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News You Can Use

News You Can Use
Issue 125/May 2013

Building Blocks to a Successful Campaign Steering Committee 

Mary Ellen Clark

By Mary Ellen Clark
Senior Vice President

The Feasibility Study is completed and your Board has voted to move forward with a capital campaign. Some around the boardroom have a skeptical look on their faces; others are excited, ready to roll up their sleeves and get started. Everyone realizes that the organization has need, but they also wonder how much of this gargantuan task is going to depend on them. Will they be required to ask for gifts? Will they have to ask their friends for money?

For a capital campaign to be successful, it will need the support of not only Board leadership but other leaders within the community as well. These campaigns need a volunteer group who is passionate about the organization, its mission and its values. In many cases, more depends upon who asks for money than the amount asked. The top-level leaders that will be telling the story and soliciting gifts must be able to identify with and be involved with the campaign for such an effort to succeed.

Like building blocks in a child’s playroom, where each block has to be placed carefully on top of the other in order to build the tower, building a strong Steering Committee requires that activities build one on another:

  • Active Board members. Board members and executive directors are the pillars of an organization. No matter how slick the print pieces and brochures look and no matter how long an organization has been operating, without an active Board and a strong leader who is qualified, volunteers will not follow.
  • Built with careful planning. Good Steering Committees are not started overnight. Identification of interested and supportive community volunteers begins during the Feasibility Study. They are cultivated and recruited for their campaign experiences, the organization’s specific needs, connections in the community and their support of your organization’s plans.
  • Community Assets. Nonprofit leaders and Board members must be highly visible in their community. Attracting and retaining strong committee members can be a simpler process when you see them on a regular basis at association meetings and community events.
  • Determined. Steering Committees must be able to withstand turbulence. Campaigns go through periods where gifts are slow to close and volunteers become apathetic. It requires a strong motivator, leader, cheerleader and occasionally, a good sense of humor to stay the course and complete the work of the committee.
  • Enjoy!  Be certain that your Steering Committee celebrates. Celebrate finalizing your Committee, your first major gift, the completion of the Inner Family phase and your final gift. Small goals, baby steps and building blocks finish the “tower”.

To further discuss how your organization can build a strong Steering Committee, contact me directly through Jeffrey Byrne + Associates, Inc. at  

Your Volunteer Database is an Important Tool

Sandi Grimm

By Sandi Grimm
Director of Operations 

If your constituent database is a spreadsheet or a Big Chief tablet – you need to pull yourself into the 21st Century and become more informed about the helpful databases and relationship management software available to nonprofit organizations.

Your organization has several important types of relationships – and partnerships with your volunteers are definitely one of them. Volunteers include your Board, committees or other individuals who are currently working in the office or on a project (or who have previously done so) to help your organization meet its mission.

There are many tracking systems available. What types of information do you want to store? What types of reports will you need to generate? Do you want volunteers to be able to provide their information (such as contact data, availability, preferences and interests) to your organization over the internet? Explore “volunteer database” or “constituent database” on your favorite search engine. Do some comparison shopping. Many systems have a free trial download available. Sample a few to understand what is out there and how they work. You need to choose a structure that those utilizing the program – whether paid staff or volunteers – can understand and operate.

Before you go shopping for a database, make sure you establish a budget: have a frame of reference for what you can afford to spend. Before you sign a contract, make sure your organization can pay the bill, both now and in the future. Be aware of the extras you might need to support the new database: new computers and printers; network upgrades; technical assistance to move your existing data to the new system; extra end-user training; help setting up the system and developing new reports and user manuals; and perhaps even new staff to manage the system. 

In addition to price, items on your research checklist should include the following:

  • Is this a cloud-based system, or software to install on a computer?
  • How safe is the data stored in the system? Is there backup storage and an archiving process?
  • Is a contract required?
  • Are there hidden fees, such as for installation and/or importing your existing data?
  • Is technical support provided as part of the service? Or does it cost extra every time you need help?
  • What type of training is available? Online tutorials? Or real human beings who can answer questions?
  • Are there maintenance fees?
  • How many users can access the program at the same time? Is there a charge per user or license?

If you are considering accepting a donation (whether of software or services), do so only if it fits your selection criteria. And remember that “free” software also has costs. Keep in mind that the right vendor will keep up with evolving technologies and provide good training and support. Reference checks will help you assess the vendor’s track record.

It’s great to be able to track every detail about everyone involved with your organization, but will your staff have time to use those extra features? With some systems, you may be able to start small and buy additional modules as needed.

If you are having problems getting accurate reports, are the challenges really caused by the database? Or are they caused by sloppy data entry, poor training or improper report-building? Remember, new software will not solve problems with undertrained staff, ineffective communication, broken business processes or poor management. Be aware of “people” problems masquerading as technology issues.

Bottom line: don’t buy a Mercedes if you only need (or can afford to maintain) a Chevy. Take the time to find the database that’s best for your organization.

To discuss how databases can help strengthen relationships with your organization, contact me directly through Jeffrey Byrne + Associates, Inc. at

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