Are we asking too much of our campaign's top volunteers?

With enormous time commitments, a wide variety of duties, and tenures that last nearly a decade, campaign volunteers are being put to the test.

According to its annual development survey conducted by Grenzebach Glier and Associates (GG+A) for the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), in 2014 the average campaign duration for member institutions was eight years. Longer campaigns create countless opportunities (and opportunities for counting) for an organization, as well as some challenges in terms of keeping volunteers engaged, productive, and satisfied.

Your ideal volunteer campaign chairs would be: involved with the organization, among your top donors, good leaders of other volunteers, strong ambassadors to potential donors, readily available to meet with the campaign committee, go on solicitation calls, and attend and/or host campaign events. In all likelihood, they already serve on your board of trustees or foundation board, so they will have numerous other commitments several times a year to the organization.

That is a tall order that can become even more onerous if they are asked to serve seven to 10 years in such a role. Think about it in this context: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average U.S. employee stays in his or her job for 4.4 years, and in 2011 the American Council on Education determined that the average university president in the US serves seven years. We are asking our volunteers to take on a long-term commitment that just may outlast a large number of our front-line fundraisers and our organization’s CEO.

It is time to rethink the campaign chairs’ role. Should we just abandon the notion of deploying volunteers in support of our efforts? No, absolutely not. We know that at top fundraising institutions, involvement almost always increases investment. Volunteers set examples for and raise sights of other donors. Volunteers can be vibrant players in strengthening key philanthropic relationships while reinforcing a culture of philanthropy. And, perhaps most important, volunteers are almost always an institution’s best donors.

So what can we do to make their service more tenable? There are several options to consider:

Share the role. Perhaps you have sets of campaign chairs for each phase of the campaign: leadership phase, public phase 1, and public phase 2. During the leadership phase, you would want volunteers who are among your top campaign donors, who can create excitement and articulate the vision and campaign case in one-on-one meetings and small group settings.

Public phase 1, which would include the campaign kick-off, will call for a charismatic leader who can convey the campaign themes and goals to a larger group, and inspire a cadre of volunteers. Public phase 2 leaders are your clean-up batters. They could come in during the last two years to give a boost of energy to the effort. Ideally, they are emerging leaders for your organization and perhaps first-time major or principal gift donors. This is a great way to help develop leadership for future campaign efforts. One might consider an additional role a post-campaign chair as well. He or she might lead a cadre of volunteers who focus on stewarding gifts and telling the story of the campaign’s impact.

Chunk it down. With your volunteers, create six-month work plans that include financial goals for the period; standing meetings and other key events (cultivation dinners, key games/performances, etc.); a list of who they will be soliciting and when, and a check-in on their availability in the coming six- and 12-month segments. This will allow you and your volunteers to adjust to work or family demands. A key acquisition at work or the marriage of a child may need to take precedent for six months, but if you plan for it, both the organization and the volunteer can accomplish what needs to be done.

Have a back-up plan. Consider having an understudy for each role, just in case a chair needs to step down or pull back on her or his commitment. Likely, it is best if this is someone who is already involved with your campaign committee. Make the duty explicit, so that both the chair and the backup know the role. Does that mean this person has to come to everything the chair would come to? No, that would defeat the purpose. Perhaps you or the chair should personally brief them a little more regularly than you would other volunteers. This is a great way to cultivate a relationship and keep someone in the inner circle without demanding too much of them.

Campaigns are providing vital resources to our communities. They are often the difference between maintaining the status quo and driving forward the creation of new knowledge, services, and solutions. Engaged, performing, satisfied volunteer leaders contribute greatly to successful campaigns. Let’s be sure we are creating an environment for them to thrive and succeed.


This post was originally published by Constance French on LinkedIn Pulse. 

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