Plain and simple — you can’t have a successful capital campaign without volunteers.

Your campaign volunteers bring vitality to your campaign. They’re in the weeds doing the work. They’re making connections. And if they didn’t truly believe in your mission, they wouldn’t put in all that time and energy voluntarily.

Yet capital campaigns are long. They can take anywhere from two to five years. And there is a lot of work to be done along the way. It’s only natural for people to run out of steam, get discouraged, or simply get bored.

What do you do if you find yourself in that situation? How do you breathe a breath of fresh air and excitement into their work?

Let’s take a look at two common challenges in this regard and explore a simple exercise you can use to overcome those challenges.

Two Common Campaign Volunteer Challenges

We’ve seen this exercise succeed first hand with two different clients. Here’s how it worked for each organization.

Volunteer Group 1: Enthusiastic and About to Disband

The other group of volunteers — we’ll call them “Team High-Spirited” — is in the beginning of their campaign. They’ve just had three very successful campaign planning meetings with a lively group of donors and leaders in their community. Team HIgh-Spirited was designed to last for only three meetings and then to disband. The question was how to make sure these great people stay involved in the campaign.

Volunteer Group 2: Worn Out Solicitors

Let’s call this group of volunteers, “Team Drained.” They are in the challenging period of their campaign. They’ve raised lots of money but still have a way to go before they get to their goal.

Team Drained’s campaign committee is feeling tired. It seems like a slog. People show up at meetings, but there’s not much energy in the room and only a couple of steadfast volunteers are still making solicitations.

Solve Both Challenges With This Simple Exercise

In both of these cases, volunteers need to be redirected. And here’s one way to do that.

1. Collect Materials

You’ll need to gather a few materials for this exercise:

  1. Flip Chart
  2. Post-it Notes
  3. Pens
  4. Tape

2. Brainstorm to Make a List

Then, put your heads together. Invite the participants in your group to generate a list of activities that volunteers might help with in the campaign. You can start the list with activities you know you need and then invite the participants to add to it.

Your list might include things like this:

  • Help thank donors
  • Host a house party
  • Make solicitation calls
  • Help with the campaign kick-off (or celebration) design
  • Serve on the XYZ committee

3. Explore Each Stage of Fundraising

To think of other ways volunteers might be involved, review the cycle of fundraising that goes from identifying prospects to educating, cultivating and involving them, to asking for gifts to thanking and recognizing them to involving them more deeply after the gifts are made.

If you think about each stage, you will find opportunities for volunteers.

4. Plaster the Walls With Activities

Once your committee has developed a list of 10 or 15 ways they might help, using your flip chart, write one item on each page and post them all around the room.

Tell the group that you would like each of them to put his or her name on the activity sheets they feel best suit their interests and abilities.

5. Hand Out and Post the Post-Its

Then give each person a batch of post-it notes and ask them to write their name on several of the post-its and walk around the room putting them on the flip chart pages.

You might just give everyone a marker and ask them to write their names on the pages with the activities they choose, but the post-it note approach makes it easier for people to change their minds as they see where there are too many or too few people in one activity or another.

This simple process encourages each person to select what they’d like to do most.

The Results of this Exercise for Each Group

For Team High- Spirited…

The exercise focused the committee members on the many tasks they might help with throughout the campaign. And the staff, rather than trying to assign roles to volunteers, could simply follow up with what each individual had indicated they would like to do.
Everyone left the room knowing that their campaign planning assignment had been completed successfully and that they would be called upon to continue to help with the campaign.

For Team Drained…

This exercise gave each person a chance to redirect their efforts into something that they were willing to do.

Rather than pretending the committee was working and dragging through the meetings, the chair addressed the problem head on –

“I think we’re all a bit campaign weary”, he said. “And rather than just limping on, we’d like to reshape this group and give each of you the opportunity to do something that excites you more.”

With that, he asked the group to review the list of volunteer opportunities and to self-select how they want to help.

Everyone left feeling good, including the staff. Committee members felt relieved that they weren’t stuck and could find another assignment. And the staff set to work recruiting a few new, energized volunteers to take on solicitation assignments.

Self-Selection + Community = Lively Volunteers

This simple activity lets people pick and choose what they’d like to do. And they do it as a part of a community.

Walking around the room and seeing who volunteers for what and then deciding what tasks they’d specifically prefer to do not only inspires everyone to participate, but it helps each participant make an early commitment to a later task.

The visible nature of people’s commitment increases the chances that they’ll actually stay involved. And that’s the real power of self-selection in a public group setting. So give this exercise a shot! You’ll keep your volunteers happy and engaged.

For more ways to keep your volunteers energized and working seamlessly to achieve your campaign goals, check out the Capital Campaign Toolkit. It’s got everything you need to lead a successful campaign.


  1. Richmond M Rabinowitz

    This is great and would work well with all kinds of fundraising.

    • Julia Steele

      I’m a consultant working with an organization in Florida on their $4m campaign. I absolutely love this exercise, and I’m going to try it at our campaign committee meeting in February. I like the idea of giving them a handful of ideas that we know we need them to do, and then letting them think of more. When they get up from their seats and choose assignments they’re comfortable with versus us assigning them tasks arbitrarily, they own them and will be much more likely to follow through. Great suggestion. Thank you!

  2. Name *Andrea

    Hi Richmond, I’m just seeing your lovely comment now. Thanks for it. I appreciate it when people respond. Andrea


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