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News & Press: Member Insights

Beyond the Board: The Role of the Leadership Council

Wednesday, September 24, 2014  
By Ann Hagan-Michel, Marketing and Development Associate, Global Advancement, LLC

Any non-profit organization planning to conduct a well-organized fundraising effort requires guidance and assistance from a group of dedicated individuals willing to serve in leadership roles. At the heart of all non-profit organizations is its board of directors. These are the people who provide invaluable leadership and governance. Board members are directed by bylaws. They work closely with staff and in many cases, other volunteers, to provide oversight of a nonprofit’s daily operation. They have fiduciary responsibility. They sometimes have to make tough decisions. They cast votes. It is a big commitment to serve on a non-profit board.

We all have worked with dedicated and generous individuals who sit on boards because they believe they have something to offer that will contribute to fulfilling the mission of the organization. They can be very passionate about the work at hand and come from all walks of life – business leaders, their spouses, community volunteers, subject-matter experts, and retirees – just to name a few. A lot of good work is done, and a considerable amount of money is raised around the country each and every day, thanks to the tireless work of non-profit board members. God bless ‘em.

But in the world of fundraising campaigns, be it a capital or comprehensive campaign, there can be a very effective second layer of non-profit leadership focused solely on cultivating new supporters and reaching the campaign goal. This group is free from the regular responsibilities of board membership. There are no bylaws or term limits, meeting time is kept to a minimum and the oversight of daily operations is left to others. It’s called the Campaign Leadership Council.

Members of this focused group serve as visible advocates of the non-profit by effectively articulating the goals of the fundraising initiative to potential donors and supporters. The role of the Leadership Council member is to provide guidance and assistance in the identification, cultivation and possible solicitation of funding prospects and partners. Council involvement, with limited, but high-quality time, is imperative if development goals are to be reached in a timely manner. Membership typically includes a number of individuals from the organization’s board of directors, but possibly even more importantly, it also includes additional respected thought leaders from outside the organization. These are individuals who are passionate about the mission, have influence on or access to wealth, and are willing to serve on a voluntary basis outside of serving as a full board member. It is a recipe for fundraising success made in heaven.

The make-up of a Leadership Council looks something like this:
  • prominent, well-respected, forward-thinking people who are recognized as leaders in a community, state or nationally;
  • dedicated individuals who can provide guidance and assistance;
  • highly visible advocates of the non-profit; and
  • individuals willing to play an integral role in the organization’s development efforts.
Working with a non-profit’s board, staff, and volunteers, the Leadership Council provides a second, critical layer of fundraising leadership in the following ways:
  • they serve as a visible, positive supporter of the organization’s development efforts;
  • they participate in biannual Leadership Council meetings;
  • they help to identify potential supporters (Corporate, Government, Foundation or Individual) who have an interest in the future of the non-profit;
  • they sign letters to previously identified donor prospects requesting support as needed;
  • they make limited visits to potential donors with other Leadership Council or board members, or the non-profit president or executive director;
  • they open doors and approach peers for support; and
  • personally make a gift or pledge considered significant by the individual.

Without question, the heart and soul of any non-profit is its board, staff and volunteers. They do the daily work and have the vision that a Case for Support is built around. But, when a fundraising campaign is launched, assembling a thoughtful Leadership Council provides critical additional support to the fundraising effort. The net is cast wider and the base of support grows stronger.

A client Leadership Council meeting at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

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