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Empowering Volunteer Leaders for Campaign Success

Campaigns are won and lost on leadership. No other single factor impacts a campaign’s outcome. Gone are the days that a cowboy gift officer or a dedicated philanthropy director could successfully campaign alone. Instead, campaigns are about aligning the organization's top strategic priorities with donors' top philanthropic priorities. Because campaigns involve and impact the community on such a deep and personal level, leadership from the community is critical, acting as an invaluable endorsement. Yet, we often allow our leaders to dictate their own level of engagement in the campaign process, resulting in unclear and inconsistent leadership as well as frustration and demotivation among other volunteers.

It is time to shift our focus from being solely donor-centered to recognizing the crucial role of volunteer leadership in campaigns and prioritizing their needs.


When faced with leadership obstacles, it is important to remember a universal truth: Everyone wants to do a good job. Community leaders volunteer and dedicate their time with the intention of making a positive impact. Yet, they may not know how to proceed or may be intimidated to ask what to do next. As philanthropy and relationship cultivation leaders, it's our responsibility to not only recruit, onboard, solicit and thank volunteers, but also to engage them in a meaningful way. With thoughtful planning, active listening and engagement, your volunteers can be empowered to lead exceptional campaigns with joy.

Keep reading to learn about the typical obstacles and challenges organizations encounter when building their campaign leadership, as well as effective tools and strategies to overcome them.

Obstacles and Challenges:

  • Volunteer leaders often don't understand how philanthropy works or think their only job is to introduce the organization to friends and ask for donations right away.

  • They may be exceptional in their field; however, they lack experience and are not comfortable asking for help or stepping forward with questions.

  • They may have never personally experienced philanthropy and the power and joy that comes from it.

  • They may object to the word "philanthropist" and feel like it's only for millionaires, billionaires and the “rich.”

  • Busy schedules may hinder active participation from volunteer leaders.

  • They may not value philanthropy, considering it too small and insignificant.

  • They may believe that philanthropy is unnecessary since the hospital charges fees that should cover all expenses.

  • Gift officers may not see opportunities beyond the CEO for partnership. They should evaluate internal volunteers who can be an ally or partner within clinicians and administrators.

  • The organizational culture may not prioritize volunteers, leading to cumbersome paperwork and limited accessibility, even for board members.

  • The organization may have a limited budget for support such as education, celebrations and general operating that any successful program needs to thrive.


Tools and Strategies:

  • Share community impact to inspire volunteer leader participation; often, in-person testimonials can be the most meaningful.

  • Express gratitude for their work and allow them to witness gratitude from donors.

  • Evaluate trust-building exercises. Often HR has a host of team exercises and can advise you as a philanthropy leader on how best to employ a proven engagement exercise without cost.

  • Discover their starting point, where they are currently and how they want to grow.

  • Ask about their most meaningful volunteer experience and then mirror it.

  • Highlight the importance of alignment and how to work together to create impact in the community.

  • Schedule and share hospital and impact tours.

  • Involve the CEO, include them as an insider and allow the CEO's vision to inspire.

  • Leverage peer relationships. If the volunteer leader is motivated socially, doing tasks together can lead to more productivity and joy.


It is time to shift our focus from being solely donor-centered to recognizing the crucial role of volunteer leadership in campaigns and prioritizing their needs. To achieve this goal, it is essential to understand the current status of the situation. Here are some key questions to consider:


  • Where is the volunteer in their journey? Are they fulfilled, unhappy or bored?

  • What is their desired state? Where do they want to be?

  • What are their motivators and detractors?

  • How can we as the organization help meet their needs?

  • How can we be better aligned?

  • How can we celebrate the partnership in a meaningful way?


By engaging volunteers thoughtfully and addressing their needs, organizations can overcome obstacles and build dynamic campaign leadership. By integrating these tools and strategies into your organizational culture, volunteer leaders can be empowered to drive exceptional campaigns and make a lasting impact on our communities.



Use the Tapping into Hidden Leadership Potential in a Campaign worksheet in the following PDF to evaluate the obstacle, level of engagement, next steps and hidden leadership potential for each of your campaign volunteers.

Accordant Perspectives_Empower Volunteer Leaders
Download PDF • 357KB

About the Authors:

Heather Wiley Starankovic, CFRE, CAP, is a Principal Consultant with Accordant, with a dedication to supporting staff members and creating programs that keep talented and dedicated servant leaders within the field. She can be reached at or through LinkedIn.

John F. Donovan, CFRE, is a Principal Consultant with Accordant. He specializes in campaign strategies and implementation. John can be reached by email at or through LinkedIn.


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The Accordant Team has published a number of books to advance the efforts of health care philanthropy and help development leaders everywhere. 

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Accordant is honored to collaborate with American Hospital Association Trustee Services to provide issue papers, templates and webinars to support the involvement of healthcare trustees and foundation board members in advancing philanthropy. These resources can also be found on the AHA Trustee website.

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