When you’re fundraising, you know how important it is to line up the right people for the right ask for the right amount at the right time. But what happens when all your ‘rights’ turn out to be ‘wrongs?’

A nonprofit fundraising project can be a catalyst for change for a cause, and often the change affects the structure of the Board of Directors. I was directing the capital campaign for an organization and discovered that two women who were aligned with the campaign were vying for the top position in the cause’s Board of Directors.

Nonprofit Fundraising Magnifies Competition

Both women were very influential, very high-powered, and very competitive business women with national profiles. It turned out that they were competitive not only in the business world but with each other.  I was advised to avoid putting them in the same room together, as it seemed the collision might cause Armageddon. I was warned…

Nonprofit fundraising Very soon, however, it became clear that keeping a buffer zone in place was going to be difficult. When one of the women accepted the role as the capital campaign’s chair person, the other stepped forward to head up the campaign sub-committee. Orchestrating careful timing of meetings and campaign reporting was clearly going to be a top priority to keep the campaign on track. Visions of campaign meetings taking place in a mixed martial arts Octagon occupied my waking hours.

As we were gearing up for the first meeting of the campaign sub-committee, I received a call from the campaign chair. She felt it was important that she be involved in the first meeting, and after some hard thinking on her role as campaign leader, wanted to personally announce her campaign contribution of $250,000 and invite the sub-committee members to contribute to the campaign. I thanked her for her leadership, hung up the phone, and hit the panic button.

The Balance of One Meeting

Nonprofit fundraisingSuddenly, the success of the entire campaign hung precariously in the balance of one meeting. With that one phone call, the chair had positioned herself for a coup. What a savvy move to solidify her position as a leader and subtly undermine the sub-committee chair in one fell swoop! What could I do to keep the upcoming meeting from devolving into a knock-em-down and drag-em-out fight?  Would one of the campaign leaders leave the cause in ignominious shame? If the campaign was going to be successful and the cause survive, both of the women were needed. It just wouldn’t do to have the campaign split into factions while its leaders pounded on one another!

After some deep deliberation, I called the sub-committee chair just to give her a heads up that she might be asked for the amount of her commitment to the campaign. To keep her in the loop, I filled her in on the Chair’s plan to announce her gift. After all, it really wouldn’t do to have the sub-committee chair blindsided by a seemingly impromptu pledge.

Holding My Breath

Nonprofit fundraisingThe day of the meeting arrived. When the campaign chair and the sub-committee leader positioned themselves directly opposite of each other across the table, oh how I wished we were sitting at King Arthur’s round table! I knew this was either going to go very well or end in a fiery disaster of epic proportions. It was a complete coin-toss.

The Chair welcomed everyone to the first subcommittee meeting and launched into an impassioned call for support. She was magnificent, emphasizing how everyone’s contribution to the campaign was important and how that personal commitment to the campaign inspired others to make their gifts when asked. Heads were nodding around the table as the sub-committee members listened. I caught the eye of the sub-committee chair who gave me a quick wink. Something was up…

Just as the campaign chair was about to announce her gift, the sub-committee chair smoothly stood up and agreed on how important it was to commit to the campaign before asking for others support. She shared that she was so inspired by the work the cause was doing that she was humbled to join the campaign by making her gift of $275,000.

Nonprofit fundraising

Now you know that timing is everything, and the sub-committee chair had just executed a masterful move. She had out-stripped the gift the campaign chair had planned to announce and raised the bar for leadership! I marveled in awe. Not to be outdone, the campaign chair followed the pledge by announcing her own gift for an amount just a bit higher! I breathed a sigh of relief and said a little silent prayer of thanks. Today’s meeting would not end by mopping up blood. Quite the contrary, we had raised more than half a million dollars in less than half an hour!

The Good News

Nonprofit fundraisingThis little face-off had long-reaching effects. The other sub-committee members pledged their gifts at a higher level than they had originally planned. In fact, one participant told me that her family had thought their pledge would be around $50,000-$75,000 but the two chairs inspired her to stretch to give $150,000.  The sub-committee in the end committed to approximately $1.2 million toward the campaign goal of $3 million. Within three months, the committee members had raised another $1 million, even though the campaign had not yet been announced.

When All Your “Wrongs” Are “Right”

Sometimes putting the wrong people together can be the right thing to do. With some careful management you can moderate challenges, encourage people to indulge in their competitive nature, or even raise half a million dollars in under half an hour.



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