Leadership – The Sine Qua Non for Campaign Success

There are four essential elements to every successful capital campaign: the Case; Leadership; Prospects; and, the Plan. This article is second in a series addressing each element. This discussion will specifically focus on the critical importance of leadership in a capital campaign.

People give to people, not causes. Therefore, one of the first and most important tasks of a capital undertaking is to recruit appropriate leaders. The ideal leadership candidate for a capital campaign is someone who makes a top-level gift commitment, is recognized in the community, and is willing to be an advocate, recruiter, and solicitor on behalf of the campaign.

Where do we find such people? To begin, it is helpful to form a small working committee, a “kitchen cabinet”, to have sessions whose aim is to identify top donor prospects and to evaluate and prioritize those that are most likely to make a top-level gift. Begin with a list of 20-25 prospects that includes board members (there are no better, more informed and passionate advocates of your organization than your volunteer leaders), previous major donors, major local employers, and others whose support, because of their standing and recognition in the community, would give the campaign momentum and influence others to support the campaign. Then, build from the top down—find your campaign chair(s) first.

The first and most obvious source of recruiting leaders is the organization’s board, with their responsibility of making sure that the organization meets its mission. One of the single most important functions of meeting the mission is to ensure that the organization has the resources it requires—i.e. the funds it needs. Whether it is to build new facilities, institute new programs and/or services, build an endowment, etc., the ultimate aim of any capital effort is to assure the future viability of the organization. Therefore, the success of extraordinary fund-raising initiatives for the organization is the direct responsibility of the volunteer leadership.

Closely examine which of your board members has demonstrated significant, continuing commitment to the organization and is financially capable of supporting the campaign at the highest levels. Develop a strategy to approach that person or persons and present them with a specific request that asks for the financial commitment and to take a specific leadership role. Once they have accepted, involve them in the recruitment of the next leader and so on. Often, an individual’s likelihood of giving to an organization is directly related to the closeness of their position vis-à-vis the organization. The most likely candidates are those that have been the most generous givers for the longest time and those serving in positions of leadership.

Once recruited, the volunteer leadership of a campaign is typically organized into a committee, such as a Campaign Executive Committee (CEC), which is responsible for the successful implementation of the campaign. They are the beginning, first as donors, then as organizers, campaigners, advocates, and recruiters. The leaders on the CEC are tasked with implementing the campaign plan and reporting to the organization’s board.

Typical leadership roles include:

  • Chair(s) of the Campaign
  • Honorary Chair(s) of the Campaign
  • Board Division Chair(s)
  • Major Gifts Chair(s)
  • Corporate Chair(s)
  • Foundation Chair(s)
  • Community Chair(s)

All of which are members of the CEC, along with other top givers to the campaign. The Campaign Chair(s) should conduct all CEC meetings. The Chair of the Board of Directors and the President of the organization should also serve on the CEC. The CEC can be comprised of the Divisional chairs, members of the board of directors, and other volunteers. The Campaign Executive Committee’s responsibilities include:

  • Regular review and reporting
  • Complete oversight of campaign activities
  • Selecting the name, logo, theme and colors of the campaign
  • Recruitment of additional leadership
  • Development of preliminary lists of Major Gift prospects
  • Evaluation of Major Gift prospects
  • Authorizing the procedures, systems and policies concerning the processing of gifts and expenses
  • Approving the campaign plan, case statement and supporting operative materials
  • Developing and approving the solicitation strategies for select major gift prospects
  • Solicitation of major gift prospects
  • Significant personal financial support
  • Implementation of the campaign plan
  • Participation in all campaign events

Additionally, leaders:

  • Make a top-level gift
  • Provide linkage to corporate, foundation, and individual prospects
  • Participate and host campaign events
  • Publicly endorse the campaign
  • Assume responsibility for the success of the campaign
  • Attend all campaign meetings
  • Serve as key campaign spokespersons
  • Recruit other leaders

In summary, the success of a capital campaign is directly related to the quality of its leadership. When leaders are recruited that give top-level gifts and bring others to the table, they raise expectations and set the pace for future giving. Success depends on the campaign being led by people of stature, recognized in the community. Because of their commitment and willingness to ask others to support the effort, they will give the campaign critical early momentum and raise significant dollars. That credibility, once obtained, is highly valued by prospective donors – everyone likes to be part of a winning team.


Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is among the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada.  If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to info@cdsfunds.com.