July 22, 2014

The Role of Board Members in a Capital Campaign

Aside from their responsibilities for self-perpetuation, and the selection and oversight of administrative leadership, the two fundamental responsibilities of a not-for-profit governing board are to assure that their institution makes continued progress in the furtherance of its mission, and to guarantee the availability of the financial resources necessary to do so. Both of these latter charges come into sharp focus in relation to capital campaigns.

It is virtually impossible for a major fundraising drive to succeed without the leadership and support of the institution’s board. Beyond the obvious fact that these individuals are carefully selected for the strengths they can bring to the institution, it is they who are the most knowledgeable about it, and who approve the most important decisions pertaining to its ongoing welfare. All other constituents look to them for assurance that the institution is on the right course, and offer their own effort, financial support and emotional commitment in the faith that the board is performing its duties at the highest levels of civic responsibility.

Indeed, to serve as an elected member of the governing board is to act as the shareholder representative of the public, for the state invests in this group the authority to assure that the institution remains worthy of the not-for-profit status conferred upon it on behalf of the rest of the citizens of the state. Therefore, when it comes to capital campaigns, the public expects the board to make judicious decisions about how much money must be raised and how it will be used.

How can a board be certain of this? In fact, if the board retains control of the institutional strategic planning process, and participates fully and appropriately in that process, then its members can be confident that the institutional priorities have been carefully and thoughtfully developed. Moreover, they will understand the cost of these priorities, and the plan for funding them, utilizing a combination of accumulated assets, operating income, debt service, and philanthropy – in the form of a capital campaign.

If the board is fully engaged in the institutional planning process, reserving for itself the ultimate authority for approval and adoption, then it is indeed the board’s own plan for the future welfare of its institution. Clearly, the board will be committed to its successful execution.

And how can the public be certain of this? In addition to participating in the development of the institutional plan, and adopting it as their roadmap for the coming years, the members of the governing board demonstrate their own unanimous support and ownership by stepping forward before anyone else is even asked, pledging at 100% participation. Normally the board’s financial commitments represent a minimum of 20% of the campaign goal, and sometimes much more.

To no one’s surprise, a group of individuals that has already taken such important steps in the leadership of their institution usually plays a major role in securing the balance of the funds needed for the campaign to be successful.

There is no substitute for an informed, engaged and committed governing board.

Written by

Clyde Watkins

Clyde P. Watkins is Of Counsel at TWB Fundraising.


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