Successful Capital Campaigns Improve Volunteer Leadership

David A. Mersky imageSuccessful capital campaigns not only raise money but also help with talent management

A wonderful client of the firm’s had been having trouble identifying someone willing to assume the volunteer leadership role of the organization. The incumbent president, in fact, had to serve an additional year as they searched for a new leader from among their Board members and others in their community.

We were engaged with them in the management of a capital campaign and an annual fund enhancement program. We were working with a wonderful volunteer leadership team in their development committee. One person in particular, a hard-driving, entrepreneur, began to have increasing success in his work as the Annual Fund chair and a capital campaign donor and solicitor. As he became more and more involved, he talked himself into assuming the ultimate leadership role—something he told me he would have never considered were it not for his engagement in the fundraising program of the agency. This is often the case – capital campaigns improve volunteer leadership.

Here is a perfect example of how a successful development program can deepen leader’s commitments and get them to invest not only their financial resource, but also that even more precious, irreplaceable commodity—their time.

Campaigns also are wonderful training grounds for future leaders—both volunteer and professional.   And that is something that is becoming increasingly critical.

Virtually all nonprofits today confront a most serious issue, particularly in terms of staff management. There is little or no movement at the top. This leads to a challenge to retain talent. And, as in the case of volunteer leadership, as described above, there is a succession crisis. On the other hand, there is a significant professional leadership talent deficit, particularly in development and fundraising.

Young people today are faced with many, diverse alternative career choices. In the nonprofit world, regrettably, there is no clear career-tracking nor articulated plans for retention. Most nonprofits view professional development and continuing education as a luxury. There is ever greater complexity and uncertainty in the sector. There are no self-imposed continuing professional education (CPE) requirements as there are in virtually every other profession.

The time has come to educate our boards and leaders about the challenges and crisis in the recruitment and retention of talent—professional and volunteer—at board meetings.

A significant way to address these challenges is to use a capital campaign as an opportunity to identify, recruit, develop, promote and retain valuable staff and volunteer leadership for the agency. Of course, it is not why you have a campaign in the first place. You are seeking to realize a new vision for the organization that will be achievable because of the funds that you will raise. But, a capital campaign can have a serendipitous benefit as it enables an agency to address the challenges of talent management that it confronts.

By consciously recognizing the additional benefits of a capital campaign, the organization demonstrates that it values professional development and continuing professional and volunteer education. Agencies should tax themselves 1% to 2% of their annual operating budget for CPE. If those funds are used in the context of the campaign, then the chances that the campaign will succeed are vastly improved. Moreover, after the campaign has been concluded and the victory celebrated, the organization will be blessed with a team that can carry it forward for another generation.

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