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Season 1, Episode 28

In today’s episode, Amy and Andrea are joined by their amazing colleague, Paula Peter, in a lively discussion about campaign leadership. You’ll find out what makes a good campaign chair and how to go about finding and recruiting those people for your campaign. Paula highlights the different qualities organizations need in their campaign chair, and she offers suggestions for when and how to recruit the right people.

 

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This podcast is the third of a special Summer Series featuring our immensely-experienced Toolkit Advisors. Our live webinars will return in mid-August; learn more at ToolkitTalks.com.

Amy Eisenstein:
Hello and welcome to our summer Toolkit Talks podcast, All About Capital Campaigns. I’m Amy Eisenstein, co-founder of the Capital Campaign Toolkit. And of course I have my co-founder Andrea Kihlstedt here who we’ll introduce in just a second. And today we have a very special guest, one of our Toolkit advisors, Paula Peter, and we’re super excited to have her. Andrea, why don’t you quickly introduce yourself and then introduce Paula and tell us what we’re talking about today.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Thank you, Amy. It is a pleasure to be with you as always, Amy and I am Andrea Kihlstedt. I am calling in from the South Bronx in New York, and I’m so happy to have Paula Peter here today. Paula and I have been friends and colleagues for a very long time. She is a sage about capital campaigns.

Amy Eisenstein:
Right.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
She has just had a huge amount of experience and anything she says is really worth listening to. So Paula, tell us a little about yourself. I know you are in Ithaca, New York where you’ve been for a long time. Tell us a little more.

Paula Peter:
I’m in Ithaca, New York, and I am enjoying this beautiful, beautiful summer weather in the Northeast United States and being grateful for water. And I am a long time capital campaign consultant, probably since 1990, when I met Andrea, I think the first year. And my work has been wide ranging with all kinds of organizations, all sizes, all genres, and some themes seem to always emerge, no matter whether it’s a million dollar campaign or a billion dollar campaign, we often see some of the same themes. So, I’m thrilled to be here and thrilled to be working with the Toolkit.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah, I’ll just chime in that when Andrea and I decided to start the Toolkit, one of the first people she said we needed to get on board, was you Paula. She said, “We cannot do this without Paula.” So Paula, I think you were probably our first advisor, if not maybe the second, but probably the first advisor to the Toolkit. So we’re super excited to have you here. Andrea, what are we talking about today? What are we going to start with anyways?

How to Find and Identify Good Campaign Leaders

Andrea Kihlstedt:
One of the conversations that I’ve had with Paula over many years, has been this question of campaign leadership. How do you find and identify and recruit good campaign leaders and by leaders, we are talking about volunteers, volunteer chairs, or co-chairs. Do you need one or two? How do you get the best of them? What makes a campaign co-chair? So Paula, let’s start there. What in your mind are the characteristics of a really great campaign chair, and why does it matter?

Paula Peter:
Well, from my perspective, the characteristics of a great chair, there are some fundamental characteristics, but for every organization, there is a slightly different twist. What they need in that moment of their own evolution. And so, the things that I think are critical are that the campaign chair is willing and able to use his or her connections, willing and able to be an advocate for your organization, open their Rolodex, make introductions when needed. And for some organizations, the visibility of that person is really important. And for others, it’s not. So where I come at it, is if this person is in a position to be a leadership donor to you, and that’s different for every organization too, and depends on your gift table. But if this person can be one of your lead givers and their advocacy of your campaign will get people’s attention, then they will be a good leader for you.

That said, many times, that is exactly what you’re trying to test as you do feasibility work, or in the Toolkit’s genre, guided feasibility work. Because you’re not just looking to find out what your campaign goal should be and how much you can raise. You’re really trying to find out how people respond to the options you might have for leaders. And so it is very, very important that leadership is not decided upon prematurely. That you want to have done your research before you get to the point of deciding who you should recruit as your chair or co-chairs. And whether its chair or co-chairs, two or a triumvirate of some kind really, again, comes out of your feasibility work. It comes out of figuring out who you need to represent whom, and who’s who looks up to whom. Who will be the person who can get the attention of the constituency you need to reach.

Amy Eisenstein:
I think that’s such an important point because so many organizations probably feel that one of the very first things they need to do is recruit a campaign chair. And what you’re saying, Paula, is that they can do a lot of the planning and the feasibility study, however they’re going to do that, whatever form that’s going to take, before naming a campaign chair. In fact, it’s important to do a lot of that planning and pre-work, because I know too many organizations think the very first thing they need to do is find a campaign chair. Andrea, I had a question for you and Paula, but I know you had a comment as well. And that was, what if an organization can’t identify someone with all the connections, all the networks, who’s willing to help and make a leadership gift? That’s often a struggle for organizations.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
There are a variety of ways to approach that. And as we encourage people to do feasibility studies or guided feasibility studies, you can use that process to begin to identify and even recruit campaign chairs.

I remember an organization I worked with years ago, where they had a sense of who should be the campaign chair, who would be an appropriate campaign chair? When they approached him, he said, no. He said he was too busy, it wasn’t the right time in his life. And then when we did the feasibility study, in every interview, we said, What do you think about the idea of having Bob be the campaign chair? Is there anybody you think would be better than Bob? And everybody one after another said, oh, Bob is the only person you could bring on as a campaign chair. Everybody said that. So at the end of the feasibility study, they went back to Bob. They said, guess what Bob, everybody we talked to in the feasibility study pointed to you. Right? And there’s no way you can say no to us. And lo and behold Bob agreed to serve. And he was the right chair. And they used this feasibility study process to create a little pressure and a little encouragement. And it worked.

Paula Peter:
I came out of a study, just really this month, with a similar situation where people were asked, who do you think could really lead this campaign? And the same two names came up over and over and over again. And that recruitment is in process now. Very, very important to understand that if an organization comes to me as a consultant and says, well, we’ve got our co-chair and we’re thrilled that somebody, or we have a chairperson, we’re thrilled that this person agreed often it’s because somebody has raised their hand and said, I want to chair this. It doesn’t mean that they’re the right person to do it. And then you go into feasibility and you realize, oh no, this is not the right person. So I think it’s very, very much a red flag to have jumped the gun on that. And I would encourage people to do the due diligence and to understand that the feasibility process gives you so much data to plan from. That it’s important not to preempt that.

One Campaign Chair or Two?

Amy Eisenstein:
Paula, do you want to say anything about co-chairs versus one campaign chair?

Paula Peter:
Yeah. Every organization has a different opportunity. In one case, we are now looking at three co-chairs, who will each represent a different constituent group for the organization out of their pool of prospective givers. So one will be working with sort of government and political connections to look for some government funding. One will be overseeing sort of the community based. And one will be overseeing what we’re calling of the expats, which are people who’ve moved from the city, but care deeply about it still, who are around the country. And that purely came out of the feasibility where we would’ve never understood that construct before.

And the other thing I’ll say Amy, to your point about what do you do if you can’t find somebody? Is in a couple cases, what we’ve done is we’ve asked someone to chair the nucleus fund, or the quiet phase committee, but not the campaign. So we’re just asking them if they will guide this committee to do the early ask, to work the top down of the gift table and the inside out and to serve as a convener for that committee, while we work to uncover who should be a public phase chair. And we don’t announce a chair until the campaign goes public. It’s not ideal, but it works. It has worked in a number of settings.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. I think that leads to a bigger point about how not every volunteer needs to serve for the whole campaign. And, Andrea’s model of multiple committees, fluid committees, ad hoc committees, so that you can engage and leverage volunteers during different parts of the campaign is such a critical piece of success in terms of bringing people on board.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
One of the things that I so like about that model of these ad hoc committees that have short term, short durations, and they come and go, is that it gives you a chance to let the people who don’t function well, go. And to bring on people and to keep the people who do function well. So gradually what happens is that the committees get better and better, right? Because the people who are blowhards or the people who, who don’t show up, or the people who don’t do what they say they’re going to do. Gradually, you can simply not invite them back after one committee is done. And it’s always struck me as a really, as a strategically smart thing to do, as you learn more and more about how people really function, when the chips are down.

Paula Peter:
I’m always also surprised that people will come to the table and say, oh, we must have a committee of, you know, 15 people for the nucleus fund phase. Well, no you don’t, you need the right people. And if there are only six of them, that’s probably okay. But, I think there is a misperception out there about how to structure a committee. And I agree with you. I think having a committee in the beginning that is truly about strategy and entree and solicitation, and it’s populated with people’s who are willing and comfortable to do that, rather than thinking, you have to craft a committee that has everybody who thinks they should be involved in a campaign at the table. And half of them don’t really want to talk about money or people or take an assignment and then you’re stuck, then you can’t get the committee off the ground. So having real clear purpose and a defined timeline, I think is very, very helpful. And I think people say, it’s easier to say yes, when it’s not for a three year commitment or higher yet, a five or seven year commitment.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Sometimes when people look at the Toolkit, they start as Toolkit members, and they start looking at the Toolkit and they see all these committees and it sort of freaks them out. Like, how am I ever going to manage all these committees? But when they realize that many of them are quite short in duration and that they don’t happen all at the same time, they come and go, depending on the work that needs to be done. It actually is a very manageable and workable process. And one that takes work off the shoulders of the staff that doesn’t put work onto the shoulders of the staff. Particularly in these days of Zoom, when committee meetings are really relatively easy to call and to have; you don’t have to get refreshments. You don’t have to hassle about parking or a location. You just have a Zoom meeting and it’s tight and the agenda is tight and everybody learns to participate. I mean, to me, Zoom has really done a huge amount to make the organizational processes easier and more effective.

Amy Eisenstein:
And of course at the Toolkit, we’ve been big fans and advocates of Zoom meetings long before COVID. This is not a model that we picked up because of the pandemic, but because we believe that it’s effective, efficient, affordable, to be able to convene all sorts of meetings. Whether it’s just with your campaign advisor or with your whole committee. We believe in technology to help strengthen a campaign.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
So before we end this session, Paula, I want to talk to you just a little about infrastructure. I know it’s a subject you feel strongly about. And all of us in this business have talked to too many organizations that when a campaign is starting, they say to their development staff, “Well now, in addition to raising a half a million dollars a year, we want you to raise, 5 million for this campaign.” And they assume the same person and that same staff can simply manage it all. What do you do when people tell you that Paula?

Paula Peter:
Right, it’s the reality check meeting that has to happen, and often has to happen at the staff level and with the CEO. And then it often has to happen at the board level. And what’s interesting is that when you talk to boards about the need for a multi-year campaign budget, which operates separately from an annual operating budget, they get it. Boards will get it, if you talk to them. And if you talk to them about the return on investment, they really understand because most of them are in at some level, or in business and, and get that you need to spend some money to make some money.

It’s very hard internally. It’s very hard at the staff level and for a senior team to figure that out when they are all facing budget cuts, it seems every year, for their operating budgets. But it is truly a travesty to set an organization up to fail, by not resourcing what they’re going to need. And a campaign, whether it’s $5 million or $500 million is the same level of organization. And supporting a committee is the same level of organization. It takes staff time and it takes intentionality. And if you haven’t carved out a true job description for that work, for the project management, and the prospect management of doing a campaign, and the volunteer management of doing a campaign, you’re setting your staff up to fail and burn out. And it’s just not fair and it’s not effective.

So that conversation, again, the feasibility work can help bring that to the table. It’s often the very next thing after a feasibility study is presented, and the recommendations are presented. The next piece of work is to figure out the budget and a staffing scenario in order to complete a campaign plan. So I think having that conversation early and having it at multiple levels is really important.

Amy Eisenstein:
You guys heard it here. If your organization is expecting you to do a campaign with no additional staff or resources, you need to start waving your hands. I love that, Paula, I don’t know if you did it consciously or unconsciously, but really three tiers in terms of what is expected out of a campaign. There’s the prospect management, the project itself management and volunteer management. And that really is a job unto itself. And so, when a board expects existing staff who already have their plates full, nobody at a nonprofit is sitting, twiddling their thumbs. And so, running the annual fund is overwhelming enough, and to pile on a campaign that is two times, ten times, a hundred times what they normally raise annually and expect them to do it with no additional staff or resources is just unreasonable and unrealistic. So I’m so glad we brought that point to the conversation. Andrea, you want to add anything to that? I do have one more topic I wanted us to cover before we let Paula go.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah, I think it’s a shame to dilute what Paula said and what you’ve said. I think it is crystal clear and you should send this podcast to your board members so that they understand the importance of resourcing your campaign properly. What’s your last topic, Amy?

Tell the Story of What You’re Raising Money For

Amy Eisenstein:
So right before we started to record, Paula raised an excellent topic about what happens when people are rushing into the campaign or board members are ready to ask before the planning’s finished, or when any leader is just ready to go. Paula, you articulated it better than I am. What’s the topic and how can we deal with it?

Paula Peter:
Well, the topic is a board or an organization has decided they need a campaign, and reasons may vary. It might be because they have an anniversary year coming up, often, that’s what, it’s our centennial, we better have a campaign. Often, it’s well, we haven’t had a campaign in 10 years, we probably need to have one now and let’s get going. No reason to stop, no reason to wait. And I think, what we do as Toolkit advisors and what I do in my private practice is to come in and say, okay, what are we raising money for? Why are we raising this money? What good will it do? What will it do beyond what it does for your organization? What’s it doing for the community or the world? And how are we telling that story? And if those questions can’t be answered, we’re not ready to campaign. We’re ready to start planning.

So a campaign, if it’s well conceived, has been derived out of strategic planning, or at least long range planning, that an organization has done where needs have been identified, and then they’ve been monetized. And where the reason those needs exist, can actually be put into language that speaks to a donor, that speaks to someone outside the organization, that can say, oh, I want to be part of that. That will make an impact that actually aligns with what I want to do in the world or what I care about in the world. So that’s, if there hasn’t been solid planning behind what is now considered your list of campaign priorities, then there’s a bit of a stepping back that needs to happen. It doesn’t mean that an organization shouldn’t go do a campaign for their centennial. But one of the things I will say is that organizations tend to think that it all has to happen at the same time.

Our anniversary year, a campaign concludes or kicks off or whatever, that synergy is important. And actually, I think that’s a missed opportunity. I think you can keep the spotlight on your organization better if you don’t combine all those things, but actually sequence them. So, first of all, an anniversary year is never a good reason to campaign. It might be a good reason to begin talking about when you campaign, but keep in mind that if you campaign for three years and then you launch a centennial, now you’ve got four years of attention on you. If you did it all in one year, it would be hard. Or if you launched your campaign ins your centennial year, and you had a whole lot of activity, you’re going to have a real drop off and have a hard time maintaining momentum in that campaign in years two and three.

So very important that campaigns actually are about organizational planning, vision and direction. Not about a PR stunt, and that you can get a lot more leverage out of sequencing the activity that you’re doing. Plus, remember if you’re in a campaign and you’re trying to launch your centennial year, now, you’ve got two full-time jobs on top of business as usual. So there’s an even bigger resource issue. So that’s my feeling is that too often, we need to step back and talk about what is the planning behind this. And we’ve actually been hired to do feasibility or campaign work with clients and had to step back and say, strategic planning needs to come first, either work with us to do strategic planning or call us back when you’ve done it. Right. And then we’ll talk about the campaign.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah. The corollary to that is that when we are brought in to work with an organization where they have gotten the pieces in the right order, it’s such a relief, things move so smoothly and so well, and everybody understands what’s going on. So the problems that we see when things are out of order sort of stop the energy of a campaign. But when things are in the right order, when you do the planning and you know what you’re going to raise money for and what impact it’s going to have, and then you do a feasibility study to test it, and then you get going on your campaign planning and public phase, and quiet phase. Then everyone lines up around it because they understand it.

Amy Eisenstein:
And there’s ownership.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
And they take ownership in it because it seems so kind of logically effective. So it really is important. And thank you for bringing up that topic, Amy and Paula.

Paula Peter:
I would add one thing, Andrea, to what you just said, and that is, that it not only develops ownership, but it creates an institutional or organizational confidence that really serves the campaign. When you are confident in your planning and how you got to this point, when you can talk about the campaign priorities from a place of real conviction, that’s what makes it go smoothly.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Right, and when everyone is lined up on the same path, which seems clear and obvious, rather than having the chair and the executive director and the staff all talking at cross purposes. The timetable becomes an incredibly effective and important way of building energy and enthusiasm and confidence. That gets eroded pretty quickly if you’re not disciplined about it. I actually hadn’t thought about it quite so clearly until right now. So thank you for having this conversation.

Final Words of Wisdom

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. The last thing I would add, and then Paula we’ll get your final words of wisdom. Is sometimes, board members. We have rogue board members, right? So they’re ready to ask, which is great. We want to harness that enthusiasm. We want them to, but what happens? I get calls too often. My board members are going out to ask and we haven’t finished the planning. We’re not all on the same page. And then what happens is that they ask for a gift of $10,000 from someone who could be giving a hundred thousand dollars to the campaign. So use those cautionary words of wisdom with your board members say, listen, we don’t want you under-asking. Or we want to make sure that everybody’s asked for the right gift that they can contribute to this campaign. So anyways, alright, Paula final words.

Paula Peter:
Well, I would just add to that, Amy, that if you are doing planning and you are doing feasibility and you are then doing campaign planning, you have all those opportunities to have engaged those donors along the way. So by the time you or a board member is asking, they are feeling ownership of what you are trying to accomplish. And it makes the ask that much easier. So all of the steps that we’re talking about while they feel like, oh, we have to do all of this before we can go out and start a campaign. No, you’re actually strategically engaging the people who matter most to you from the very beginning, including strategic planning. So I would say that everything is integrated and everything has to be intentional, but there is a sequence and I’m thrilled to be part of this conversation. And I appreciate the opportunity.

Amy Eisenstein:
Great. Andrea final words, or we’re wrapped up.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Well, I think we’re wrapped up. Paula, thank you so much. It’s always a pleasure to work with you and the same with you, Amy. Thanks so much. And to everyone who’s listening in the middle of these summer months, I hope you do have a chance to take some time off and enjoy kind of listening to the birds or whatever it is you do when you have time off.

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