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Killing off Campaign Committees

Here’s a story about an organization that was having a hard time getting leadership engaged and ‘on board’ through a campaign committee / chair structure.

This organization started a campaign two years ago – then put on the brakes. It couldn’t find a ‘Capital Campaign Committee Chairperson’.

The description for this ‘Capital Campaign Committee Chair’ was four pages in length. It included things like (and I’m not making this up):

  • [First line of the description:] Acceptance of the Capital Campaign’s financial goal by the General Chairperson represents his/her commitment to raise this goal for this campaign.
  • This person should make a lead or the lead commitment for the campaign.
  • The chairperson is responsible for achieving the campaign funding goal. [Yes, essentially this is stated twice.]
  • The chairperson is responsible for identifying, recruiting and soliciting other members of the campaign committee.

I should note, the four pages did have other filler that wasn’t as harsh.

The message? The Capital Campaign Committee Chairperson basically has to do the whole campaign, devote the next two years to focusing on income, not impact, she is on her own except she’s not because she’s got to convince others to come along for the ride.

OBVIOUSLY no one in his or her right mind would sign onto this. It’s no wonder this organization was having trouble finding a chair.

I think the description above probably works (but not because of the description) when there is one clear and strong leader that STARTED the campaign effort, that’s LEADING the campaign effort, from day one. As in, it was HIS or HER idea. For the other 98% of campaigns it’s completely unrealistic and completely off-putting.

Prior to putting on the brakes the organization profiled had asked eight people to be the chair – without success. All eight have expressed STRONG enthusiasm for the vision, the case and the project.

So here’s what we did. We scrapped the capital campaign committee all together.

‘Capital campaign’ tells a story about a building. The building is a means to an end. ‘Committee’ connotes, well, committee. Uggh.

What we really need is leadership – so that the community OWNS the project – not the nonprofit development team. We also need champions – people that will help us make the vision a reality.

Instead of a Campaign Committee we’re identifying ‘Ambassadors for the Children of [CITY]’. We’re focusing on ten great ambassadors who can help us Advance the Vision by doing three things (that match our Champion/Invite/Invest strategy.)

  1. Be a Voice – For the children. [Champion]2 out of 4 children in this city’s metro area live below the poverty level. Many are on a path to gangs and unemployment. This is all in an affluent city where people would probably guess the numbers to be much lower.We’re asking the Ambassadors first and foremost to lend their name and endorsement to the vision, the mission and project.
  2. Help us Share the Story [Invite]When people come down to our existing neighborhood center it takes about ten minutes of walking THROUGH the story before they ask us, “How can I help?” We’re reinforcing to our Ambassadors that they story illustrates itself, but we need their help by bringing people TO the story.We even note that in doing this, it’s all about sharing the story and not about asking their friends for money. We have a well equipped staff with a killer process if someone is moved by the impact.
  3. Invest with a Commensurate Commitment (more on that here).

It’s also important to note that we are not dodgy or coy about needing help. Instead of building out meetings we’re focused on building and leading a movement in the community – with the help of these 10 voices. And, we pretty much explain this thinking to them in the same way.

We’re not focusing on ‘the group’ but instead on individuals that comprise the group. We’re only holding 1-2 gatherings per year for formal group updates about the impact and income. Otherwise, accountability is specific for each individual. Notably, we ARE putting in place a ‘Lead Ambassador’ – someone who can help rally the troops!

Though we’re just rolling this out at this organization we’ve used the same strategy with great success on other campaigns.

Community leaders want to help. They want to be champions for your vision. They want to make the impact happen. They will even invest in the impact and help to get others investing in the impact. This enthusiasm is muted (maybe killed?) when it becomes all about signing in blood to be a Capital Campaign Committee Chairperson (or member).