Successful Capital Vampaigns Enhance Nonprofit Leadership Development

Successful capital campaigns not only raise money but also help…enhance nonprofit leadership development

David A. Mersky imageA friend—the executive director of a wonderful residential camp—called me to invite me for lunch recently. I am always happy to see her and welcomed the opportunity to reconnect.

We had barely sat done and even before I got to take a sip of water, let alone look at a menu, my luncheon host blurted out, “How can I get my board members to engage in the right things and stop micro-managing me and my staff?”

As I probed, asking gently for examples of what the board members, collectively and individually, were doing, it became clear that there were serious problems in the entire structure and culture of governance and leadership development of this wonderful agency. And, part of the problem, I deduced was that there was no formal development program for annual fundraising nor had there ever been a capital campaign in the history of this nearly one hundred year old organization.

I gently suggested that perhaps she might want to consider undertaking a campaign to address some of the capital and endowment needs of her agency. In addition to raising some funds that would enable the camp to create a master facilities plan and expand and renovate its physical plant, funds could also be raised to provide much needed financial aid to those who might otherwise not be able to avail themselves of the transformative summer experience that only overnight camping can provide.

She asked me, “How might that solve my problem with a Board that would rather count paper clips?”

I told her that a development program, in general, and a capital campaign, in particular, would enable her to focus everyone on a great project. To be successful, she could start with profiling her existing Board members to see where there were gaps in needed areas of expertise as well as experience in other successful nonprofits.

This process of creating a campaign would then allow her to identify prospective new leaders to fill gaps in representation by age, gender, demography, profession, involvement, etc. With her board focused upon the campaign, she could, through a facilitated process engage the board in articulating a set of mutual expectations—both individual and collective.

Finally, through the master planning process and the early phase of the fundraising in the “silent” phase, Board member would be connected with meaningful work in behalf of the camp that would entail ongoing accountability and evaluation and assessment of individual and collective performance.

Thus the campaign would become the vehicle for shifting the culture of governance as well as the nonprofit leadership development. It would further have the serendipitous benefit of raising funds to enable the camp to achieve its vision for the future ever more effectively.

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