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Season 1, Episode 31

Amy and Andrea are joined by campaign expert, Xan Blake, in a lively conversation about boards and capital campaigns. Xan suggests that for the early planning phases of a campaign, board members should be in learning mode. Once the campaign plan takes shape, your board will move into a more active role that falls into three buckets: organizing, advocating and participating.

 

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Amy Eisenstein:
Hello, I’m Amy Eisenstein. I’m a co-founder of the Capital Campaign Toolkit. I’m delighted to be here with you today, calling in from sunny central New Jersey. And I of course have my colleague and co-founder, Andrea Kihlstedt, with me. Andrea, you want to say hello?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Hi, Amy. And hi everybody. I’m Andrea Kihlstedt. I am calling in from the south Bronx in just outside of Manhattan in New York City, for those of you who know that.

Amy Eisenstein:
Excellent. And just as a quick reminder. We have a guest today. We’re delighted. We’ll get to her in just a second. Just want to remind everybody that the Capital Campaign Toolkit is a support system for nonprofit leaders running capital campaigns. So if you’re thinking about, or just getting into a campaign and you’re looking for help of any kind, we do hope that you’ll visit our website, capitalcampaigntoolkit.com, where you’ll find all sorts of free resources as well as opportunities to connect with us and ask us your campaign questions and see if you might like our support during your campaign.

Amy Eisenstein:
So on to today’s topic, we have with us one of our esteemed Toolkit campaign advisors. We’re so excited to have her, Xan Blake. And Xan, why don’t you introduce yourself briefly and tell us about yourself.

Xan Blake:
Thanks so much, Amy. Yes, my name is Xan Blake. And I have been a consultant on capital campaigns for the last 10 years. And I think also equally important, I was a staff member working on a capital campaign for the four years prior to that. I call in today from central New Jersey in Princeton. And it’s really my pleasure and honor to be with you today.

Amy Eisenstein:
Great. All right. Andrea, why don’t you start us off on today’s topic?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yes. Xan, has proposed a fantastic topic, right. She has suggested to us that we shouldn’t do this session on how to get your board members ready for a capital campaign. And really there are lots of important topics, but this is a really important topic. Xan, why don’t you start us off and then we’ll just go around.

Put Your Board in “Learning Mode”

Xan Blake:
All right. Well, I like folks to think of preparing for a capital campaign, at least sort of in two phases. So when you’re thinking about how your board members would become engaged in a capital campaign, you’re actually asking them to do something that’s perhaps a little different than what you generally request from board members. So generally we request board members get information, ask solid questions, and then authorize the staff to go on off and enact, whatever it is that they’ve been authorized to enact. So you might think of building a budget or something like that. In capital campaigns, we’re actually asking them to do something a little bit different than that. We’re asking for a different level of engagement. And so I find it’s really helpful when you’re talking to board members about how they might engage in a capital campaign. But you sort of highlight this difference for them because you’re asking them to operate in a different way.

And so I generally speak to board members about when they’re in the pre-campaign planning phase and in the feasibility phase, they need to think about the fact that they need to be in learning mode. They’re asking questions, right? They’re asking questions about how much projects cost, how much money is needed, what does a capital campaign actually look like, what’s the relationship between sort of philanthropic money and earn money? They really should be in learning mode. I really discourage boards at that time to getting decision-making mode, because then they preemptively decide how much money they can raise, or if at the end of the day a campaign is, what we call, feasible.

Amy Eisenstein:
Let me break in for one second. I think that is such an important and very concrete and tangible distinction for board members. Because most board members are afraid because they don’t know a lot about capital campaigns. So to tell them that they’re in a learning mode rather than necessarily yet in a decision making mode is such a reassuring position for them to be in and encouraging them to ask questions and sort of acknowledging that we’re going into unchartered territory and they may not know everything they need to know yet. So I just wanted to highlight how important what you’re saying is. Keep going.

Xan Blake:
Yeah. Well, to expand on that just a little bit. Since capital campaigns for most organizations aren’t something that you do all of the time, right, you bring them up once every 10 years or so. Oftentimes that particular board has no experience with that particular organization in a capital campaign. So it really highlights the need to sort of create a learning space for yourself, the organization, the staff, the board as a whole, the board as individuals. And so that’s how I encourage them to think about at that time.

As they begin to pivot out of the feasibility phase into that final planning phase, before they then move into what we call the quiet phase, I ask them to think of three big concepts. In those phases of campaigns, I want them to think about organizing. I want them to think about advocating. And I want them to think about sort of participating and that both means participating in terms of their time and in terms of their own personal gifts. So those are sort of the concepts that I ask them to think about as they pivot into a public phase.

So at this point, I’m going to sort of stop and say, Andrea, Amy, what is your response to what I’ve said so far?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
So I love the idea of really telling board members what’s going to be required of them and what mode they have to be in. I’d agree with Amy, that it must be very reassuring for board members to realize that they don’t have to pretend they know everything when they really, in fact, don’t. And if they get in that mode, then that makes them more receptive to being trained. Right. I think often board members are hesitant to, oh, we’re going to get trained, we’re going to… But it sets them up for that. So I think that’s fantastic. And I think it’s really interesting how you’ve organized your thinking based on campaign phases. Right? It’s not just two modes. It’s like, all right, during these phases of the campaign, they should be in learning mode and then they need to switch as they get going in the fundraising itself to a different mode. I think it’s a brilliant way to think about it.

And I think for any staff member who is listening here, I think, that it would really be helpful to you perhaps to have your board chair, for example, listen to what, Xan, has said. So that they understand that they can give the board permission to be in learning mode for a while. And they can actually think about, “Well, what are all the things we might do to have our board learn? What are the kinds of things that we can do?” Let’s actually focus on that for a minute. Let’s look at that first phase, say, “All right, learning mode phase for your board. What are the kinds of things a board might do to teach and train and help inform board members?”

Xan Blake:
So I have a couple of thoughts and then, Amy, maybe you can add a couple too.

One of the things that board members can do in this time period, is if they’re using the Capital Campaign Toolkit model, they can engage with the question of how they might participate in the feasibility study. Right? And so whether they host some interviews themselves, or they go with a staff member to be part of that interview process, they can go out into the community, ask those questions, learn how the community feels about their organization and their campaign and get firsthand knowledge. Prior to the point that we’re asking anybody for any kind of gift to get firsthand knowledge. I think the obvious other things that they can do is they can be participants on these early strategy committees. Right? The core committee, as we refer to it in the Capital Campaign Toolkit. They can engage with that question of what comes first and what strategy are we looking for?

And I also want to say one of the key things that I think that they can do to be in learning mode is to just reach out to some of the people that are close to them, that they know care about the mission or the work of the organization, and have some conversations about how those people feel about the organization, what they value about the organization. These can really be, what we call “cocktail conversations.” They don’t have to be formal. They don’t have to be officially feasibility study. They can simply be inquisitive.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
I think this is so interesting. I mean, you’ve pointed to a different kind of learning mode than the one I had in mind. And that to me says, “Okay, well, there are two.” And both of these are I think, terrific. The learning mode I was thinking about was, well, how can I inform myself about what a campaign is? That kind of learning mode. The learning mode that you’ve addressed in those issues are how can I inform myself about the organization and about the campaign plans and about what our community thinks of our organization. Right? Those are both learning modes of two different kinds. So, that’s really expanded my brain in how to think about that.

Amy, how about you?

Amy Eisenstein:
So what came up for me was, I was just talking to a prospective client for the Toolkit and he was asking me, what is the difference? On our website we have board training and solicitation training. And so he was curious about what the difference was. And so I think a simple and clear concrete explanation is that a board training really helps alleviate fears of board members in terms of what the expectations are, what’s coming down the pike, what their roles and responsibilities are, what will be expected of them. And the solicitation training very different is for those volunteers who are going to help participate in actively soliciting and asking for gifts. And so I think that there’re, to Xan’s earlier point, there are lots of different roles that board members can play in a campaign. Certainly not everybody will be a solicitor or an asker.

Different Roles for Different Board Members

Amy Eisenstein:
Xan, you gave the example of having volunteers help with a new kind of feasibility study that we’re doing called the guided feasibility study. But I was also imagining a different role for a volunteer who might help identify those in the community that should be included at a feasibility study. So not every volunteer will be the right temperament or interested in going out to do some of those… Having those conversations. But there are different roles for everybody. And I think that, that’s the beauty of a campaign is that there’s so many opportunities to engage volunteers at all different levels. And specifically your board members, not everybody has to play the exact same role and they won’t.

Xan Blake:
So actually I just want to expand and use a metaphor analogy on what you just said, Amy. Which is, if you think of a literal definition of a team where not everybody is good at the same thing, and actually people are specialists in specific areas. Right? You have the pitcher, right. You have the short stop, you have the first base, right. That’s exactly how I think of a capital campaign, which is that you need a whole lot of different skills to be successful on a capital campaign environment. And so consequently, you can bring a whole lot of different personality types to the table. And I know that you, Amy, and you, Andrea, have heard this. And I’m guessing some people who are listening to this have probably either heard this or thought this, which is, I can’t be part of the capital campaign because I could never ask anybody for money.

In my mind, that’s about 20% of what needs to happen. There is 80% of work out there that needs to happen for a successful campaign that has nothing to do with that. And so when I talk to people, I try to entice the shy one into the process with that because there’s so much work that needs to be done. And we are so grateful for the group of people who do that work.

So as an organization pivots into that sort of out of this planning phase and into the, well, what we might call the asking phase or the quiet phase, I like board members to think of that they need to be engaged with organizing, advocating, and participating. And so what I mean by that is relative to organizing. You could participate in terms of being part of the capital campaign, steering committee, or whatever committee you formulate to actually operationalize the campaign.

I also think that every board member should be able to do what we call an “elevator speech” on the campaign. One of the key things that when you’re in the grocery store, somebody’s going to walk up to you and ask you about what you should be able to answer some of those. You should also feel comforted in the fact that whatever you can’t answer is actually just a huge opportunity to have somebody from the office is call and follow up, which is one more touch with a donor, which is always a good thing. So there’s no reason why board members should have sort of anxiety or worry about that. We’ll have some board members who do participate in direct solicitation, and we will… Hopefully the organizations will embrace getting them trained as, Amy and Andrea, just referred to and supported in that process. So that they go out feeling confident and assured.

Solicit Your Board Members First

Xan Blake:
I always think that one of the key things a board member really needs to do in terms of this participation mode is they to be the first group of people or in that group of people who get solicited. So they need to be the easy place, the friendly audience that the soliciting group goes to first to practice their solicitation skills. So I think of that as a real obligation. And then there’s always this question of giving, right? And so board members, there’s always a lot of conversation around expectations. And the phrase that I like to use is, every board member needs to give a gift to the campaign that they feel represents the generosity that they want other donors to express the campaign. And of course, what that means is that’s individualized for every board member. But that’s a critically important part.

And then some of the other fun things folks can do is there are times when a staff member, maybe your grant writer, your head of development is going to need a partner to go visit with the foundation. Foundations love it when volunteers show up to have these conversations. And that’s a really great place for a board member who’s really good with details and really remembers details well. To maybe partner with the executive director, CEO, or head of development and go visit that foundation.

There’s a lot of things I can do, but you guys have some great ideas too, I’m sure.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah, Xan. I think this is such a wonderful topic and so important really, to think about. And I want to go back to the structure of it. Right? That you would’ve posted two distinct modes for board members. And I would think about that perhaps using a little different language. On one hand, you talk about the learning mode in the early phases of the campaign. And on the second hand, what I would think of is you have a learning mode and a participating mode. Now, I don’t know if that’s as clarity or not, but it seems to me that all of the things that you talk about sort of are in the participation. Where you’re actually a board member in one way and another is really diving into the campaign serving on committees, helping to organize events, or participating and asking, or… Right. That’s kind of the participation part of what they’re doing. Is that an accurate formulation?

Xan Blake:
Yeah. I think you could definitely take everything I said after learning and categorize it under a broader umbrella of participation. And it marries with the idea that not everybody participates in exactly the same way. So you could also say it’s learning and engagement. But one thing I did find, Andrea, recently with talking with the board is they were very clear, when I was planning my conversation with them, that they didn’t want vague language. They wanted really tell us exactly what we need to do to be successful. And so I use the umbrella terms, but I also think it’s really important for anybody listening, don’t just use general phrases like engagement, unless you’re going to do as we are doing here, sort of a breakout of what does that actually mean because my heart can be in it. But if I don’t actually do anything, I’m probably not advancing the campaign too far.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
I think that’s right. I think this is such a helpful frame for anybody who has a board in the early phases of a campaign as a way to help them help those board members feel a little more comfortable with what’s ahead of them. So they’re not going to be dumped into the deep end of the pool and left to drown because they don’t know how to swim. Right. They’re first going to learn how to swim. They’re going to learn about campaigns. They’re going to learn about how the community view their organization. They’re going to learn about how the campaign is being set up. And then they’re going to dive into the pool of actually helping to make the campaign happen in the ways that you’ve said. And I think that makes very good sense.

Thoughts on Board Giving

Amy Eisenstein:
I want to circle back to the idea of board giving. Because I think that that’s probably one of the very first things that board members are worried about. And well, honestly, one of the first things that we hear as campaign consultants that we don’t have a big wealthy board. Right. That’s one of the concerns and worries. So Andrea, I always find the way you talk about board giving, especially compelling. Why don’t you share your thoughts on the reason that you don’t have to have a big wealthy board in order to be successful at a campaign and how board members should approach they’re giving. Xan touched on it a bit.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
It’s such an important topic and I’ve actually thought a lot about it. What I’ve come up with is more complicated than is easy for people to grasp. But let me see if I can capture a little simple and complex. So this simple part is that every board member should be made aware that they will be asked to give a gift to the campaign that is as generous a gift as they are able to make. That for some people that might be a hundred dollars. And for some people that might be a million dollars. Right? And sometimes a hundred dollars gift is more of a sacrifice than the million dollar gift, right, which is curious. These days organizations appropriately have boards that are very mixed, where often some of the people on the board represent the people who are being served. Right? Some of the board members represent the wealthiest of foundations.

So you have to position it in a way that everyone feels that they can do their part with their gift in a way that is just as important as anyone else’s. And I think that can’t be overstated. Right? No board members should feel as though they are somehow lesser than because the amount of money they can give is less than what wealthy people on the board can give. People really need to spend time thinking about and internalizing that so they can talk about it comfortably. The other thing that I’ve been thinking about with board giving is the question that often gets asked to us is, well, how much should a board give to a campaign. What percentage of the campaign should come from the board?

And people often think, well, there must be a number. Of course, the reality is that the number, the percentage of your goal that should come from your board has everything to do with who is sitting on your board. So it makes no sense to say to a board that has no wealthy people on it, that they should give 20% or 30% of the campaign goal. I mean, that makes no sense at all. And it also makes little sense to say to the board that is made up of all of the wealthiest people in your community, that they should only give 10%. So to understand how much your board should give takes looking carefully at who is on your board and what the potential of that group of people is.

Now, I think it’s important to really look at that, and let people pull numbers out of the air. Board members don’t know what it is they should give to the campaign proportionately. So I actually have recommended a variety of ways, I’ve written about it. The notion that you should work with the board to come up with an understanding of what the potential of that particular board should be. And we can’t go into that with any detail now. But understand that you have to help your board members know what collectively is possible in order for them to understand where they fit in that board giving process.

Xan, what would you add to that?

Xan Blake:
I think it’s right on the mark. And I think if the listener will hear sort of the full breadth of what Andrea is saying, it will take a lot of the worry and anxiety out of the process. We don’t all have the same capacities. We don’t all have the same checkbooks. And so when I’m working with boards and figuring out giving with boards, I look at each individual on her or his own, or each couple as giving decisions are often made in couples. And I look at their history of giving and I look at the things they enjoy giving to. But I also feel like with board members, these are the most deeply invested people that you’re probably ever going to run into on a capital campaign. So it’s really important to explore that and have conversations about it.

And so what that also tells me is there’s certain things that you don’t want to do in this process. And in my opinion, some of the things that you don’t want to do in this process is given to the anxiety that’s happened on every single campaign I’ve ever worked in, which just, we’ve got to get out and ask all of our board members by Tuesday. It’s like, “No, that’s not how this goes.” I believe that every board member deserves an individual solicitation where their gift is discussed and considered and thought about. And you take the time to figure out not only what the gift amount is, but actually how that gift gets fulfilled. So a lot of campaigns work on three or five year pledge periods. And that really is a great multiplier of what most people can think about getting.

Many people couldn’t possibly ever think about getting $50,000. But if you said, “Well, what if you spread it out over five years?” Well, for lots of people that becomes much more feasible and I don’t care what number you’re playing with there, that multitude of five helps a whole lot or that multitude of three. So the one thing I don’t ever want to see, in at least with the folks that I work with, is you walk into a board room and somebody says, “Okay, today we’re all filling out our pledge forms.” And pledge forms goes out and people fill them out and they come back in. That is the surest way, in my opinion, not only not to maximize what could happen in that space, but also have to just sidestep the issue of engagement where people really begin to care. So that’s my two cents on that.

Amy Eisenstein:
Such a good point, Xan. I will just reiterate that. You are not at asking your board as a group together. Each board member is having a conversation individually about their specific gifts. I mean, pledging is wonderful. And of course we do want them to pledge. Mostly we encourage our clients over a three year period because you want the money as soon as possible. But also making sure that you have somebody who’s talking to each board member and each lead donor who is comfortable talking about assets. One of the things that makes a campaign special is that it’s not just giving from checkbooks or savings accounts, but that people are asked to think in bigger, more creative ways. So is stock going to be part of the gift? Is there real estate possibility? Is there life insurance or retirement funds that that people might want to consider giving in order to significantly increase their participation and contribution to the campaign. All right.

Delight Your Board Members

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah. One more topic that I’d like to raise on this before we end. And it’s just because we have done a different podcast on delighting volunteers with, Sarah Plimpton. And I think it’s a nice way to end this by thinking, “Well, look, once the campaign is over and done, how can you delight your board?” Right? Can you delight your board in some way for their participation in the campaign?

Amy Eisenstein:
Throughout the campaign.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Throughout the campaign, that’s right. But particularly and also at the end, right, we tend to sort of lump it all together. Rather than saying, “These board members have gone through; they first were in a learning mode, then they were engaged in multiple ways. Let’s see if we can make everybody make the board feel like they really own the success of this campaign.” And I think that, that tees everybody up for the next campaign to make them all feel great to help them feel great about what they’ve accomplished.

Xan Blake:
I actually think, Andrea, it tees them up for anything difficult or challenging they have to do be it fundraising or otherwise. Because it’s so rare in a board cycle that you get a great finish line. Right? You can throw your hands up and you’re done. And capital campaigns are one of the few opportunities to do that. To answer your question, my favorite thing on this that focuses on this particular issue is, there is an invitation that goes out to the board and any special guest that they want to invite. And that the criteria for the invitation is: who made this campaign happen?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yes. Oh, I love it.

Xan Blake:
Okay. So it’s not the biggest gift.

And so typically what you see at these events is you might see the biggest donor, but you might also see the person who made sure that every pledge was processed properly, that the “thank yous” throughout the cycle went out well, the person who made sure that we all had the right data when we were going out asking, right, things like that. So, who made this happen? And then in whatever way is appropriate for the organization, you have a lovely dinner. And one that I particularly loved was people were asked to bring, and they got so creative, either a song, a poem, a story, a video about the campaign. And they were ridiculous and silly and fantastic. One was a video made that was a video of the worst possible solicitation ever. It was a complete joke. And another one was an originally written song. And you might imagine that there was a little one involved in this process. And it just turned into a great party. And I think what made it good was the balance, the criteria of who made this happen.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Right. Yep. What a great idea, Xan. I think we should write a blog post on that. Of, who made this happen party. I think that’s a whole blog post in and of itself. Don’t you think, Amy?

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes, absolutely. I would love to hear other creative ways to wrap up the campaign and to, whether it’s a blog post contributions, people can email us. How have you celebrated your campaigns and with specifically with your board members and other volunteers who have really made it happen.

Final Thoughts

Amy Eisenstein:
Great. All right. Final thoughts and key takeaways? Xan, you want to leave our listeners with any words of wisdom? And then I’ll turn it over to, Andrea, to wrap us up.

Xan Blake:
Sure. I think for the board members out there, I want you to hear you are really the starting place for this, right. The campaigns have reached such higher levels of success. They are able to move the mission and the accomplishments of the organization forward so much easier with so much better strategy. They make so much more sense and they hang on for the long haul when you as board members are engaged. But the other thing is, it goes back to what I just said a couple minutes ago. This is sort of an experience that once you get through it, you realize that you as a board can do difficult things and the confidence of a board and its operations after capital campaigns in my experience really goes up. So it’s almost like building a muscle that you get to keep and use for other things going forward.

Amy Eisenstein:
That’s great. Andrea, what do you want to leave us with?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Well, I just want to thank Xan for such thoughtful way of approaching this topic, which I think is so important. And we often don’t dive into it thoroughly enough. We think about board giving and we don’t really break down how to bring board members in so that they will feel comfortable and they organically learn and grow before they have to participate, have to… So I think it’s been a very… For me, it’s been very useful to think about this, about the frame you provided and the examples you gave. Xan, I just want to thank you for doing this and for joining us today.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah.

Xan Blake:
My pleasure.

Amy Eisenstein:
And if anybody’s listening wants help with the learning phase or the participation phase of their board members, Xan, Andrea, and I are all available to help with some board training. So please do go ahead and visit us at the Capital Campaign Toolkit website. Thanks for joining us, everybody. Take care.

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