How to Recruit Your Volunteer Fund-Raising Team

Volunteers are the lifeblood of a development operation, and trustees are the most important volunteers of all. The trustees approve an organization’s budget and they must accept personal responsibility for raising called-for contributed income. They are expected to set the pace in giving, recruiting other volunteers, and soliciting major donors.

Too often I have been engaged as a consultant only to have the executive director of the organization or chair of the board of trustees tell me, “Our board doesn’t raise money. You’ll have to look elsewhere for fund-raising leadership.” That’s when I tell them they have to change the makeup of the board. A board must include individuals capable of leading a major fund-raising campaign. There is no greater strength in a fund-raising campaign than a board ready and willing to lead. There is no greater weakness than one which sees fund-raising as someone else’s responsibility.

Leadership is the key element in determining the goal or deciding whether you should even conduct a fund-raising campaign. Be it this year’s edition of the annual fund campaign, a first-time attempt to raise endowment, or a first-ever fund-raising effort, leadership is what will make or break your campaign.

At its best, a truly responsible and effective board will produce a volunteer development organization along these lines:


The board chair sets the tone for the organization and its volunteers. Other trustees look to the chair for leadership, and the chair has primary responsibility for volunteer leadership commitment. However, a development director may have an even more meaningful relationship, on a day-to-day basis, with the chair of the board’s committee for development, in that they collaborate on the planning and execution of all the organization’s fund-raising campaigns.

The Development Committee

The development committee has basic responsibility for overseeing and advising on the organization’s fund-raising activities. Its main duties are to:

  1. Set policies, priorities, and goals for fund-raising programs for the current fiscal year.
  2. Review the ongoing performance of each campaign.
  3. Review campaign achievement versus its objectives.
  4. Identify and rate all major prospects for support.
  5. Recruit key volunteer leadership and solicitors for the organization’s fund-raising campaigns.

Chairs of development committees, like development directors, must resolve the various contributed income needs of the organization without exhausting its base of support. The best development committee chairpersons are able to see the job in its entirety. They have broad vision. They don’t fall in love with one fund-raising idea, campaign, or concept at the expense of the overall development effort.

My preferred development committee chairperson is a general managerial type with a strong marketing background. Ideally, this chairperson is something of an alter ego of the development director. I have been my most successful when my development chairpersons and I shared the same fund-raising vision. In a sense, the best development chairperson is a leader whom a competent development director is able to lead. The development chairperson has clout within the community that the development director is unlikely to possess, while the latter has fund-raising knowledge that is probably outside of the development chairperson’s purview. The partnership between the development chairperson and the development director works best when the professional develops the ideas and then gains the agreement of the volunteer leader, who uses his or her clout to get cooperation from the board and other volunteer campaign leaders.

Recruiting Leadership and Solicitors for
Annual, Endowment, Capital, and
Sponsorship and Underwriting Campaigns

Non profits with strong development operations also may have committees for ongoing fund-raising endeavors such as the annual fund, endowment, capital, and sponsorship & underwriting campaigns. The chairs of these campaign committees also sit on the development committee. Most of the members of the secondary committees will be trustees, but volunteer fund-raising leaders who are not trustees are also included.

Sometimes, recruitment of the chair of a campaign (annual fund, endowment, capital, sponsorships & underwriting) occurs simultaneously with the development of the campaign plan, and in some instances the chair is involved in the planning process. However, it is best to contact a prospective chair with a job description and a campaign plan in hand. There are two distinct advantages to proceeding in this order. First, control of the planning process is left in the hands of the person who has responsibility for raising an organization’s contributed income. Presumably, this person is a professional development officer or has extensive fund-raising knowledge and experience. Such a person should be better equipped than the volunteer leader to develop a realistic and effective plan.

The second advantage to having a plan prepared before recruiting a campaign chair is that it speeds the process of recruitment. A well-prepared plan shows a level of commitment and professionalism on the part of the organization that should be attractive to the person being recruited. It prevents a prospective chair from putting you off by saying, “It sounds good, but why don’t you get back to me when you have a game plan, and then I’ll take a hard look at doing it.” Well-conceived campaign plans in hand at the very start of the chair recruitment process provide the information prospective chairs need to determine whether they have the desire and time to commit to a campaign.

The Chain Of Command

The primary responsibility for recruiting a campaign chair falls to the chair of the organization’s board of trustees. If he or she is unable to do it, then some other trustee should take responsibility. If that is not feasible, then the organization’s executive director must do the recruiting. In the ideal scenario, the board chair will collaborate with a committee on development and the organization’s executive director and its development officer to generate a short list of campaign chair candidates. From that list the committee on development, working with the development officer, will choose a prospective campaign chair. It is then up to the board chairperson or, if there is such, a trustee having a special relationship with the candidate to make the recruitment contact.

Often, a trustee of the organization will be recruited as the campaign chair. There are times, however, when someone other than a trustee may be better suited to run a campaign. The chair of a campaign needs to have leverage and clout proportionate to the amount of money to be raised. It is the chair who will recruit other key players and who is likely to be called on either to solicit or help solicit the largest donors. Even with a good plan, a campaign that has inappropriate or insufficient leadership will be doomed.

Division Leadership for Individual,
Corporate and Foundation Gifts

Once a person has signed on to chair the campaign, he or she then recruits campaign division chairs (Individuals, corporations, foundations) and, if needed, a campaign co-chair. The division chairs then recruit the team captains, and the team captains recruit the solicitors. In each of these stages, the pool of recruits can come from the contacts of the person doing the recruiting or the organization’s volunteer base (usually it’s a combination). However, the stronger the relationship between a campaign chair and the division chairs, between a division chair and the team captains, and between a team captain and the solicitors, the greater the likelihood of success, because the campaign will benefit from the team’s interlocking feelings of personal loyalty and responsibility. The only weakness of teams organized along these lines occurs when there is a break in the chain. If the captain of a team of solicitors is unable to continue in that leadership role and no one on the team wants to step up and become captain, it is almost impossible to transfer responsibility for the team to a new captain and have it work at the same level of efficiency. Given the potentially positive results that can arise from encouraging volunteer leaders to recruit the people who will report to them, it’s worth risking that occasional downside.

In the ideal campaign no more than five persons report to any position, which is why we make provisions for vice-chairs at the campaign and division chair levels. Although there will be exceptions to this rule, keep in mind that campaign leaders and solicitors are volunteers. The fund-raising campaign is not their only priority. Never saddle a volunteer with an excessive amount of work or management responsibility.

When it comes to fund-raising campaigns, you need an attainable goal, a plan for getting to that goal, and the tools to execute that plan. But in the end, the success or failure of a fund-raising campaign hinges on leadership, and that leadership starts on your board.

Addendum: Defining The Volunteers’ Jobs

The first position that needs to be defined in an annual, endowment, capital, or sponsorship and underwriting fund-raising campaign, is that of the chair of the campaign. This person is the linchpin of the campaign. It is the chair who recruits others for leadership positions, sets the tone for the campaign, opens doors to major givers, and, when necessary, cracks the whip.

Campaign Chair Job Description

The campaign chair’s first major responsibility is to recruit a committee consisting of the chairs of the major divisions of the campaign (individuals, corporations, foundations), other needed leadership, and, if needed, a co- chair. The campaign chair leads the committee in rating and evaluating major prospects already known to the organization; in identifying, rating and evaluating major new prospects; and in setting appointments with major prospects and soliciting their donations. The campaign chair has overall responsibility for executing the campaign plan and functions as the campaign’s chief operating officer, running scheduled meetings of the campaign volunteer team and calling additional meetings as needed.

The campaign chair is the public spokesperson for the campaign, making statements in the media and urging participation on the part of prospective donors. The campaign chair reports to the chair of the board of trustees

After the campaign chair in the hierarchy of volunteers come the chairs of the campaign divisions. In annual, capital, and endowment campaigns, the effort is usually broken into at least five divisions:

  1. Major corporate and business gifts
  2. Smaller corporate and business gifts
  3. Foundations
  4. Major individual gifts
  5. Smaller individual gifts

Each of these divisions may be divided further according to your needs. Corporate and individual givers are separated by size of gift, while foundations, because there are usually far fewer of them, are treated as a single group. In dealing with corporations it is important to categorize by size of the desired gift, not by the size of corporation, for it is not necessarily the largest corporation which will make the biggest gifts.

Division Chair Job Description

The division chair’s initial major responsibility is to recruit a cadre of persons who will function as solicitation team captains and, if needed, a co-chair. The division chair has management responsibility for all fund-raising efforts within the division. He or she assists the team captains in recruiting solicitors, runs scheduled division meetings, calls additional meetings as needed, assists in contacting and soliciting prospects, and keeps the campaign chair informed of the division’s progress. The division chair reports to the campaign chair or co-chair.

Solicitation team captains are the taskmasters of a fund-raising campaign. They see that the actual work of soliciting prospects gets done in a timely manner.

Solicitation Team Captain Job Description

The solicitation team captain’s first major responsibility is to recruit a team of five or six solicitors. The team captain has responsibility for managing the team, seeing that all prospects are contacted and solicited in accordance with the campaign plan and schedule; assisting solicitors in their efforts; and keeping the division chair informed of the the team’s progress. The team captain reports to a division chair or co-chair.

Solicitors make the vast majority of requests for contributions. They are the frontline “salespeople” of a fund-raising campaign.

Solicitor Job Description

The solicitor’s primary responsibilities are to contact assigned prospects, present the case for support, answer questions, and request a suggested donation. Ideally, a solicitor will be assigned five prospects. The solicitor reports to the team captain and keeps him or her informed of progress.

Additional resources:

Those are my views on the subject. What are yours? I welcome your comments and suggestions.

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  1. Diane: Like Dave, I am unsure what the "alternatives" the members are researching. I could be wrong, but chances are those alternatives would take them further away from direct fund-raising responsibility. That's too often the case, unfortunately, as boards look to someone else to do what is their job.

    Some organizations even form "foundations" with a separate "board," and that group is charged with the fund-raising requirements for the organization. That's OK, and even necessary, when an organization's "parent" board is appointed, as is done by organizations mainly supported by local government. If yours is not one of those, take care that one of the alternatives may very well be the development of an unneeded extraneous board to do fund-raising.

    It's much easier, and much better, to develop, within the board, a standing committee for development—as there are other such committees for marketing, finance, nominating, building & grounds, etc., so there should be one for development.

    I am not so concerned with the revisions of bylaws for such things as board size, rules and duties, meeting procedures, guards against conflict of interest, how donations are used (operating/endowment/special gifts & grants), etc. But I would be greatly concerned that whatever other "alternatives" they come up with, do not have you stray from your mission, and change your Articles of Incorporation, those Articles which won you the non-profit classification in the first place. Your state, and the IRS would take serious exception should that happen. No matter the variables in your bylaws, you must follow state law.

    If there is a "feeling of ineffectiveness and futility" on the part of the board, looking for alternatives of what works well (and legally), then the board may simply need to revisit its mission—its reason for being. Maybe some personal looks at, or meetings with, those whom you serve, or otherwise benefit, will do the trick.

    The bylaws are not stimulating. The do not engender devotion and dedication to the cause. The Mission does. The good you do does. The difference you make does. That's where the refocus should be.

    Plus, if fund-raising is not an imperative with all of the board members, find out why. It's usually because they do not know how. Try some of the techniques in this article on our website:
    — How Board Members Can Become Effective Fund-Raisers

    Good for you to take issue with the path some of the board are taking. Instead of looking around for alternatives as a group which may have them deviate from what is traditional and workable with boards of trustees, each and every board member—and the new ones you will be getting aboard soon—should simply look into themselves to know the strengths and weakness of themselves, and the board in general. This can give true direction.

    Maybe you can have each of your Board members perform a self-assessment of their respective governance activities. The following comes to my mind as a self-assessment featuring a few, but pointed, affirmations.

    (Score 1-5 with 5 the highest score)

    As a Trustee of (name of ________________) I Will:

    ___ Participate actively in carrying out the mission.

    ___ Attend trustees’ meetings and initiate and participate in discussions.

    ___ Provide leadership and involvement to at least one standing committee and attend its meetings and take part in its activities.

    ___ Contribute funds for annual operations and special programs with commitments perceived to be at or near the top of my capability to give.

    ___ Support the fund-raising programs and initiatives with as much one-to-one solicitation activity as possible.

    ___ Prioritize the organization as highly as possible to similar of my memberships in other non-profit organizations.

    ___ Initiate other helpful advice and counsel to help meet and exceed the organization’s objectives and goals.

    ___ Promote and present a positive endorsement and attitude to the community-at-large regarding the organization.

    ___ Serve knowing that I have the prime responsibility for contributing and raising funds since those responsibilities cannot, and should not, be assumed by the staff.

    In summary, from my experience, whether the seven-year "itch" is prompted by sameness and boredom, or there has been a disjointedness of purpose, revisiting the mission, getting close to the good things the organization does, more often than not does energize and make proud those charged with ensuring those good things are happening and continue to happen for well into the future. Rather than being enmeshed in bylaw language and structure, they may only need to see directly the value of what they do and to be sure they continue to work in that way.

  2. Diane,

    I’m sure Tony will respond to your comment, but I thought I might add my two cents from the perspective of having been the executive director/CEO of a couple of nonprofits, having been senior staff on three or four others, and also having served on the board of a few. 


    I’m not sure what alternatives to a board-of-director format would look like or whether they would be legal. The primary role of any board of directors or trustees of a nonprofit organization is to provide governance. In the United States, an organization that has been awarded nonprofit status has been granted through the national and state governments a privileged status by the citizenry. Legislative law and appropriate government entities require in exchange for that privileged status that a board made up of a majority of independent members of the community take ultimate responsibility for the execution of the organization’s mission, for its adherence to laws and established accounting rules, and for the oversight of those—be they paid staff or volunteers—charged with carrying out the daily operations of the organization.


    I see no way for a nonprofit organization to operate without a legally constituted board of directors/trustees. In fact, I once became the executive director of an organization that previously had its existing board dissolved by a state attorney general for failing to meet legal requirements of independence. The attorney general then instituted new bylaws for the organization and ordered the establishment of a truly independent community board. I strongly urge that your board make sure that whatever changes it makes to your bylaws are in compliance with both federal and state law.


    All the foregoing said, there is no reason why an organization cannot be creative in its establishment of working committees made up of board members and other involved volunteers. My experience with boards that fail in their efforts to provide needed support—financial or other resources—is that they are usually too small and haven’t built a base of committed volunteers other than themselves. I believe that a nonprofit, no matter how small it might be, with fewer than ten board members is asking for trouble. There are of course people who will disagree. But I actually prefer a working model that has a board of 20 or more with an executive committee of ten or fewer that carries the bulk of the governance responsibility. The larger board provides an organization with more volunteer leaders to take part in helping acquire needed resources and establish long-term planning.


    As to your question about an “eight-year itch:” Sooner or later there is nearly always an “itch” as the original founding board members with their high energy and dedication give way to newer members who did not share in the excitement and success of creation. All organizations go through stages. Successful ones anticipate these changes and the challenges they bring and prepare for the future through strategic planning that takes into account the need to develop and grow all of an organization’s resources, including its board. I suggest that a formalized strategic planning process be undertaken if your board has not already done so.


    Hope this helps.

  3. I sit on the board of a non-profit fundraising entity that raises approximately $200-300K a year.  The board rules and roles were established approx 8 years ago and in the last 3-4 years the by laws and board set up and format has seemed more of a formality (vs a structure to support the program and guide the process).  The board members were tasked with the job of researching alternatives to the 'board of director' format and thus ways to alter the adopted by-laws.  (Our by laws are usual and generic type of rulings associated with election, roles and duties and meeting format.
    In review of your current blog information related to boards and committees has re-committed me to the beneficial structure a 'board' provides and I'm wondering if this feeling of ineffectiveness and futility in its use is a common 'eight year itch' for a group our size.
    I'm eager to find information related to my topic.  Please advise…direct as able.

  4. Wendy,

    Board governance is having that body seeing to it that the mission is carried out to it best and fullest, while at the same time developing a vision statement. They handle legal implications, provide oversight of the staff CEO, conduct long-range planning exercises, and much more–especially and including, direct oversight and leading fund-raising development. They do this while keeping the financial health of the organization in the forefront.

    Thus, Board governance drives effective fund-raising. They help to install, and they approve and endorse, all plans for the raising of contributed income.

    The article/plan above encourages the development of the volunteer fund-raising team (for any type of fund-raising campaign) to be under the leadership of a Board standing committee for “steering” all development work. Its duties were cited in the article.

    That development steering committee would fit into any Board governance model as would other standing committees, such as marketing, finance, nominating, building & grounds, etc.

    Any of those standing committees do not require the Chairperson be a member of the Board, though it is sought and highly desirable to have a Board member lead in those Chair positions. (Such a non-board member may be “ex-officio” board member during the time while leading a standing committee.)

    In other words, any volunteer fund-raising endeavor would work best when under the leadership of a development steering committee, and that group is led by the Board of Trustees.

    Whatever model written into a Policy Manual would have that structure so indicated. There can be no “ad hoc” fund-raising.

  5. How does this fit within a policy governance board model?

  6. Diana: Though not an expert in what the IRS does or does not do, nonetheless, my instinct and experience have me quick to say that there are no exceptions to paying the User Fee.

    However, if you are in Canada, that may make a difference. I found in my file an IRS Revenue Procedure note from some time ago. It turns out there is a treaty-based exception to the User Fee for Canadian organizations that file Form 1023 in order to be listed in Publication 78. But that’s it—nothing to exempt the fee payment from a US-based organization as far as I know.

    You must continue to probe the IRS contacts you now have to be sure of anything you need to do, and ask all of your good questions too. The IRS is the final word.

    Please take my words following as meant to suggest caution to you, and concern on my part, as you proceed to establish your non-profit.

    Over the years, I have seen very few organizations that operated successfully when at the beginning they were without, or almost without, cash enough to begin their non-profit registration process.

    If you are simply being enterprising, and being very good at the solicitation process, then asking if you could find a way to keep from paying the IRS fee is admirable.

    But, if you are that seriously cash-strapped, and cannot come up with those relatively small funds from your own pocket, gifts from family and friends and others, then you must ask yourself just how you would be in position to pay the really significant bills for the operating costs of the new organization, once it is up and beginning to run—and for well beyond.

    Truly, I do wish success to you, and I do not want to sound a negative note, but if your organization cannot come up with the User Fee, then the question you must ask of yourselves is, “Just how do we expect to survive.”

    Understand that my hard opinion and questions are meant to help, though perhaps painfully, but do know as well that, sooner, than later, the same questions will come your way at what could perhaps be critically-defining times when you are asking for your first grants and donations to carry out your mission. Perhaps my article regarding this issue will be useful:

    — Know Your Organization

  7. Is there a way to get an exepmtion of the $400.00 form 1023 filing?


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