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.