Capital Campaigns and Conference Calls: A New Meeting Format
If you are planning a capital campaign, you should develop your skills at managing conference calls.
The success of capital campaigns will depend on your ability to recruit and manage great volunteers. And these days, pulling volunteers together for meetings is harder than ever.
When you finally get a group together, you probably have at least two or three people who say that they’ll call in. Then at the meeting, two or three people spend much of it looking at their cell phones under the table instead of participating.
So your in-person meeting might have three people around the table participating, two fixated on their phones under the table and two on mute in the black speaker phone in the center of the table.
Meetings like that don’t work well.
It’s hard to remember the people who are on speakerphone. And it’s even harder to ask people to put their cell phones on the table in plain sight. The energy drains from the room.
Try Effective, Efficient Conference Call Meetings
For the past 3 years, I’ve been using conference calls in lieu of in-person meetings. I work with groups all over the country, helping them prepare for capital campaigns.
Much to my delight, I find that they are very effective. In fact, in some ways, they are better than in-person meetings. People are more task-oriented. They tend to be on time. And folks who don’t have the time to travel to a meeting are more likely to attend.
After hundreds of calls, I’ve found what works and what doesn’t.
Here are six important practical tips that’ll make your conference call meetings work.
1. Stick with simple technology. While the idea of web conferences is lovely, the technology doesn’t work well enough… yet. Not everyone has enough bandwidth or web speed to make satisfactory connections. I’ve found that many people struggle with getting their webcams to work. And one or two participants are usually in their cars when we meet and only have access to audio.
Stay simple. I use “Free Conference Call,” which is, yes, free. And it mostly works.
2. Set up the meeting in a way that’s easy for the participants. Send an agenda by email before the meeting. Don’t send it as an attachment. Put it in the body of an email, so it’s easy for people to view even if they are on their smartphones.
Just before the call, send the call-in numbers in an email.
3. Facilitate strongly. The challenge with phone conferences is that people don’t know when or whether it’s their turn to speak. So gaps in the conversation often occur, while everyone waits for someone else to talk and then everyone talks at the same time. You can minimize that awkwardness by directing the conversation.
Begin the meeting by going around the group for a check-in. Get everyone to say their names and a few words at the start of the meeting. That helps the participants envision who is on the call and begin to be able to recognize voices.
Write down each person’s name, so you can easily call on him or her. And ask each speaker to state his or her name when they start talking.
Two or three times during the meeting, call on each person and ask them what they think.
Be sure to end each meeting by summarizing next steps then going around the “room” asking for feedback from each person on the call.
4. Ideal meeting size is 4 people to 6 people. It’s relatively easy to run a conference call of 4 people to 6 people, but if your group is larger than that, you might assign speaking roles in advance to two or three people and leave extra time to invite each person for their questions and thoughts.
5. Start precisely on time and end a few minutes early. Unlike in-person meetings, people are more efficient about conference calls. It’s rare for people to be late and they want to end on time.
6. Follow up immediately with brief notes. I find that people prefer notes in an email rather than a more formal attached document. Make your notes look more like an outline than extended paragraphs, so that people can scan them rather than having to read every word. Remember that much business today is done on smart phones and reading blocks of text is challenging.
Be sure to include the action steps that came out of the call. Summarize specifically who agreed to do what and by when. And include the date and time of the next call.
Build an Efficient, Effective Team
You need an energized team to run a successful capital campaign. That includes volunteers, board members and staff. When you’re good at running conference calls, you’re providing an efficient, effective way to help your team do their best work to make the greatest impact.
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Andrea Kihlstedt is an innovative leader and expert in capital campaign fundraising. She wrote "Capital Campaigns: Strategies That Work (4th ed)," often referred to as the “bible” of capital campaign fundraising. She founded Capital Campaign Masters and co-founded Capital Campaign Toolkit, an online capital campaign resource and platform.