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What is the Board's Role in a Major Campaign?

Posted: 8/16/2022

by Clare Jordan, Vice President, CapDev

Planning a major campaign can bring about all kinds of anxieties. Board and staff members alike often ask us, "What will be the board's role in this?" as they prepare to undertake a significant initiative.

What they are really asking is:

  • Can the board tackle this significant project?
  • Do we have the right people on the board?
  • Are board members going to be scared off by this?
  • Are our board members able to ask for gifts?

They want to know: who is ultimately responsible for the campaign's success?

It is a question that can be fear-based, but it is not unanswerable, and tackling it can build confidence.

First, let's be clear who we're talking about when we say "board."

  1. The Board of Directors bears the legal responsibility for the fiduciary care of the nonprofit.
  2. The Campaign Cabinet is the leadership body responsible for managing a major campaign. It can include board members, but has no requirement to do so, and often consists of a variety of the organization's stakeholders.

This point of clarity is important. Many boards fear that the primary responsibility for a major campaign falls on them; but it is really the campaign cabinet who will carry the weight of the campaign's work, while the board of directors (or trustees) maintains the fiduciary responsibility for the organization. That said, board leadership in support of a major campaign is still critical.

A typical campaign leadership organizational chart includes the board responsibility on top of the chart with the campaign cabinet roles below:

Let's also be clear about what we mean when we talk about a "major campaign." We are addressing a significant (usually multi-million dollar) capital, endowment, major gifts or comprehensive campaign; not your annual campaign drive (which are staff led and board supported).

Unlike ongoing annual fundraising appeals, major campaigns are board led, and staff supported.

When a board asks about their role in the campaign, they're also asking: who is going to do the work?

That's where the "staff supported" part comes in. Staff needs to be supportive in ways such as:

  • Proactive in providing materials, agendas, and information
  • Sensitive to time constraints
  • Adaptable to leaders' schedules
  • Knowledgeable about relationships and contacts
  • Skilled at donor database usage
  • Responsive to campaign leader requests
  • Available by email, phone, and text
  • Prepared and organized - capture donor details and cultivation strategies

Remember that the campaign cabinet carries responsibility for the bulk of the campaign work. Prior to the appointment of the campaign cabinet, however, the campaign planning committee oversees the planning and preparation phase of the proposed capital campaign, and is responsible for:

  1. Approval of the case for support
  2. Assist with identification and evaluation of major donor prospects and campaign leadership
  3. Advise on effective leader and major donor cultivation and recruitment strategies
  4. Hosting a donor cultivation event, meeting, tour, or other donor educational activity
  5. Review and approve campaign goals, objectives, and strategies
  6. Identify and recruit Campaign Cabinet committee members
  7. Approval of campaign budget and campaign infrastructural changes
  8. Attend regular (monthly) meetings

And finally, as we describe it at CapDev, the board's role in a major campaign is to do the following:

  • KNOW! Understand the campaign and advocate
  • OWN! Take responsibility for campaign
  • GIVE! Make organization a "Top 3" philanthropic priority
  • LINK! Leverage relationships and make introductions
  • SPEAK! Engage and educate prospective donors
  • ASK! Be willing to be part of solicitations
  • STEWARD! Thank and assure accountability of gifts
  • CELEBRATE! Recognize campaign's success
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