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Season 2, Episode 51

Campaign experts Amy Eisenstein and Andrea Kihlstedt talk about getting your board ready. They discuss what to do about lousy board members, the number one campaign question in every board member’s mind and the ins and outs of board training.

Mentioned in the show: A Board Member’s Guide to Capital Campaign Fundraising

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This podcast is the seventh of a special Summer Series of conversations on important fundraising topics. Our live webinars will return on September 12, 2022; learn more at  ToolkitTalks.com.

Amy Eisenstein:
Hi, I’m Amy Eisenstein. I’m here with the co-founder of the Capital Campaign Toolkit, Andrea Kihlstedt. And we’re super excited to talk to you today about how to get your board members ready for a campaign. Andrea, why don’t you kick us off?

The Biggest Fears of Every Board Member Prior to a Campaign

Andrea Kihlstedt:
I mean, what do you think the primary fear every board member has? The most important fear. What do you think is in every board member’s mind when they turn green when thinking about a campaign?

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. They want to know how much are they going to be expected to give. Right?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Wouldn’t you wonder that?

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah, of course. I want to know how much does the organization expect me to give?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah. I’d also want to know if I’m going to have to go and ask my friends for money.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Right?

Amy Eisenstein:
Totally. Right?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
There’s going to be a successful campaign. What if I’m on the board and the campaign tanks?

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. What if I don’t have any rich friends. There’s a million questions going through my mind as a board member, right?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
A lot of anxiety. And the question is, how staff members can… Actually, what you can do to help alleviate some of that anxiety before you ever move into a campaign? Because you don’t want your board to be so anxious that they’re going to derail the whole process. So you better be thinking about this early on in your campaign. And we do have some suggestions for you.

How to Get Your Board On Board with Your Campaign

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. So how do we get our board members on board? And really, you need everybody rowing in the same direction to use a silly metaphor or analogy. We need everybody on board. So what’s the first step?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
I think the first thing to pay close attention to is to make sure that your board members are solidly behind and in support of the project that you’re going to have a campaign for. Be sure that they know what it is, that they know why you’re doing it. Be sure they know what impact it’s going to have on the community. And be sure that the board as a whole is solidly committed to making that happen. Now that’s going to go a long way just to get your board on the same page right up front.

Amy Eisenstein:
That’s right. And it doesn’t mean that you have to have a fully fleshed-out plan of how you’re going to do it. But along the way, usually, campaigns grow out of a strategic planning process and long term thinking. And so it’s not like you’re springing this idea on your board one day and you want them all to get on board, but over a series of months, or maybe even a year or two, you are talking about what is the vision and what is the strategic plan and direction for your organization. And so that the idea grows on them. They don’t need to be committed to the specific plan, but to the idea of growth.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
This may sound like, well, of course, but in fact, you and I have encountered organizations for which that isn’t the case, where, all of a sudden, a board members or wealthy board member steps up and says:

“I’m going to give a million dollars if this organization does plan X, and if you raise another $5 million.”

Right now, of course, if the other board members aren’t behind plan X, and this wealthy board member is just thrown it out there, it can throw an organization into disarray, and it can start a campaign without the solid commitment you need.

Or sometimes we’ve seen an executive director who simply makes a decision to move ahead by to create a new shelter or to do something without doing the work at the board level needed to bring the board along with the plan. So it’s super important, and you shouldn’t take it for granted. Really, look carefully to make sure that your board members know and understand what it is you want to do, why it’s important, and why it matters that they get behind raising all that money for that new project.

Amy Eisenstein:
Now, of course, we want to acknowledge that sometimes there is a natural disaster or something happens, the landlord cancels your rent, your lease, or whatever. So sometimes campaigns do grow out of spur of the moment, but that’s where good communication with your board really comes into play. So ideally, you have some planning time to get everybody on board over time, but even in a short term turnaround decision, if there is a natural disaster or something, an emergency, you want to really communicate with your board to make sure that they’re on board before you move, before you go.

Making Your Board Members Comfortable with the Campaign

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Okay, then, let’s assume that everybody is on board with this project. You have to do everything you can to make them comfortable, to answer their questions before you go very far down the campaign road. And there are several ways to do that. And you should think about doing all of them, actually. Not one or the other, but all of them.

One of my favorite ways is that, if there’s an organization in your community that has had a successful campaign over the last few years, you might want to bring their board chair or executive director in at a board meeting to talk about what their experience was so that your board begins to hear from their peers how the campaign went, and what they learned, and what those people would advise. There’s nothing like hearing from people who have been through it, who are in the same role as you are in to start to feel like, well, if they could do it, we could do it.

So you might have two or three organizations, if you know that many people who have had successful campaigns. So I rather like the idea of having 10 or 15 minutes carved out of a board meeting to invite people in to talk about their campaign experience.

Amy Eisenstein:
Leave time for questions. Don’t invite a guest for 10 or 15 minutes. Give them 30 minutes. Give them five or 10 minutes to talk, and then leave 15 minutes for questions. Yes, but I agree with you.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Now, you also can and should invite in a consultant or a campaign expert to do a training about what is a capital campaign? How do they work? What does the board need to know and understand? An experienced consultant can do that in… I mean, you can do it in 30 minutes. You can do it in an hour and a half. You can do it in a whole morning. It depends on how much time and energy you want to put into it, but you should get some expertise in the room that can simply and clearly explain how campaigns work because they are very specific ways of raising money.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah, I think that’s really important because part of a board member’s anxiety is because they don’t know what to expect, they don’t know how much they’ll be asked to give, they don’t know if the campaign will be successful. And consultant or a campaign expert can really walk them through, and answer their questions, and explain strategy behind a campaign, and alleviate some of those really nagging fears.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
The third thing I’d recommend doing is to have your board chair or the head of the governance committee take the time to go and talk to every board member individually. Sometimes board members are hesitant to speak up at board meetings. Maybe they feel like a board member feels like they don’t have major resources, and who are they to speak up. But I think you want to give every board member an opportunity to voice their concerns, to voice their excitement, to talk about how they might want to participate. I mean, you want to give every board member one-on-one time to get their voice in the room. And then, to have some a presentation back to the larger hole about the kinds of things you’ve heard and how you will move forward to make sure that every board member is comfortable with the campaign process.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah, I think that’s absolutely so important to speak to people one-on-one, give them a chance to ask their questions. So, listen, I just want to encourage listeners, if you are worried about your board members being terrified of going into a campaign, which they probably are, I’d love to invite you to head over to the Capital Campaign Toolkit website and sign up for our board members guide to everything campaigns. And it can also be found in the campaign resources section of our website.

In Summary: 3 Key Ways to Prep Your Board for a Campaign

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Now, Amy, I think there are three really important things that I want to reiterate or keep fresh in people’s minds because it’s easy to get confused about this board topic. In fact, it’s easy to have board members go rogue and not to think carefully enough about it, to the extent that your board is fully comfortable, and confident, and willing to move forward with the campaign. Your campaign will be more successful and will flow more smoothly. So these are really, really important.

  1. Make sure your board is fully committed to the project. That they understand it. They know why you’re doing it. They understand the impact of it. And they’re excited to be on a board that is actually moving the organization forward in that way.
  2. Provide multiple opportunities for your board members to learn about what a capital campaign is. Don’t just do it once with 20 minutes. Nobody learns that way. Do it in every way you possibly can inviting guests in to talk about campaigns, hiring experts to do it. I mean, do everything you can to start making your board members feel like they understand what they’re getting into.
  3. Be sure your board members understand the various roles they can play in the campaign. I’m sure many of your board members are going to be worried that they have to ask their friends for gifts. The reality is that board members can participate in many ways, only one of which is soliciting gifts. And if someone is really uncomfortable doing that, your board members, they don’t have to do that. They can help in many, many other ways.

Amy Eisenstein:
Andrea, thank you so much for making that so clear, specific, concrete. I think everybody has an action plan. Whether they’re inviting community member to their next board meeting, or a campaign expert, or sitting down with board members one-on-one, I think every listener should know what to do to alleviate some of those fears of their board members.

So if you want to learn even more about capital campaigns or speak to us directly about your specific situation, go to capitalcampaigntoolkit.com and sign up for a free strategy session. You’ll be able to talk with me, or Andrea, or one of our team members, and discuss the specifics of your campaign. Invite your boss, invite a board member to sit down and talk with us. And we can’t wait to answer your questions.

Thanks for joining us. And we’ll see you next time.

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