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Season 2, Episode 43

In this episode, campaign experts Amy Eisenstein and Andrea Kihlstedt explore practical ideas about identifying and recruiting the best volunteer leadership for your campaign.

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This episode was recorded as part of a live webinar held Monday, June 20, 2022. To participate in future webinars, register at ToolkitTalks.com.

Amy Eisenstein:
Hello there. I’m Amy Eisenstein and I’m with my co-host Andrea Kihlstedt. And today we’re going to talk about three ways to find volunteer leaders for your capital campaign. We’re going to go through the three ways and give you some things to do and things not to do. So let’s go ahead and get started. Andrea, you want to introduce the three main ways to find really the top leaders for your capital campaign volunteers?

Having a Good Campaign Chair Matters – Use CAB

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yes. Thank you, Amy. Yes. So this is a super important topic because the person who chairs your campaign is really important. It’s really important that you have someone who is very good at it, right? There’s almost nothing worse than a bad campaign chair, because when you’ve asked someone to serve as a campaign chair and they don’t follow through and they don’t make a gift and they say they’re going to do things and they don’t do things, it’s very difficult to get rid of them. And it undermines a lot of your work. So this is an important topic. You have to get a good capable campaign chair. I have three ways for you to think about doing that. The first is, and this is an ABC, but in a different order.

First is C — clarify the roles and the characteristics you want in a campaign chair. What are you going to want this person to do? And what are the characteristics you want them to have? But let me give you just a couple of characteristics that come to my mind as I think about a campaign chair.

One is they should be well respected in your community. In fact, it should be someone, your campaign chair should be someone who adds a level of inevitability to your campaign. That when that person chairs your campaign, everybody says, well, if Joan Jones chairs their campaign, we know it’s going to be successful. That’s a special characteristic of someone. And if you can get someone like that with that inevitability sense, you will be way ahead of the game. So make two lists actually:

  1. One, is what do you want that person to do?
  2. And the other is what are the characteristics that you want in the person who is going to be your chair?

All right. That’s the C part of it.

Amy Eisenstein:
And write them down. I don’t know if you said that, but write them down. This is like a mini job description for your campaign chair. So make sure that all the qualities and characteristics are synthesized in a way that you could share it with somebody.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Right. There’s nothing like having a negative Nelly as your campaign chair, right? It’s very difficult to get around that.

Amy Eisenstein:
Right.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
It’s someone who thinks from possibility. Yes, that’s what you’re after. So now we’ve done the C. Now I’m going to go to the A. I said it was an ABC. We’re going to go CAB.

The A is ask around — ask around, unless you have the perfect campaign chair under your nose. And most organizations don’t. Ask around, go to other people in the community, go to other people who have had campaigns, go to leaders of your community and say who, who is the best person we could get to be the chair of our campaign? Now it may be, likely to be someone who’s had a real connection with your organization, but it may be somebody whose connection to your organization is a bit tangential. And if everyone in the community points to that person for your campaign chair, then your task is to find a way to pull that person and engage that person in your organization.

So don’t just say, well, we’re going to go to someone on our board, or we’re going to go to someone who’s a donor. Ask around more broadly than that for names of the very best campaign chairs in your community. You’ll be surprised after you start talking to four, or five, or six, or eight people. Some of the same names are going to be popping up again and again, and those are the people you want to go to, to get to chair your campaign. Then the question is not who, but how you go about getting them. All right. So that’s the A, ask around.

The B is be patient — don’t think that you’re going to do this next week or tomorrow. Start early and be willing to continue having these conversations and then engaging the people that you know you want as your campaign chairs slowly and steadily, if that’s what you need to do, and then finding ways to enlist them and to be talking to them about whether they would chair your upcoming campaign.

There is a lot of benefit in this process. And if you’re feeling panicked, like you need a campaign chair tomorrow, you’re going to miss out on the remarkable opportunities of the process. As you talk to leaders in your community, they’re going to begin to know that you’re doing a campaign. They’re going to be able to give you names of people that you can then say, well, so and so recommended that we talk to you about our campaign, right? There’s a lot of richness in this process, which is, as I said, CAB clarify the roles and the characteristics, ask around, do a lot of asking around and be patient, don’t rush the process.

Amy Eisenstein:
I just want to emphasize that be patient part, Andrea. I think a lot of people think that they need a campaign chair immediately when they first have the idea of starting a campaign. And it’s really not true. You can have internal committees, executive committees type of people that are discussing the campaign. And you don’t have to have a campaign chair, right, from the initial conversations. That can evolve over time.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
You can ask people to chair committee meetings, chair a campaign planning committee meeting, chair a campaign steering committee meeting.

Amy Eisenstein:
Feasibility study plan.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Feasibility study committee.

You don’t need a campaign chair to do that. You can ask people to chair smaller bits and pieces of it until the right person comes to light.

Amy Eisenstein:
And often, yeah, I was going to say, and often a campaign chair will emerge after the feasibility study because that’s one of the questions that you might ask people during that initial planning study is to say, who would be a great campaign chair? And that’s an opportunity to ask people for different names. So don’t rush the process. Be patient. You don’t need to have a campaign chair as the first thing you do. That’s actually how people get in trouble and pick the wrong campaign chair.

So, yeah, the other thing that I want to acknowledge is sometimes the right campaign chair is very obvious at some organizations. And sometimes you may have no idea who’s going to be the campaign chair and both scenarios are fine. There’s no right or wrong. Sometimes the leader is right there in front of you and happens to be on your board and is a philanthropist and has done this many times. And it’s easy to identify a campaign chair. And sometimes it’s a much more involved in depth process as Andrea just outlined. So, Andrea, what happens when you have a harder time identifying a co-chair. I’m sort of…

Andrea Kihlstedt:
So it is easiest of course, if you have a chair for your campaign. Then you have one person with it, you’re in partnership to make the campaign happen, but it’s not uncommon for it to be difficult to get one person to take on the entire role. And if that’s the case, you have a number of perfectly acceptable fallback positions.

One is that you can have an honorary chair for the campaign if there is. And sometimes there’s someone appropriate to be an honorary chair, but not to be a chair. Maybe the person is getting older, isn’t as able to get around anymore, isn’t as articulate as they once were. Right. Is just isn’t they able to function in that way anymore, but they can be an honorary chair if they are worthy of being honored in your organization. And then you can have co-chairs underneath that person, right?

That that’s sometimes if you have an honorary chair to take some of the public light off, because sometimes chairs are anxious about that. And then you have co-chairs who are willing to split the role. That’ll work well, but you have to be sure then that you are splitting the role clearly so that each of them knows what they’re doing. It’s not just having two people who are doing the same things. They have to have distinct roles otherwise they’re going to stumble all over each other and you’re going to stumble all over them. So be careful that you do that well going into it and everyone understands what the expectations are.

A third fallback, if you can’t find co-chairs is to think about getting people to chair each various phases of the campaign. So you can get someone to chair the planning phase of the campaign. You can get someone to chair the quiet phase of the campaign. You can get someone to chair the campaign kickoff. You can get someone to chair the public phase of the campaign, right? You could put together a team of people and divide them according to the campaign phases. That’s not my ideal, but there’s nothing particularly wrong with it.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. I think then you can actually, it might be easier to have a chair if you go to them and say, we’ve already identified co-chair or a chair for each of the subcommittees so that not all of the work is falling on your shoulders because we do have people who have said yes to chair all of these subcommittees and ad hoc committees and whatnot.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
So Amy, I have a great story, which I don’t want to leave out and which is the story about doing a feasibility study and how a chair emerged from a feasibility study. And a bunch of years ago, I was working for an organization that there was an obvious person who should’ve chaired this campaign. I mean, he had been involved. He had resources, he was totally committed to the organization. He had just retired from his big job. So he had some time. Right. It just seemed like he was the, everybody knew him and liked him. He had brought a lot of respect to the table. Right. It just seemed like he was the right guy. So the executive director before the feasibility study, went to him and said, Hey, Bob, would you consider chairing this campaign? And Bob said, thanks so much, but no, thanks.

Amy Eisenstein:
Right.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
I’ve just retired. I want to take some time. I don’t want a big job. I want to put my feet up for a while. I’m not ready to take on something this big. This was a good size campaign, right? So of course the executive director was crushed and the board chair was disappointed. And then I went out to do the feasibility study interviews and in every interview and there were a bunch of them, 30, maybe 40, I don’t know how many interviews. In every interview I said to the person I was interviewing, what do you think about Bob whatever his name, Bob Barnes, whatever his name was, as campaign chair. Do you think he’d make a good campaign chair? And of course —

Amy Eisenstein:
Oh, you led the witness. Huh?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yes, I led the witness and everybody said, yes. Right. Everybody said, oh, he’s the perfect person. Here are the reasons you should chair the campaign. Right. And then we went back and I told the executive director, I said, listen everybody I interviewed said that Bob Barnes was the perfect chair. You need to go back to him and tell him that in the feasibility study, everyone pointed to him. And that’s what happened. Then he changed his mind and he chaired the campaign.

Amy Eisenstein:
That is called peer pressure. Right. In a good way, in a good way.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Exactly.

Amy Eisenstein:
That’s positive reinforcement, positive peer pressure. You can go say, oh my gosh, these 10 philanthropists in the community said that they would ante up if you were chair.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
If you were the chair. Exactly. Exactly.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes. Yes. That’s a great strategy. I’m glad it didn’t backfire on you. I might ask for, I don’t know if I would be that brave, but good for you.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
In this case. It worked. It worked.

Things You Don’t Do When Seeking Volunteer Leaders

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. All right. So is there anything that people shouldn’t do to find volunteer leaders, do you think?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yes. I’ll give a couple of don’ts. One don’t is this, don’t think someone should do double duty. Right.

Sometimes organizations get really worried and the board chair says, well, if we need to I’ll step up and be the campaign chair. Don’t go for that. Bad idea. You do not want your board chair also to be the campaign chair. So head that off at the past, if you see it coming.

Amy Eisenstein:
It’s too much work.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Too much work and you benefit from getting distinct people doing those roles, right?

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
You should not do that. If someone, and now my story was to this point, don’t take a quick no for an answer too easily. Right. It’s tempting to say no when someone asks you to take on a big job and sometimes you just need to think about it more. And sometimes you need someone else to be talking to you about it. And sometimes you need the person asking to say, well, what would we have to do to make this job work for you?

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Think about it as a conversation. So when they say, oh, no, I just retired and I want to put my feet up and I don’t want to take on a big job. Don’t take that as a no yet.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. It’s the same thing, like asking for a gift, right?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah.

Amy Eisenstein:
It’s a conversation. You don’t want I mean, if you get an immediate yes, great. But if you get a no, say, tell me more about that. What do you want to do? What part of the role or what could we do?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah. Let’s structure it around you. What’s going to work for you?

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
And let’s structure it around what’s going to work for you. And to tell them, here are all the reasons that we think you will be a great campaign chair, and we are willing to structure this job so that it’s going to work for you and work for us. I mean, people really, you just need to think carefully about how to approach people on this. Finally, so whatever you do, don’t approach someone by saying, we want you to chair this campaign and you won’t have to do a thing.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes. Yes.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Don’t do that. Right. They will have to do a thing or two, including making a gift. Don’t say you won’t have to make a gift. You just have to take the position. Don’t say you won’t have to ask for gifts. They will have to go and talk to people. Be honest. When you undermine the position, you undermine your campaign.

So tell them they will get all the help in the world, that you will support them in whatever way they need. But don’t tell them that they can say yes and then go to sleep and go to the Virgin Islands and you won’t need them. Right.

Amy Eisenstein:
Andrea, I think that is the most important thing you’ve said in the last 20 minutes, because that is a mistake that organization leaders make again and again when recruiting board members and other volunteers, telling them that they don’t have to do much, that they don’t have to give. They tell them all the things that they don’t have to do just to get a butt in a seat. And that is a huge mistake for regular board members. And it’s an even bigger mistake for your campaign chair.

So when you’re doing that first thing that we mentioned, that C clarify the role, there are things that you want in a board chair and there are things that you need in a board chair. And so some of those wants, maybe you can let go or you can add, we’ll get you clerical support and administrative support and other things that you need. And we can make meetings on Zoom so that you don’t have to drive here or show up all the time. But there are things that you absolutely need and you’ve outlined some of them. They must make a gift early and a generous gift. They must help with some of the biggest asks when appropriate. And they’ve got to be around for some or most of the meetings and be willing to facilitate those.

There are probably a few other must haves and then there are wants, and that’s where you can compromise. So when you’re clarifying the roles and writing it down, really figure out what are the musts and what are the wants.

Final Thoughts

Andrea Kihlstedt:
There’s a bunch of questions that are about people’s anxieties about asking people to do something serious, to do a lot, to make a gift and give all this time to. And here’s what I want you to think about. The reason someone will chair your campaign is because for some reason or another, they believe in what you’re doing and that you need to let them know that it is an honor to stand up on behalf of your organization, because this is what it stands for in your community. You need to be solidly behind your organization and behind your mission. And you need to inspire them with that and let them inspire themselves with that.

And if you have a campaign chair who says, well, I’ll chair the campaign, but I’m not going to make a gift, you don’t want that. It doesn’t have to be a huge gift if they don’t have a great deal of money. But if you ask someone to chair a campaign and they’re wealthy, right, they need to make a significant and a generous gift, right? Because it undermines the sense of commitment if they don’t. And you need to have that conversation right up front with them.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes. They need to lead by example. They need to set the tone for the campaign. All right. Excellent. We’ve covered that. I just want to recap. We talked, we promised three ways to find volunteer leaders. And I don’t know if CAB was the best acronym, but that’s what we came up with:

  • C is for clarify the roles, write it down.
  • A is for ask around, ask widely, ask beyond your board and your volunteers and your staff. Go out into the community and ask around.
  • B is for be patient. Don’t rush the process.

It may take a few months or a few more months than you want to find the right campaign chair, but it really is going to set your campaign up for success.

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