
- What are you recruiting them for?
- What are the goals of the committee?
- How long is the commitment likely to last?
- How big is the group they are being invited to join?
- How often will the committee meet?
- Will the committee meet in person or virtually?
- Why, specifically, have you selected that person to recruit?
- If you know, you might let them know with whom else they will be serving.
That’s a long list, I know. But when you see it in practice, it’s not so complicated.
A 4-Step Process for Recruiting the Right Volunteers
The right people seldom simply appear on your radar. And even when you know who they are, it takes a strategic approach to get them on your campaign team. Here are four steps for identifying and recruiting the right volunteers.
1. Ask around.
It may seem very simple, but asking the leaders in your community who they think would be the best volunteers to help with your campaign has multiple benefits. First, it gives you a chance to talk to them about your plans. Second, they likely know who’s who from their experience with many campaigns.
Don’t just ask for suggestions cold. Make lists of likely people and share the list with leaders in your community. Ask them to help you prioritize the list and suggest who else might be on it.
Starting with a list primes the pump and gets them thinking of others they might know.
After speaking with several people, a few names are likely to rise to the top. And when you recruit those people to help with your campaign, you can let them know that again and again, people suggested them.
2. Define short term assignments.
Don’t start by asking people to take on long, demanding roles in which they will have to carry the brunt of your entire campaign. If you do that, lots of great candidates are likely to turn you down.
Instead, invite your “right people” to start with a short-term assignment.
You might invite them to serve on your Campaign Planning committee. It’s a short but important assignment to help develop your campaign plan. You can read more about that here. Or, you might ask them to be part of an ad-hoc group that reviews your case for support.
Giving volunteers short term assignments also lets you learn more about how they function. And if they don’t function well in a short-term assignment, you don’t have to ask them to continue on in another role.
3. Recruit the magnets first.
Recruit the most powerful people first and then ask them to help recruit the rest of the group. The strategic order of recruiting people can make a huge difference. Getting the right person on board first builds confidence right from the start and will make others want to serve.
Think carefully about what you can do to make the most powerful person want to help. Select the person in your organization that has the strongest relationship with her. Carefully consider why the person might want to help. Make sure that you can clearly convey what the expectations are, how long the assignment will be and what they will be asked to do.
4. Ensure campaign volunteers have a great experience.
The first experience people have in your campaign will determine whether they are going to be willing to continue on. Make sure your meetings are organized well and have ample opportunity for real discussion. In fact, you should do everything you can to make the experience interesting and even fun!
Then, be sure to follow up with clear, well-written notes and assignments. And when the initial assignment comes to a close, be sure that you thank people individually for helping.
A Sample Volunteer Recruitment Email / Letter for Your Campaign
Imagine that I’m recruiting you to serve on my campaign committee. I might write you an email that says something like this:
I’m writing to ask for your help. Not your financial help! … (not yet, anyway).
Nope. This time I’m inviting you to share your wisdom and experience with us as we plan a capital campaign to build a new home for the Bronx Music Academy.
You know this community well, and you have a great deal of experience raising money here. I can’t imagine taking this next giant step forward without getting your advice.
I hope that you will join us and 6 to 8 other community leaders for two campaign planning meetings. The first meeting will take place on October 3 from 4:00 to 5:30. The second meeting will be two weeks later on October 17 at the same time.
We will meet in person for the first meeting but you may participate in the second by video-conference if you prefer.
You’ve been so helpful to us over the last decade, [name], helping us at critical turns as we’ve grown and expanded. I hope that you’ll share your thoughts and ideas with us again as we shape this next phase of our growth.
I’ll call you next week to see if you are available and willing.
Thank you, [name], for all you do to help make our community a better place.
P.S. I just got a call from Carole Curtis who has agreed to serve! I know you’ve enjoyed working with her before.
If you got that email and it accurately reflected your relationship to the community and the organization, wouldn’t you be inclined to serve?
I know I would find it hard to say no. And that, of course, is the result you want.
This Recruitment Letter is NOT a Form Letter!
While the volunteer recruitment letter above covers all of the items in the list above for your campaign, it does so in a very informed and personal way. Writing personalized invitations like that takes a bit of thought and time. But the extra effort will pay off.
Keep in mind that the success of your campaign depends on the quality and commitment of your volunteers. The more involved they are, the more likely they are to give generously. And the more they are willing to help and to champion your campaign, the more people will want to join them.
Recruiting campaign volunteers is one of the most important aspects of your campaign planning. Be sure to do it in a way that will make people want to help.
Capital Campaign Volunteers: 8 Recruitment Tips
To summarize some of the most important points about finding and recruiting the very best volunteers for your campaign, here are eight tips that I’ve found most useful.
Tip 1: Personalize Your Volunteer Outreach
Recruiting the right volunteers is every bit as important as soliciting the large gifts. In fact, it may be more important. Because once you have the right volunteers, you will make it more likely that your best prospects actually give those big gifts.
So, just as soliciting the largest donors takes careful strategy and individual attention, recruiting your top volunteers must also be done with specific focus and attention on the people you are recruiting.
Tip 2: Recruit the Most Powerful People First
Volunteers are often swayed when they know the ability and credibility of the people they will serve alongside. So, begin your process by recruiting the most influential people you can get. Having them on your team will encourage others to sign on too.
Tip 3: Get Volunteers Who are Already Committed to Help Recruit Others
When people agree to serve on your campaign team, they too, will want to make sure the team has others who will help make the campaign successful. So, once the first one or two volunteers have agreed to serve, find ways that they can help recruit others.
Tip 4: Talk to Your Volunteers about Making a Gift Early in the Recruitment Process
Volunteers must not only work on behalf of your campaign, they should also make a generous contribution. Be sure to discuss their giving to the campaign when you talk with them about the roles and expectations. You don’t want to recruit someone to a committee and then surprise them when you ask them for a gift later.
Tip 5: Let People Know Why You Have Selected Them for the Job
Think carefully about each person you are recruiting and make a short list of the things you believe they will bring to the table. While some of your campaign recruits may be wealthy, make sure that their wealth is not the only reason you are recruiting them. If all you are after is a large gift, then keep them on your donor list. But if there are other things they will bring to your campaign, then you have a shot at recruiting them.
Tip 6: Outline a Clear Duration of Service
Make sure you frame volunteer involvement as a time-limited assignment. When you recruit volunteers let them know how long their involvement is likely to last. You might quantify that in terms of the number of meetings or the months or years you anticipate it taking.
Tip 7: Inspire Volunteers With the Impact of the Campaign
Just like donors, volunteers do their work because they are excited and enthusiastic about the impact of the project they are working on. When you speak with volunteers you are recruiting, spend some time talking about the impact the project will make in the community you serve. Share your excitement and commitment and give your volunteers a chance to share theirs.
Tip 8: The Most Important Quality in a Campaign Volunteer
When all is said and done about recruiting the right volunteers, I come back to a key and important point. Make sure that every one of the volunteers you recruit is the kind of person that follows through and makes good on their promises.
Volunteers that talk a good game but don’t perform can undermine you and your entire team. No amount of influence and wealth makes someone an effective campaign volunteer if they don’t do what they say they will do.
Concluding Thoughts on Capital Campaign Volunteers
In capital campaign fundraising, it’s easy to focus your attention on raising the money. But recruiting a team of influential and effective volunteers can make a huge difference in your success. Getting the right people on board will set everything else in motion.
So, early in your campaign planning, start making lists of who those right people might be. Talk to them about your plans. Ask their advice while your campaign is little more than a gleam in your eye. And then, as your campaign takes shape, invite them to help in a way that will make them want to become part of your winning team.
Building a team of effective and influential volunteers is some of the most important work you’ll do to make your campaign a success.