Board Development in a Campaign Setting

A successful capital campaign often leaves a big footprint in areas other than just the financial position of the group, such as public relations that can grow as a result of a successful campaign and board development, which can undergo a significant transition throughout a capital campaign.

There are a number of responsibilities that the board must accept during a campaign, and it may help to enumerate them. The board is the strategic governing body of the organization, and a successful capital campaign must be regarded as a primary institutional priority. Thus, the first duty of the board is to focus the energy and resources of the entire organization on the success of the campaign. The board must lead the charge in their individual commitments of financial support, time and energy.

Every board member must begin his or her participation in the campaign with a generous financial commitment. Board gifts are typically solicited early in the campaign process. This is done so that once the campaign moves out into the public there is a clear statement of solidarity and support from the board. It is an accepted standard that successful campaigns rely in part on 100% participation from the board. In addition, it is critical that every board member stretch him or herself to make the most generous gift possible. Capital gifts are asset-based, as opposed to income-based annual gifts. Board members should be prepared to make a significant pledge, relative to their means.

In addition to a financial commitment, board members should be willing to give their time and energy—their personal capital—to the campaign. Every board member has a circle of friends and peers to whom they can appeal for support. If a board member is a prominent CEO, these contacts may yield substantial financial commitments. Everyone, though, has some people they can solicit for support, even at the lower end of the scale. It makes a strong statement when a board member is willing to use their personal and business relationships as an avenue to promote the mission of an organization.

What makes this commitment of energy significant, regardless of the board member’s station in society, is that it must be sustained, and infused with perpetual optimism. Capital campaigns follow lengthy timelines of a year or more. Keeping one’s spirits up across that period requires a serious commitment. Furthermore, there is no room for waffling or insecurity, at least not in the face of the public. The level of enthusiasm associated with the campaign will slowly go down the further out into the community it reaches. It is the “law of diminishing returns.” Therefore, the energy must begin at the highest possible level in order to remain high in the later stages.

If this seems like it’s hard work, it is! An organization that launches a capital campaign is taking on a significant workload. Board members need to be tireless advocates on behalf of the group and the campaign. Extraordinary results require greater than ordinary effort. In this way, capital campaigns can be both galvanizing and polarizing events.

First and foremost, a capital campaign will galvanize dedicated board members, bonding them closer to each other and to the organization. Capital campaigns bring strategic growth, and can represent a very positive transition for the organization. Helping to expand the group’s work validates the board members’ involvement. Each of their gift decisions is cause for celebration, as they examine their philanthropic priorities and recommit at the highest possible level.

Successful capital campaigns will also attract new community leaders to the board. People who make significant gifts to the campaign often want—and deserve—to underscore their commitment with a role in the organization’s governance. In many situations this is appropriate. These donors often bring a new quantity and quality of leadership to the board, as well as their own circles of friends and peers. A capital campaign is a tremendous proving ground for the next generation of organizational leadership. In this way, a successful capital campaign leaves an additional legacy with the organization.

On the other hand, experience shows that strategic decisions in the life of an organization will have both supporters and detractors. Intelligent, fair-minded people can disagree on strong issues. Some board members will not choose to go along with the organization’s new direction. Without unanimity, the group’s case for support and ability to raise funds is diminished. Sometimes, it is appropriate for a board member to use the capital campaign as his or her point of departure from the organization’s senior leadership. This need not necessitate their separation from the organization altogether. Anyone who is willing and able to help with any aspect of the group’s mission should be encouraged to do so. However, at the board’s level there must be a greater consensus in support of the campaign and the growth it heralds.

We should always enter a capital campaign with our eyes wide open. We will be called upon to make difficult decisions and choices. It is incumbent upon us to keep the strategic health and growth of the organization at the forefront of our minds. We must recognize and respect the tangential issues that arise from capital campaigns, such as any potential impact on the composition of the board of directors. Nonetheless, in the end we do what is best for the organization and the constituents it serves.

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