Home | Contact Us
Contributions Magazine Emerson and Church, Publishers
ABOUT CONTRIBUTIONS | HOME | how-to library | Contact Us
Enter Bookstore

Contributions Magazine

To subscribe, click the button below and complete the information requested. Six times yearly, you will receive an email with your link to the current issue.


Who Offers What




enter bookstore

browse catalog

New Books

fundraising books


Save up to 45%
on bulk purchases


How-to Library • Featuring articles from past issues of Contributions

The CEO’s Role In a Capital Campaign

By Kay Sprinkel Grace

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:  feasibility study, quiet phase, leadership gifts, public phase … the path lies before you. There’s just one signpost that isn’t clear: What is the role of your CEO in the campaign? What can you ask the CEO to do? How much time can you ask for? Does your CEO have to actively participate for the campaign to succeed?

of related interest

OF RELATED INTEREST: In The Ultimate Board Member’s Book, Kay Sprinkel Grace explores the role and responsibilities of board members, including the time commitment, the role of staff, fundraising responsibilities, conflicts of interest, group decision-making, board self-evaluation, and more.

Before any campaign gets started, campaign staff and leaders need to sit down with the CEO and figure out how to maximize his or her role. To start that conversation, here are Ten Things that a CEO should provide during a capital campaign

A stretch gift during the leadership phase.

That’s right, a stretch gift. The CEO has a responsibility to make an investment in the campaign that sets a standard for other staff. It does not have to be large, just a stretch. The CEO’s name has to be on the list of leadership donors. Too, the 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 CEO.


While the CEO’s gift is critical at the outset of the campaign, time is the most important commodity he or she provides throughout a campaign. Some organizations set a percentage of 35 to 50 percent of the CEO’s time – particularly at the beginning of the campaign and at the end.
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.

At one university, the President relinquished his teaching and administrative duties for one academic quarter during the height of the campaign to make calls on donors. In an arts organization, a CEO delegated his duties to another administrator for a full year because of a failing campaign. He made countless personal visits, and the campaign succeeded.

However,  the CEO (unless she decides to follow the lead of the CEOs just mentioned) still has to run the organization. The development office, in structuring the CEO’s role, must be careful not to over-assign. Save your CEO for the most important calls, decisions, speeches and cultivation events.   

Strong bench infrastructure.

The CEO has another key leadership role in the early planning for a campaign: to work with the board development (nominating) committee in the identification, recruitment and enlistment of the strongest leadership possible. In some organizations a separate group is enlisted to lead the campaign – a campaign steering committee or campaign cabinet. When organizations make this decision, the 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.

Budget support.

Early in the campaign planning, the staff needs to engage the CEO in understanding what is required to support a campaign. Determine the budget that will be needed for additional staffing, campaign consulting, a market assessment or feasibility study, donor development activities, and the general costs of running a campaign. Cutting corners with your budget slows or sabotages your success.

CEOs initially may not understand the rationale for additional staffing or be aware of the costs of cultivation and stewardship. Because the CEO must be your advocate with the board, you may have to do some education before the budget is reviewed.

Regular communication.

Campaigns require a commitment to communication: from the CEO to the campaign office regarding important accomplishments or decisions; from the development office to the CEO regarding the campaign.

Campaigns have great highs and lows. Organizations can go from elation to despair in a very short while: 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 CEO is dealing with the ongoing business of the organization. The CEO’s office may be removed from the command center of the campaign, and yet it is the CEO who is accountable for the campaign’s success.  Keep in touch.

Stewardship outreach to campaign donors.

In a campaign to restore a beloved church in a very poor neighborhood, the 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 CEO’s appreciation of donors is essential.

Keeping the vision.

This is the 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 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 CEO to convey the progress.

Gain confidence with the asking process.

I have seen CEOs grow from shy and reluctant to outgoing and eager – with commensurate results. What did it take? Practice. Inexperienced (or out of practice) CEOs need coaching in the asking process, to be teamed with experienced board or staff members, and given a few relatively easy solicitations to start with. Sometimes development officers are understandably reluctant to criticize the 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.

Be willing to hear the bad news.

Too many CEOs simply refuse to believe that things aren’t going well with a campaign. Warning flags and cautionary meetings are viewed as the utterings 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 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.

Be a partner as well as a leader.

It is a great sign of CEO engagement when prospects and ideas start flowing from the administrative office to the development office. The 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 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 CEO.

Kay Sprinkel Grace is the author of the Ultimate Board Member's Book, Fundraising Mistakes that Bedevil All Boards and Over Goal! What You Must Know to Excel at Fundraising Today, all of which may be ordered from Emerson & Church, Publishers. Kay is a prolific writer, creative thinker, inspiring speaker, and reflective practitioner. Her passion for philanthropy and its capacity to transform donors, organizations, and communities is well-known in the U.S. and internationally. Kay lives in San Francisco and is an enthusiastic photographer, traveler, hiker, and creative writer. When not writing, speaking, or consulting, you can find her with her children and grandchildren who live in San Francisco, upstate New York, and France.

How-to Library Index