The Importance of Action Item Lists

Posted by David G Phillips on Aug 9, 2018 10:09:51 AM

It’s finally Friday and the weekend is almost upon you. You are in your fourth week of your organization’s capital campaign and things seem to be getting more and more complicated. There are more people involved and more things to do. And you, as the executive director, are wondering how your campaign director stays on top of everything and delegates responsibly the things that have to get done. You are wondering how he is going to come to work on Monday and give you an accurate and timely progress report, and then proceed to delegate more tasks to you and others.

The answer is simple: he or she uses action item (to-do) lists. Such lists enable her to break down the campaign plan into small manageable parts that she further breaks down into many tasks or action items. The tasks then are consolidated into action item lists that are then assigned to you, staff, and the all-important volunteers for completion. The tasks are varied and diverse. Early in a campaign setting the tasks typically have to do with setting up the campaign headquarters office, developing a donor prospect list, and developing a stellar case for support. Someone will be assigned to find a good graphic designer and/or printer who will take care of printing campaign materials.

Next the tasks will center on contacting key donor prospects for the campaign chairperson role. Often this is the most crucial juncture in the campaign and there can be a number of action item lists created just for this one big task. A few tasks will relate to filling the remaining campaign executive committee positions. Some volunteers will be asked to solicit lead gifts from individuals. Others will be asked to solicit gifts from foundations, while others will be asked to solicit gifts from corporations. As the volunteers fill the roles of the executive committee, the tasks assigned them will be geared toward soliciting and winning more major gifts.

Your campaign director uses action item lists to do the following:

    • To enable him to delegate campaign work to you and the campaign volunteers.
    • To enable him to organize his work and help him accomplish tasks that need to be done, but which cannot be delegated.
    • To enable him to manage you and the campaign volunteers so assigned work will actually get done, and
    • To help in the preparation of progress reports to be presented to both you and the campaign director’s supervisor.


Delegate Campaign Work.
There are so many tasks to be performed during a capital campaign. And there are typically many people (you, your staff, the board, and campaign volunteers) who will help perform those tasks. When your campaign director needs something from you she will give you an action item list outlining what he needs you to do. When the Campaign Cabinet committee is formed, the members of that committee are given action items lists in order to outline what they need to do to help the campaign move forward. When the Campaign Executive Committee is formed, its members are given action item lists to complete in order to further move the campaign forward toward reaching its goals.

Organize Your Campaign Director’s Work. 
Your campaign director has many tasks he or she has to complete in order to perform his or her duties. Action item lists are integral to enabling him to do this work. Without these lists he would be working by the seat of his pants. Furthermore, the maintenance of these lists enables him to always know what he has done and what he still needs to do.

Organize the Work Being Performed by You and the Volunteers. 
The preparation of action item lists for all the people involved in the capital campaign require that many tasks be delegated to specific leaders. Some are assigned to board members, some to you as director, some to staff, and some to other volunteers.

Figuring out which task is best assigned to which person requires both interpersonal and organization skills. Matching tasks to people who are best suited to complete those tasks can become quite involved. Staying organized requires follow-up so assigned tasks can eventually be considered completed. It is important that assignments not be left outstanding too long because the completion of one task usually has an impact on the completion of other tasks. Keeping track of each task assigned helps to ensure timely completion.

Aid in Preparation of Progress Reports. 
As action items are completed they can be moved from the "to-do" list to the "completed" list. It is the list of completed action items that comprises the source material for the progress reports that help your campaign director keep you and your organization informed. You need to be kept informed so you will have a comfort level that things are happening, or an early warning that challenges need to be addressed.

The use of action item lists during the course of a capital campaign is very important. They help your campaign director monitor his or her work and the work of others. They also help him prepare progress reports for your benefit, and the benefit of campaign volunteers.

Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is among the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada.  If you have a fundraising question, please call  CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to

Topics: campaign director, Campaign Organization, capital campaign, capital campaign fundraising, capital campaign planning, Capital Campaigns, Communications and Networking, Fundraising Principles, Professional Skill Building

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