Karin CoxBy Karin Cox, MFA, President, Kinetic

When it comes to leadership, capital campaign cabinets are no different than any other effort: The right leaders make all the difference. Unfortunately, so do the wrong ones.

When campaign cabinet volunteer leadership is working in the right way, your nonprofit and mission is elevated, and other donors are eager to join the effort. Individuals, foundations and corporations are inspired, encouraged and influenced to be a part of an extraordinary effort that will fulfill the nonprofit’s mission and change lives.

We know this, but people are busy, and no one needs one more activity to fill the time—especially individuals who are successful, influential and highly effective.


The answer: with enthusiasm, intention and confidence.

At the 4th annual Power of Philanthropy Summit sponsored by Kinetic and University of Missouri Kansas City Bloch Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership on January 26, 2024, Una Osili, Ph.D., Professor of Economics and Associate Dean for Research and International Programs with the Lilly School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, presented research from the study: What Americans Think of Philanthropy and Nonprofits. Here’s a takeaway: Donors are more accustomed to giving time, talent and treasure (three of the five philanthropic T’s). But ties and testimony—sharing leads and lending one’s name—are just as valuable, since they open doors for identifying new, prospective donors. It can also go a long way in building another “T” of value: trust. Nonprofits should ask for all five T’s.

Identify the Dream Team

Ideal campaign cabinet members are influential, committed and PASSIONATE ABOUT THE NONPROFIT’S MISSION. They are respected and busy people who make things happen, which is exactly why you need them.

Don’t start with a list of all the reasons you can’t get them on your team. Instead, spend time developing a list of your Dream Team—individuals who are powerful, passionate and philanthropic. Who do you need to advance your campaign? Who would be ideal? Consider:

  • What have they accomplished?
  • How are they connected? What circles of influence do they have?
  • Are they respected?
  • Are they busy and in demand? If so, they are likely candidates.
  • Do they care about your mission? If they need to know more to care as much as you need them to, make a plan to increase their level of care.

Start with a top-notch list of individuals with influence and affluence who are creative and connected. After you’ve engaged them, you can ask them to suggest other members who are equally generous and collaborative.

Too often, nonprofits “say no” for the people they need even before they’re asked. Instead, give individuals an opportunity to say yes … to serve, make an impact and change lives.

Develop Recruitment Strategy

Like major gift donors, every highly effective campaign cabinet volunteer is unique. Each person you identify is unique:  personal power, set of skills and circle of influence that can advance your effort. Strategize about why this person, in particular, would agree to lead this effort. If you don’t know, ask individuals what motivates them to serve. Some reasons might be to:

  • Give back.
  • Change lives.
  • Leave a legacy
  • Pay it forward.
  • Right wrongs.

Quality members want to hear clear expectations upfront; true leaders love a high bar. Develop a strategy for recruitment of campaign cabinet members that includes giving them confidence that you will support them, and the organization’s campaign will succeed under their leadership. Let them know:

  • The campaign goals are clearly defined.
  • There is a campaign and volunteer commitment timeline.
  • Every meeting will begin and end on time, and will have an agenda that is followed.
  • Benchmarks will be set and accomplished in a timely fashion.
  • They will have the support of the nonprofit organization’s staff, and they will be supported and prepared for the role.

Have a clear CAMPAIGN CABINET JOB DESCRIPTION that includes the following:

  • Be a vocal advocate for the organization and the goals of the campaign.
  • Make a meaningful gift.
  • Identify donor prospects.
  • Build and strengthen relationships.
  • Solicit gifts as appropriate.
  • Appreciate and celebrate philanthropy.
  • Allow your name and reputation to elevate the organization.
  • Take ownership in the success of the campaign.

Personalize the strategy based on the person you will recruit. Some prospective volunteer leaders already know you well. Even if they do, resist asking them to serve in an email or text. Give the recruitment process the time and attention it deserves. Some recruitment strategies may include:

  • Taking on a tour.
  • Having lunch or dinner.
  • Meeting for coffee.
  • Meeting at the person’s office.

Prepare and Execute the Plan

Don’t soft sell. Make your expectations known. Most plans for volunteer leadership fail because the expectations weren’t identified from the start. Some expectations may include:

  • Understand the job as fundraising leaders.
  • Enthusiastically participate in the fundraising process.
  • Take responsibility for the future of the organization.
  • Share your time, talent, treasure, ties and testimony.
  • Feel confident and courageous.

Prepare yourself and your team to recruit the right person. Rehearse your strategy. Who will speak first, and what will be said? Who will respond to questions about programming, the campaign or the new building?

Recruitment Checklist:

  1. Who is the best team member to recruit and ask a prospective cabinet member to join?
  2. What is your own commitment to the organization?
  3. Have I or a staff member made an appointment to talk to the prospective campaign cabinet member about this person’s involvement?
  4. Do I know the organization’s case for support?
  5. Do I or a staff member know the questions asked previously by this person?
  6. Have we rehearsed the recruitment strategy?

When you are ready, recruit with confidence. Campaign cabinet leadership changes lives—and not just those served by the organization.

Welcome and Educate

Your campaign cabinet members have said yes and are ready to go. Now, make sure they are engaged and impactful.

First, make sure they feel appreciated and welcome. Even though they may have served on other campaign cabinets, it helps to start with “Fundraising 101.” Let them know what fundraising is, and what it isn’t. It isn’t a “numbers game.” We don’t want to ask a lot of people for money and hope one will say yes.

Especially at the highest levels:

  • Fundraising is not about money.
  • Fundraising is not begging.
  • Fundraising is the thing you can do that will have the greatest impact.
  • Fundraising requires courage and confidence.
  • Fundraising is not about you. It’s about those your organization serves.
  • Fundraising is noble and selfless.
  • Fundraising requires leadership.

They’ve received the case statement, but what does it all mean? Why is the new building needed? What is the purpose for the endowment? What, specifically, will change when the campaign is successful? Make sure campaign cabinet members understand the campaign and its goals. Take them on another tour of your facility, if possible. Have them meet a successful client or a program officer. Make sure they understand your mission and, especially, your impact. Give them images, numbers and stories to share with others.

Campaign cabinet education is ongoing. It doesn’t just happen at the beginning of a campaign. For those who don’t work in the fundraising field, it’s easy for them to default to thinking that fundraising is about asking for money. Let them know that the most effective steps they can take are:

  • Talking with associates and friends about the extraordinary goals of the nonprofit.
  • Sharing stories and positive experiences about the nonprofit’s impact.
  • Influencing people and sharing the vision.
  • Making someone’s day/life better by involving them in something that changes lives.
  • Connecting with people, again and again.

Lead the Confidence

Understand that while you have recruited and engaged a campaign cabinet, the leader you were looking for all along was you.

Lead the leaders to success. Continue to cultivate relationships to ensure volunteer leaders feel effective and valued and are having the impact they set out to have. This can involve:

  • Setting meetings with them.
  • Asking them questions, listening and learning.
  • Reinforcing why you need them.
  • Giving them specific tasks.
  • Setting next steps with prospective donors.
  • Following up.

If campaign cabinet members aren’t engaged, look in the mirror. HELP LEADERS BE SUCCESSFUL. When campaign cabinet members are successful, everyone wins.

Appreciate and Celebrate

Campaign cabinet members are, no doubt, giving their time, treasure, talent and ties for selfless reasons. But that doesn’t mean they don’t like to be appreciated. We’re human. That means we love to be appreciated.

Don’t just say thank you: Genuinely appreciate the attention, energy, time, effort, creativity, adaptability or anything else that went into building success for your campaign.

Taking the time to celebrate the small successes and big milestones brings your campaign cabinet together for a common cause. People who are driven by accountability and success love to win. Develop appropriate strategies, small or big, to celebrate along the way. Celebrate wins such as:

  • A successful gift commitment.
  • A successful, significant ask.
  • Meeting a campaign benchmark.
  • The first gift from a foundation.
  • Purchasing land.
  • Breaking ground.
  • A grand opening.

Remind individual campaign cabinet members of their commitment. Say something personal like, “You were one of the first people who really understood how important this project would be, and you were the first to support it with a significant gift. You got this started!” This lets individuals know that you see them and haven’t forgotten the roles they have played. Don’t let them doubt it. Remind them.

Communication is essential to genuine appreciation. Use a variety of means and methods for connecting with campaign cabinet members.  Use high-tech, low-tech and no-tech approaches. Sometimes, a “thumbs-up” across a room lets someone know you see the effort and understand the role they are playing in the organization’s success.

While the act of appreciation can be a small thing, appreciation itself is not small; it is about strengthening partners. When we see, appreciate and acknowledge the work that is being accomplished, we build and strengthen authentic, empathetic relationships that will impact lives for generations.

RECOGNIZE. THANK. APPRECIATE. Show campaign cabinet members what has happened as a result of their investment.  Appreciating and communicating genuine gratitude to volunteer leaders is the surest way to build a lifetime investment.

Campaign Cabinet Members Unleash Your Power of Philanthropy

Don’t rush to fill this important position with someone who merely has a lot of discretionary time. Engagement and involvement start with recruitment. Involvement leads to investment. Investment means your mission is fulfilled.

Volunteer leadership plays a critical role in unleashing your power of philanthropy™. This means maximizing the impact of your unique donors, volunteers and nonprofit professionals. The role of the volunteer campaign leaders cannot be understated. People need each other. Nonprofits need curious, committed volunteer leaders who genuinely care about the organiztion. And highly successful people need to be steered, so their energy, efforts and resources can be useful, impactful and effective. When campaign cabinet members are engaged at the highest levels, lives are changed.