Role of the President/CEO’s in a Capital Campaign


By John A. Martin, CFRE 

Perhaps the greatest test of any President/Chief Executive Officer(CEO) is a capital campaign.  A standard job description for a President/CEO of a non-profit does not often list fund-raising as a first priority, and we can state definitively that we have yet to meet a CEO who would state they took the job solely to raise money.  But, during a campaign it will be the number one priority for the President/CEO.

Simply put, the success of this campaign rests on President/CEO’s ability to articulate mission/vision for the institution, and in particular the enhanced and expanded future in the community.

The decision has been made. You are going to do a capital campaign.  You’ve agreed on the purpose – a new building or addition, enhanced program funding, perhaps an endowment.  You’re getting the machinery in motion:  pre campaign planning, feasibility study, quiet phase, cornerstone gifts, public phase … the path lies before you. There’s just one marker that isn’t clear: What is the role of your President/CEO in the campaign? What can you ask the President/CEO to do? How much time can you ask for? Does your President/CEO have to actively participate for the campaign to succeed?

Before any campaign gets started, campaign staff and leaders need to sit down with the President/CEO and figure out how to maximize his or her role. Keep in mind that the role of the CEO will vary according to the sophistication of the organizations development office.  Some organizations will have one, while others will have a well-oiled operation. To start that conversation, here are Ten Things that a President/CEO should provide during a capital campaign

Articulate the Vision & Mission

The President/CEO must communicate with enthusiasm the vision for the institution and the institution’s mission.  This creates a positive climate for fund-raising.  This is the President/CEO’s job, first and foremost. A campaign is vision-connected and vision-driven. It is the way an organization gets to the next level. If the President/CEO begins to doubt the vision, or is not convincing, no amount of excellent campaign organization or materials can compensate. Constantly tie the campaign progress to the fulfillment of the organization’s vision, and provide regular opportunities for the President/CEO to convey the progress. The passion the CEO exhibits for the the campaign is the intangible that will make it work. Constituencies will see through a half-hearted commitment.

2. Lead Strategic Planning.

A fund-raising campaign is a logical extension of the planning process, but the President/CEO needs to articulate the need for a capital campaign and assist in building a compelling case statement.  The President must also build consensus around the priorities and ensure agreement on the solutions proposed in the case statement.

3. Allocate Time

President/CEO’s role in capital campaign is critical and their time must be used strategically.  Save your President/CEO for the most important calls, decisions, speeches and cultivation events. The President/CEO should expect to focus at least a third of his/her time in development and external relations.  During critical periods of a capital campaign it may be more.

Time is the most important commodity he or she provides throughout a campaign assignments include major gift solicitations, but extend to making thank-you phone calls, cultivating donors, speaking in the community, and being a steward to early supporters. In a smaller organization the CEO is more involved in the day to day operations, this carving out of time is essential and must be thoughtfully done. We need to be reminded that the President/CEO still has to run the organization.

4. Develop and Involve Trustees

The President/CEO has another key leadership role in the early planning for a campaign: to work with the board nominating committee in the identification, recruitment and enlistment of the strongest leadership possible. Many organizations enlist a separate group of volunteers to lead the campaign – a campaign cabinet. When organizations make this decision, the President/CEO has an even broader responsibility to build the bench: keeping both the board, in its governance capacity and the cabinet, in its fundraising capacity, inspired.

Trustees should be engaged in the development process.  After conferral with the President/CEO, the senior development officer should give them assignments, go with them on visits if necessary, and help to train them in the solicitation process.  There should be a carefully thought out matching of specific donors with specific trustees. The President/CEO needs to not only make sure this happens but encourage and thanks the trustees for their involvement in this important task.

5. Budget support

The old adage, “it costs money to raise money’, applies. Early in the capital campaign planning, the staff needs to engage the President/CEO in understanding what is required to support a campaign. Determine the budget that will be needed for additional staffing, campaign consulting, a planning or feasibility study, donor cultivation activities, and the general costs of running a campaign.

President/CEO initially needs to understand the rationale for investing in additional staffing and be aware of the costs of cultivation and stewardship.

6. Regular communication

Campaigns require a commitment to communication: from the President/CEO to the campaign office regarding important accomplishments or decisions; from the development office to the President/CEO regarding the campaign and to the community on the progress of the campaign.

Campaigns have great highs and lows. Organizations can go from elation to despair in a very short period of time: a donor reneges on a pledge, a foundation turns down a request that seemed a sure thing, a campaign leader has a personal or professional crisis and resigns.

At the same time, the President/CEO is dealing with the ongoing business of the organization. The President/CEO’s office may be removed from the command center of the campaign, and yet it is the President/CEO who is accountable for the campaign’s success. Keep in touch.

7. Build Relationships and Stewardship of Donors

A President/CEO should be engaged in external community relations for the purpose of identifying and cultivating major prospects.  The objective is to move prospects along a continuum of commitment:  identification, introduction, cultivation, involvement, solicitation, appreciation, and ownership.

This obviously does not just happen during a campaign. A good CEO is constantly relating to all stakeholder groups and the community at large so when the campaign begins, these relationships have already been built.

In a campaign to restore a beloved church in a very poor neighborhood, the President/CEO – a Catholic priest – made a huge difference by becoming an active steward to early donors to the campaign. Every day he was provided with a different call list that he completed – chatting with two or three donors, telling them about the progress of the building program, and letting them know how deeply appreciated their gifts were. When the building costs escalated due to previously undetected seismic damage, many of these early donors stepped up and made additional gifts. Throughout any campaign, the President/CEO’s appreciation of donors is essential.

8. Gain confidence with the asking process

I have seen President/CEOs grow from shy and reluctant to outgoing and eager – with commensurate results. What did it take? Practice. Asking for a campaign gift does not come naturally, it is learned skill. Inexperienced President/CEOs need coaching in the asking process.  Teaming, with experienced board or staff members, and starting with a few relatively easy solicitations may be helpful learning tools. Sometimes development officers are understandably reluctant to criticize the President/CEO during coaching or after actual meetings. If you have a campaign consultant, use him or her for this kind of feedback. The level of authority is respected, and the development officer avoids a potentially difficult situation.

9. Be willing to hear the bad news—and address it

Too many President/CEOs simply refuse to believe things aren’t going well with a campaign. Warning flags and cautionary meetings are viewed as the whining of an alarmist development officer or consultant.

Bad news should always be accompanied by a plan for redressing the situation, including what role you expect the President/CEO to play: visiting the foundation with you to restore the withdrawn commitment, engaging the donor and her family in a discussion about how the gift might be made over time, or whatever solution is needed to get your campaign back on track.

10. Be a partner as well as a leader

It is a great sign of President/CEO engagement when prospects and ideas start flowing from the administrative office to the campaign. The President/CEO, who has greater community exposure than the development officer or campaign director, is in touch with many more people and constituencies with potential for helping your campaign. You will increase your base of prospects – and your success – when your President/CEO becomes both leader and partner for your campaign. No one ever said a capital campaign was easy to implement successfully. It takes a combination of a compelling case, identified and engaged prospects, good management, and strong leadership. For that last attribute, nothing ensures success as well as an involved President/CEO

11. A stretch gift during the leadership phase

Practice what you preach. That’s right, make a stretch gift. The President/CEO has a responsibility to make their investment in the campaign that sets a standard for others. The President/CEO’s name has to be on the list of leadership donors. Also the President/CEO should ask the entire management team to make a stretch gift, and as the campaign unfolds, set a goal of full employee participation in your campaign. But it starts with the President/CEO.

About the author…

John Martin has more than 30 years experience in the non-profit field, on both the organizational and consulting sides. Through his consulting work with clients seeking counsel for major capital and endowment campaigns, Mr. Martin has earned a reputation as one of North America’s top strategists for the non-profit sector. His brash mix of social concern and aggressive business smarts has helped raised hundreds of millions of dollars for colleges, hospitals, human service institutions and arts and cultural groups throughout North America. John Martin was awarded the Association of Fundraising Professionals, MN Chapter’s Outstanding Professionals Award in 2007. He can be reached via email:

MGI is a full service fund-raising and communications consulting firm operating across North America.  We consult throughout the United States and Canada for a wide range of not-for-profit clients:

  • Hospitals and Health Care Institutions
  • Social Service Institutions
  • Private Schools, Colleges, Universities and Post-Graduate Schools
  • Cultural and Arts Institutions
  • Churches, Synagogues and Religious Institutions

The experience and resources of the firm have been used by a variety of clients from well-established national non-profit institutions looking to prepare themselves for the 21st century to first time start-up capital campaigns.

For more information about planned giving and planned giving consultancy, please contact John at: or call our Toll Free Number: 1-800-387-9840.

Publisher: John A. Martin, CFRE
Editor: Pamela Capriotti, CFRE
Associate Editor: Madison E. Martin

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About the Author
John Martin has more than 30 years experience in the not-for profit field, on both the organizational and consulting sides. Through his consulting work with clients seeking counsel for major capital and endowment campaigns, Mr. Martin has earned a reputation as one of North America's top strategists for the not-for-profit sector. His brash mix of social concern and aggressive business smarts has helped raised hundreds of millions of dollars for colleges, hospitals, human service organizations and arts and cultural groups throughout North America. John Martin was chosen the 2007 Professional Fund Raiser. He can be reached via email: