Campaign Cabinets: A Time for Leaders to Shine

 By Bob Serow, principal, RLS Consulting

The single most important element of fundraising success is leadership, and the campaign cabinet is where such leaders should shine. Laurence is fond of saying that a short definition of a campaign is “Leadership, leadership, leadership.” He says that because the core of a campaign is major gifts, and major gifts are driven by voluntary leadership. A campaign provides your organization with both the opportunity and the necessity to foster and build a strong leadership core for your campaign cabinet.

Our experience shows that, for successful campaign cabinet leadership, the following elements have to be in place:

·         Varied Membership. Cabinet leadership is usually a mix of current board members and non-board members including one top staff as well as corporate and community leaders. Board members are there to ensure synergy with the institution and to engage select current donors at the highest level of fundraising; non-board members are there to strengthen board member skills and to provide a litmus test for real community engagement. This is also an opportunity for the non-board members to be examined as eventual board members. Your cabinet members should be chosen carefully after wealth-vetting their capacity to give and after deep and long conversations with each of them about their role.  But candidates who are influencers and have large networks should also be considered. Consider a recent recruit to one of LAPA’s current campaigns. A small-town mayor and himself of modest wealth, his influence was instrumental in bringing a one-million-dollar state grant to that particular campaign.


·         Mission-Alignment. Alignment with the organization’s mission is crucial for the cabinet members.  No matter what the fundraising initiative, the leadership must understand and embrace the organization’s mission and the value which it brings to program participants and/or the community at large. This may seem obvious, but it’s not always the case. Ensuring the highest level of alignment makes all the difference. To determine mission alignment, query the candidates extensively before asking them to join, learn what they know about your cause, and determine their degree of passion for it.

·         Inspiring Case. The Case for Support must be compelling and convincing, and inspire cabinet members and their peers to action. They should want what the case calls for as much as anybody on the planet could possibly want it. Here is a sample case for your review. One board member used this case to bring in a $500,000 gift for the campaign from a family friend who had never donated to the organization previously.

·         Clearly Defined Expectations. A “roles and responsibilities” document must be in place.  This document defines the organization’s expectations for those serving on the cabinet.  It states the importance of cabinet members making significant gifts to the campaign and subsequently reaching out to their peers to solicit gifts. In general, a cabinet member is expected to contribute to campaign strategies and materials, and set the stage for securing the necessary number and size of initial lead gifts.

The campaign cabinet usually consists of about a dozen people. Once the cabinet is in place, the campaign can conduct its most intense phase and seek the largest major gifts usually comprising 60-80% of the campaign’s goal. The cabinet is guided by co-chairs who work closely with a professional fundraiser. Cabinet members meet in person with a donor prospect once a meeting is secured. They meet primarily to listen to the donor’s reaction to the case, which should be sent to them beforehand. Sometimes the meeting includes a solicitation, sometimes we just learn more about the donor’s reaction to the case. The professional fundraiser often attends these meetings along with someone from the organization.



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