My brilliant friends at Capital Campaign Toolkit agreed to share their smarts with you. Read on!
At the Capital Campaign Toolkit, we empower nonprofit executives and development professionals with the tools and strategies they need to conduct a successful capital campaign. One often overlooked (but critically important) part of that preparation involves board buy-in and readiness.
During a capital campaign, your relationships with board members can be some of the most important. Simply put, it’s crucial that your nonprofit’s board is “on board” with your capital campaign from the start.
After years on the fundraising frontlines, we wanted to share a few tips we’ve learned for energizing nonprofit board members leading up to a capital campaign. Let’s start with a quick overview of exactly why board buy-in is so important.
Why is board member engagement so important for a capital campaign?
It’s not at all uncommon for nonprofit professionals to feel like their boards are driving them crazy, and for any number of reasons. Maybe your board members are disengaged or not on the same page about the necessity for a capital campaign. Maybe they’re extremely hesitant to make large investments right now, or, if this is your first capital campaign, they want to avoid committing to an unfamiliar new project.
When it comes down to it, you can’t conduct a capital campaign without engaging your board in the process. Your board’s approval is a prerequisite for moving ahead with the campaign, so you’ll need to tackle this challenge head-on.
Additionally, your board members will almost certainly play roles in cultivating prospects and soliciting gifts once your campaign is up and running, and some board members can be impactful donors to capital campaigns themselves. Their engagement and buy-in will be equally critical at these later stages, so ensuring that everyone’s on the same page from the start will be well worth the effort.
In the earliest, pre-planning stages of your campaign, talk openly with your board to understand why they might be uncomfortable about a campaign. Addressing their specific concerns and actively encouraging them to help shape your campaign plans will go a long way to get them interested and invested in planning.
Let’s walk through three specific tips for approaching the challenge of securing board buy-in:
3 Tips to Get Your Board on Board
1. Educate your board members about capital campaigns.
The first hurdle you might face when trying to proactively engage your board members is that they may not have any prior experience with capital campaigns. This can result in concerns on both sides; you’re worried they won’t understand the project’s importance or want to commit, while they’re unsure of exactly what roles and responsibilities they’re supposed to take on.
Thankfully, this challenge is fairly easy to address. Actively educate your board members on capital campaigns and be available to answer any and all questions they may have as you work towards securing their buy-in. Here are a few specific tips we’ve found effective:
- Share educational resources, such as books and online guides about capital campaigns.
- Host a workshop about capital campaigns and recruit a training leader or industry expert who can help your board understand the purpose of these campaigns, how they work, and why their involvement is so critical.
- Invite board members or executive directors from other organizations in your community who’ve conducted successful capital campaigns and ask them to share a quick presentation on their experiences.
Remember, it’s difficult to get a commitment from anyone when they’re unsure of exactly what they’re committing to! If your board members are unclear on the purpose of your campaign or where they fit into its overall structure, securing their buy-in will be unnecessarily challenging.
Take steps to actively provide your board members with a variety of training resources and activities, especially if this will be your organization’s first capital campaign. This will help every board member feel more comfortable as you secure their buy-in and generate engagement.
2. Involve your board in the early planning process.
Capital campaigns don’t spring up overnight—your team doesn’t simply wake up one day and choose to launch one. They require months of careful planning and a thorough understanding of exactly why investing in your nonprofit’s growth is the right move right now. These earliest stages are the perfect opportunity to engage your board members.
From the start of your planning process, involve key board members in all key project and campaign planning decisions. Work with your board to define your campaign’s objective and its related financial goal. Their active contributions to these decisions will give board members a deeper sense of investment in the project.
Once you’ve nailed down your campaign’s core guidelines, you’ll interview board members as part of your feasibility study. This process will assess the overall readiness of your board (and other key stakeholders and donors) to assist with a campaign of this magnitude. Specifically, ask your board members questions like:
- Is our board in full agreement with our vision for a capital campaign?
- Is our board willing to be more active in fundraising than it is now?
- Do we have board members who have been volunteers in a capital campaign before?
- Do we have board members who have access to potential campaign donors?
- Can we identify a handful of leadership-level major donors on our board?
- (If applicable,) will our board members be able to fund 15%–30% of the total revenue goal?
- Do we have influential supporters currently involved with our cause?
- Can we identify potential campaign leaders and create a plan to enlist them?
Continue looping your board into the process as your campaign plans come into sharper focus. Solicit their feedback on your campaign materials, invite them to assist with soliciting donations, and get their approval on any campaign spending. This gives your board full transparency into the campaign and a level of ownership over the process.
3. Get your board’s help with framing your case for support.
Your campaign’s case for support is a document that thoroughly explains your campaign, its objective and goal, and the impact that success will have on the community you serve.
It will serve as an invaluable strategic asset throughout the entire duration of the campaign, but the earliest benefit is that developing your case statement is an ideal opportunity to deepen board member engagement.
We recommend conducting a “Features and Benefits” exercise with your board to begin framing your case for support and build more internal excitement. During a board meeting, try these steps:
- Set up two easels, large pieces of paper taped to a wall, or columns in a screenshared Excel document.
- Label one side “Features” and the other side “Benefits.”
- With your board, identify the “Features” of your campaign—these include elements of your core objective, or the main purpose or project that’s funded.
- Then, identify the “Benefits” of each feature. What’s the on-the-ground impact that successfully achieving each element will have on your mission and constituents?
Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re a nonprofit that operates afterschool programming for K-12 students in your community. You’re conducting a capital campaign to build a new community center. The new facility is a feature of your campaign. The impact of this community center (providing expanded programming, increasing your capacity to work with more children by X%, etc.) is the benefit of that feature.
The value of this exercise for your board is two-fold. First, it can emphasize the importance of your project for your team and build excitement, generating more long-term buy-in. Secondly, it helps refine your campaign’s promotional message to focus on impact in detailed, specific terms. This refined message will be invaluable for creating a compelling case for support that your board members will be proud to share with prospective donors.
Your board members can drive the success of your campaign, but only if they’re energized and understand the immense impact that a successful campaign will have on your ability to pursue your mission.
By educating your board about campaign best practices, involving them and seeking their input in the early planning stages, and actively collaborating to develop your case for support, you can get your board on board with your next capital campaign.
ANDREA KIHLSTEDT | CAMPAIGN EXPERT & CO-FOUNDER
Andrea Kihlstedt is the author of Capital Campaigns: Strategies that Work, now in its 4th edition, as well as How to Raise $1 Million (or More) in 10 Bite Sized Steps, in addition to several other fundraising books. She has been leading successful capital campaigns for over 30 years.