Capital Appeals

Simply put, a capital appeal is an appeal to raise a capital sum, for an item that will last a number of years; rather than an appeal for revenue costs which are the ongoing expenses of running an organisation such as the salaries, rent, heating and lighting etc. Capital appeals are closely associated with appeals to raise large sums to build new buildings, such as the Medical Foundation for Care of Victims of Torture’s new centre in London or to renovate old buildings such as the Tate Art Gallery’s renovation of the old power-plant on the south bank of the Thames to create Tate Modern.

A capital appeal can, however, be for much smaller developments such as an extension or library for an existing building, or for an individual piece of equipment such as a scanner for a hospital or any other fairly substantial lump sum purchase.

A capital appeal may also be used to raise endowment funds such as a University Chair.
The key point of difference between a capital appeal and a major gift program is the use of influential volunteers for peer to peer solicitation.

Opening the Building

When the last pledge is finally in, the last major donor thanked and the last celebrity patron feted it is time to begin the stewardship; ensuring all the promises made to everyone are carried out, the plaques go up on the right rooms, the promised introductions are made and the last thank you dinners held. Think how each generation likes to be thanked – the polite formal approach for the seniors, the personal rewards for the boomer me-generation, the involve ‘thank you’ for the gen-Xers and the cool digital response for the millennials. Remembering all these categories are generalisations and this is the personally sensitive of contacts, so be guided but not hide-bound by these guidelines.
Sometimes the ending of the appeal is not as clear cut as that, and the pressure of building to a schedule means that some aspects of the appeal, such as new equipment and decoration, are not funded when the building goes up, or when it is bought and ready to be refurbished. This is a very dangerous stage, but it does provide the opportunity to bring people round the shell of the building and say, ‘This could be wonderful, but nothing will happen until we have raised the necessary funds or gifts in kind’. Showing a film of the possibilities in a derelict building or letting beneficiaries mingle with guests there can provide the spur to completing an appeal.

Opening the building

The public phase may have started with the laying of the cornerstone, and gained considerable publicity. The opening too can be used to raise both profile for the new reinvigorated organisation and to thank and deepen the bonds with current and prospective donors. Often organisations have several opening receptions where donors and other key players are invited to view the new premises and to see the work beginning anew or expanding and developing.
At this stage the obvious promises must be visibly fulfilled. Donors should be able to see their name up on the walls in an appropriate place and in an appropriate setting. If for example, you have run a buy-a-brick scheme then the bricks with names should be there for all too see. Sometimes the entrance or courtyard paving is named. Indeed, the rooms, floors, the wings of the building and even the whole building is often named. If this has been done the signage must be in place when the donor and others visit the premises.

Setting out the new vision

If you have invited your key donors to a reception to thank them for their donation and to show them the building they have funded it is not enough to merely talk of that building and the work that will now take place in it. Your donors will want to hear about your vision for the future and how your organisation will develop its support for the beneficiaries.
This is an ideal time to connect the donors to your future work and inspire them to maintain their links with you and to continue to help you fulfil your mission. Let both staff and if possible those you have helped speak directly to the donors thanking and moving them to continue their support.

Rescue missions

Sometimes an appeal grinds to a halt before the target is reached. There are no more grant-making organisations to apply to, the last of your cultivated major donors has given and the public has ceased to respond.
This can often be predicted if you keep a wall chart marked off in monthly segments with the major gifts clearly marked. The number of gifts each month gets visibly fewer and fewer and the ‘to be approached’ list dwindles.
At the same time the chances are the twin perils of building cost inflation outstripping ordinary inflation and the cost of all those necessary extras you didn’t know you needed when the appeal starts loom menacing in front of you. Fortunately there are several things you can do instead of reaching for the sits vac column of Professional Fundraising magazine.
As you can see a crisis over the horizon, you should have ample time to keep all your key donors and stakeholders informed but not alarmed. When you are sure this is a real problem, consider bringing together all the top funders and ask them to add an additional pledge or donation to cover the shortfall.
If you have one or more very rich and involved donors ask them to underwrite the appeal, and agree to meet any shortfall in say, six months time. In this case you should also set out in writing each fundraising activity you will engage in, so that they will know you have done your best to raise the funds underwritten. This is a very significant step because you will want to keep such donors on board in the long-term, as trying to explain what you have done after you have failed may lead to derisive comments if the donor does not understand the process, they may even renege on their pledge.
Think too ‘who will cry if you die’ these will be the people or institutions that are also most likely to finish the appeal for you. They may be someone unexpected like a manufacturer who sells goods to your clients or the family of a beneficiary.
Of course, your research will eventually unearth more potential donors and the game begins anew; but think about those who said, ‘No.’ Perhaps they are now in a position to give? As capital appeals often take a number of years to complete, circumstances change steadily over the years and people and institutions may be much better placed to help than they were when the process started.
Look also at your board. They may have been relatively quiet when the appeal was launched not thinking they knew many rich people, but over time they may have insights which could help or you may have new trustees you need to get to know quickly as they may help. If you have kept the momentum, drive and enthusiasm going through the appeal many more people than you might think will be willing to help. They may not put themselves forward and you might have to meet them and energise them, but they may have the key to unlocking the final donations.

Extending the cultivation / trust application time

If the need for funds is not, by any miracle, as pressing as it might be, then the usual cultivation programme and trust application schedule plus events will inevitably bring in more funds, but it would be wise to try a short high ask rather than allow the risks of a drawn out campaign to emerge and threaten the appeal.

Making a Major Donor Ask

Step One: To start the process you must find major donor prospects. Prospects are people who support your cause and have the means to give a major gift. You may already know which of your supporters are wealthy ( for example if you see a cheque from a private bank such as Coutts then you know that you have identified a prospect). Another way to find a prospect is to look out for people who already give large donations. Somebody who gives £500 without being asked might easily give £2,000 if they know that it is going towards the costs of a project close to their heart.
At this point it is important to consider if there are any legal, PR or ethical considerations to accepting a donation.
Step Two: Find out as much about your prospect as possible. What subjects are close to their heart? What would be an appropriate amount of money to ask them for? Could you ask them to pay for something specific like a printer or the salary of a staff member?
Step Three: Once you have done this try to think of ways to engage your prospect with your work. However, do be aware that if your primary goal is a gift you need to think carefully before you ask people to take on onerous tasks. Somebody who has given up their weekend may feel they have already made their contribution to your cause and not want to give money as well.
Step Four: Ask for the gift. The person asking should, if possible be a close colleague of the prospect and have made a donation of the same level or more than the gift you are asking for. It’s good to get senior people in your organisation to ask for the gift. Unfortunately, it can be common for senior people not to want to get involved in fundraising and a tip for overcoming this is to point out the amount of money you intend to ask for; is their time so valuable they cannot give an hour to raise a thousand pounds?
Have no more than two people at an ask. Beyond that people lose the script and talk at the wrong time. Work out beforehand who speaks when, and schedule the flow of conversation throughout the meeting. Time it out and act it out with a friend, particularly the words you use when asking for money.
Begin the meeting by being sociable. Know the prospect well; ask about their grandchildren, their latest project, etc. Then gain their attention by talking about the benefit a donation gives in tangible terms, even if your prospect already knows this. If in the run up to the ask they are quiet, ask them if they are okay, is everything clear so far.
Ask “can you help us by making a donation of a thousand pounds”.
Then say absolutely nothing till they reply.
They are thinking, let them think. If you intervene you will lower the amount you receive or find yourself backing away from the ask. If they answer with a question reply to the question and wait again.
If they say yes, thank them and repeat the amount. Then agree the next move. Ask; “how would you like to make the payment?”
Step Five: The final and most important step is to thank your donor appropriately. Next time you ask for a gift it won’t be how suavely you ask for money that makes a difference but how they felt after they gave last time. If you get anything tangible from their donation (a few more votes for example) phone them up and let them know.
Begin the meeting by being sociable. Know the prospect well; ask about their grandchildren, their latest project, etc. Then gain their attention by talking about the benefit a donation gives in tangible terms, even if your prospect already knows this. If in the run up to the ask they are quiet, ask them if they are okay, is everything clear so far.
Ask “can you help us by making a donation of a thousand pounds”.
Then say absolutely nothing till they reply.
They are thinking, let them think. If you intervene you will lower the amount you receive or find yourself backing away from the ask. If they answer with a question reply to the question and wait again.
If they say yes, thank them and repeat the amount. Then agree the next move. Ask; “how would you like to make the payment?”
Step Five: The final and most important step is to thank your donor appropriately. Next time you ask for a gift it won’t be how suavely you ask for money that makes a difference but how they felt after they gave last time. If you get anything tangible from their donation (a few more votes for example) phone them up and let them know.

Major Donors

Who are these major donors anyway?

This varies from organisation to organisation, but they are often set at the level of someone who has or can give a single gift of £5,000 annually and has the potential to give a gift of £50,000 or more as an exceptional one-off donation. For small organisations a gift of £500 may count as a major gift. A typical first search of an organisations database may be to look for anyone giving £5,000 or over in a single gift, then if not enough donors are found say, £1,000; but it is prudent to look at the total of all donations made. £1,000 or £2,000 per year may reveal a more committed donor with great potential than a one-off gift of £5,000 from an unexpected legacy. The £1,000 donor may just be reacting to your highest ask to date.

It is argued that a full-time major donor fundraiser can look after only about 30 active major donors out of a pool of about 100 possibles. Taking the top 30 of your top 100 donors is a place to start, but if these are not of sufficient potential to make a serious impact on your organisation’s finances it may be appropriate to concentrate on the recruitment of new major donors.

We will return to gift potential later; but for the purposes of assessing your major donor potential a rule of thumb is that a person can give 5-10% of their annual income plus bonuses over a 3-5 year period, or 2-3% in a single gift. Obviously, this is a generalisation and giving potential is increased or dampened by how closely you have allied your donor’s philanthropic goals to those of your organisation. Does your donor see themselves as a valuable and valued part of your organisation? Do they feel you are tackling a key problem correctly, and are they themselves moved by this problem? That is do you have their emotional and intellectual support for the work you want to undertake?

Researching major donors

Researching and recruiting new major donors is an exciting prospect, and the emphasis here is on researching. It is easy to buy lists of rich people, but are they likely to support your organisation? Who are the local fat cats? Why should they support you? Approaches to potential major donors fall into three categories: firstly the direct approach for an arms length donation, then the cultivation approach of a request to come and see or hear about the organisation, and lastly the indirect approach through a relation, friend or colleague.
Research is an ongoing activity in major donor fundraising, and the closer you get to each “Ask” the more you need to know about each prospect. There are few organisations where such research should not be in someone’s job description, and where training in research would not greatly benefit the programme. A useful group to join with an online discussion forum is the Institute of Fundraising’s Special Interest Group: Researchers in Fundraising (RIF). To join contact the Institute of Fundraising or the Researchers in Fundraising group directly as listed below.

Data Protection

Before you begin researching prospects it is important to be aware of the data protection law and to have registered your organisation with the Registrar under the appropriate categories. Be aware that the law now applies to paper files as well as computer records. Merely holding the data provides many problems, as the UK’s Data Protection Act is so new and unwieldy it has little case law to help define its exact meaning; and different countries have slightly different versions. Advice is on hand in the UK, however, from RIF; though this should not be taken as legally water-tight. Their excellent guidance can be downloaded from the Institute of Fundraising’s website. This contains useful practical examples and information that will help to guide you through the data protection maze. It is divided into sections on: data collection, data processing, data sharing and a general section. The Act is far reaching in covering the collection of data, data storage and use of data as well as registration. You will need to begin by registering with the Data Protection Registrar for all the categories of data use you intend to carry out – see link below. Your organisation should also have a policy on data protection including its collection, storage and use. This should be known throughout the organisation; not least because the initial contact with a data subject is very significant, and it is embarrassing to go back to them to talk about the collection of their data and to seek their consent. Remember that the Act also applies to paper storage not just computer databases, and be aware of the difference between personal data and ‘sensitive’ personal data. Be prepared for a donor or prospect to request to see all personal data held about them.

Building your database

Working within the Act to build a flexible database is crucially important as the amount of information on each subject will grow, and so may your needs for different types of information. The ability to link together your subjects is also invaluable along with a sizable ‘notes’ area, which points towards integrating your major donor information with your organisation’s main database. This is recommended practice and the logical choice. Where, however, you cannot obtain adequate access or facilities then a supplementary database may be useful. This can usually be contained in an MS Access database, but a set of physical files to hold press cuttings, etc., can also be helpful, especially where screening data or access to the main file is restricted.

The first tranche of research is simply to look at your donor-base and see who might be there to give yourself an idea of the territory. The simplest way of doing this is to run your database through one of the specialist research agencies and inspect the result. There are several agencies who have extensive databases of rich individuals and will use them, for a fee (or sometimes for free) to seek matches with your donors. This preliminary look will nearly always reveal a set of multimillionaire donors you may not have known were supporters. These agencies will be able to undertake research at several levels to give you a comprehensive background to your rich supporters. The most difficult information for in-house researchers to acquire is often the absolutely vital estimation of an individual’s wealth. This is because the research tools (access to databases, etc.) are relatively expensive. This is an area where many organisations turn to external agencies. The more information you require the more you pay; but if you are going to build a relationship with someone you may be asking for a substantial sum, then the more you know about your prospect the more likely you are to succeed. In the UK Professional Fundraising magazine and Third Sector both have lists of such agencies.
For smaller organisations an internal look at those who have given over a certain amount or made cumulative donations of say, twice that amount will be a good starting point. The next stage is more difficult as it requires assessment of the potential to become a major donor. This is a combination of ability to give (or disposable income and wealth) and passion for the cause. At this stage passion for the cause may be simply having attended certain events or positive comments made to a staff member or volunteer. An initial ranking of say, 1 to 5 for each factor, then multiplying the numbers together will give a quick though very crude ranking for your prospects. This ranking can then be used to select the top 100 or so individuals with which to work.

It is preferable, however, to work with as much data as possible and not stick to a rigid format. The use of one of the many internet search engines will reveal a lot of data on most wealthy subjects, and is of particular use in helping to learn about middle-ranking business people. Learning about their company and their position in it will give you an indication of salary. This will then give a rough idea of their ability to donate. Of course, this process is not as accurate as the share ownership details etc. which an agency could acquire, but it does give you a starting point.
As soon as possible, it is advisable to meet and talk with your potential major donors. This is really the only accurate method of gauging their interest and passion for your cause. Surprisingly often a major donor is someone who has personal experience of the issue the organisation is working with, or has a relative or colleague who has been affected. This is something that is rarely apparent from desk research, but very helpful to know as the relationship develops. It is likely that your initial research will uncover some very affluent people who have made a low value one-off gift. This can be highly misleading and you may find that their interest was very specific to one appeal. This is particularly true if they have only made one gift. If they have, however, donated repeatedly over the years, then you have a good chance of increasing their donation. It is unusual, but not impossible, to move from a very low gift to a very large gift; but it is much more likely that your donor will move slowly step by step. A major donor campaign is just the right vehicle for this kind of development, whereas a capital appeal is driven by its timetable and there is often less time to develop people’s affection for the organisation and knowledge of its work.

The level of detail

You should only keep an individual’s information as required for the task you are attempting to accomplish, and only for as long as it is relevant; but in major donor fundraising you are seeking to learn a very great deal about certain people, so that you can understand them and communicate effectively. It is in your prospect’s interest that you do not waste time trying to cultivate people ineffectively, and it is in your organisation’s interest that you do not spend time and money on hopeless prospects.

You will need to know:
their contact details,
the history of their relationship with your organisation,
their philanthropic outlook (who else do they give to),
their ability to give, i.e. their pay and wealth,
their likelihood to give more, e.g., their biography which may show why they have a personal interest. Major donors often give because a relative or colleague is or was a likely recipient of help from your organisation,
events they attend – to know what kind of events you may need to lay on.

In collecting this information you are trying to build up an all-round picture of the person, so that you know how they are likely to respond to any existing cultivation programme; and so that you can fashion a personal development programme for them, which they will appreciate.
The responsibility for collecting this information lies not just with the researcher or major donor fundraiser, but with the whole organisation from the Chair of the Board down to anyone who meets wealthy people. In universities, for example, visiting professors speaking at conferences may meet now affluent alumni who live near the conference venue. The university development staff need to know about these contacts and set up a debrief session. It may be a struggle to reach agreement that everyone should let the fundraising staff know about such contacts, but it can unlock huge resources for the organisation.
This may be a radical change in the organisation’s procedures and is best led from the top with a formal process in place. With email and intranet diaries it is not difficult for the IT department to construct a simple system. The fundraisers then have to make the system work or it will quickly fall into disuse. A helpful tool in developing the system is a centralised meetings diary on the organisation’s Intranet (if you have one) or a simple wall chart for small organisations. It also helps for those who may meet the wealthy to know what they should be reporting back on. If fundraisers give them a clear brief the process has a much greater chance of yielding useful information. Much information, however, comes to light when the fundraiser and contact generator meet together for a quick debriefing. This is usually a much better way of picking up information than a written form. Even a telephone discussion can often elicit more information than a form.
The ‘need to know’ list above provides a starting point but one area absent from it is personal networks of friends and colleagues. If that information can be added then a truly relational database begins to develop. The other members of boards of companies they sit on, the trusts of which they are trustees, the clubs they belong to and the associations where they have officerships or merely attend meetings are all happy hunting grounds for links to people who you nay wish to reach or who they could pull into the development process.

A continuous need

Research is never a one-off activity. As time goes by new donors come on board from all the usual prospecting work, your major donors will introduce their friends and others will turn up from events. All these prospects need the same level of attention. Someone in your organisation may be going to meet an affluent contact and require a briefing paper. This often happens at the last minute and you may not have that particular contact on file. A typical briefing paper might include:
Brief biography, including age, interests, where they live (in case they may have some local interest that you can draw upon), wealth and estimate of giving range.
Career details.
Current company (if any) background (company focus, contact details, directors / senior staff, charitable giving, company trust focus, any relationship to the organisation); charitable trusts that they are involved in.
Contact details including mobile number if available.
List of donations to the organisation, if any, and how these donations came about e.g. event, mailing, face to face meeting. If possible, include who solicited this donation.
Meetings held with them to date.
Events they have attended.
An assessment of how warm / passionate they are to the organisation.

External research

Once you are confident your major donor programme to current donors is underway (if not before) it is likely you will want to reach outside the organisation to new donors. The first step is usually to work through contacts, using your current major donors to introduce you to their friends. Some people you may have thought of as major donors and some of your patrons, celebrity supporters, advisory board, trustees etc. will have excellent access to wealthy people. Before you plunge into this activity, however, consider your relationship with the person making the introduction. If asked for introductions will they then consider that this is their way of helping and not give financially? Is their introduction more important than a donation? You will have to weigh up the size of the donations and likelihood of success. On the other hand will such an enquiry start that person helping you and lead to a donation? This is one of the subtle quandaries of major donor development, and if you establish a general rule one way or the other do be prepared to break it in certain circumstances. This dilemma points to the principle outlined in the next chapter which is to have a personal development programme for each major donor and indeed (albeit to a lesser degree) for each of the players in your organisation and beyond.

The next two sources of external major donors are agencies and others who have lists of rich people to buy or rent, and lists such as the UK’s Times Rich List that are in the public domain. Discuss your requirements with your agency in some detail. Is it all the millionaires in Sheffield? Or the 100 richest people? Is there a way of defining those who might be interested in your organisation by profession, age, gender or other criteria? Do religion or other personal details matter? If the agency has good linkages in their records, can they come up with a list of people linked to your current donors? These will be cold prospects so the linkages are important to help you reach these people. Of course, your rate of success in approaching them will be low and you may need to draw them into your organisation gradually.

Just mailing the Times Rich List shouldn’t work, yet more than one organisation has undertaken a similar exercise with some success. The secret of this is in the design of the direct mail package. It needs to be superlative, not just in its look but also in its ability to move the reader emotionally and rationally, and its appropriateness to the list and the zeitgeist. All vague terms, but each much be handled professionally and this professionalism must be maintained for any such mailings. The usual direct mail package is unlikely to work – or why would you be looking outside your current database? So, it will most likely require the creation of a new package and unless you have exceptional internal resources that will be very expensive per letter compared with your usual costs.

In looking at other lists and possible sources you may find a key criteria that will allow you to not only select the people who may be interested from the list but also to build an approach strategy around such a criteria. For example, People of Today and Who’s Who list education, recreations, clubs etc and any one of these may be appropriate. Do bear in mind that not all the people in these publications are affluent.
Once you have assembled a list of strong contenders to be your major donors of the future you will need a personal development programme for each of them and an approach strategy leading to a high level ask. That ask may be a long way off, indeed it may be some years away; but it may well be preceded by some high level donations on the way, which will substantially increase your organisation’s ability to fulfil its mission.

Major Donor Events

It is easy for grass-roots organisations often working and identifying with those most disadvantaged and in the direst need to look askance at the receptions and impressive venues where major donor cultivation takes place. Often, having vaunted the low costs of their fundraising and the fact they make every penny count, staff are hard put to justify the outlay required in the major donor programme.
Major donor development is, however, a personal one-to-one technique and the rules of mass marketing do not apply. It is essential to meet these donors face-to-face and for them to be emotionally and intellectually sold on the work. They therefore need to be approached appropriately, and there are a range of events which can be utilised for this from the simple ‘open days’ to more lavish recruitment or development events. At the latter the targets may be attracted to a reception, dinner or first night by the opportunity to take part in a unique event, to network or meet celebrities and find this part of the deep attraction of their charity. This is the time to roll out your celebrity patrons to speak up on your behalf, and to provide the potential major donors with the lifestyle opportunities they lack in the daily grind and pressured atmosphere of running their lucrative businesses.

Planning events

Events are best planned a year in advance, so that your schedule of events does not clash with other activities and so that you can book venues, speakers and celebrities at the earliest convenient moment. The chances are your events are a mixture of small gatherings with the occasional large scale dinner or reception to gather all those you cannot reach individually. Putting together a year’s plan will enable you to solicit the help you require within your organisation before people become booked up, and also put them under an obligation to let you know, as soon as they are aware of it, if their plans change.

Your organisation may also have a series of other events up and running which may be invaluable to you. First nights, gala balls, private views, open days, etc., can all be used as part of your cultivation programme for the major donors; but they do need to be appropriate for those you are inviting. It is unwise merely to put the major donors on the invite list for all events and allow them to self-select. Rather you should fit the right events into your individual plan for each major donor.

You may find that an excellent major donor event can be part of a larger event your organisation runs, which is open to the public. For example, an after show party at a play or other theatre performance, a reception for the stars after a first night, or a preview and the private view of an art exhibition all give excellent opportunities to develop or to engage with major donors. Some of the key elements here are the chance they have to meet celebrities who are helping your organisation face-to-face, the exclusive nature of the event which gives it cachet and your branding marking your organisation out as one that can deliver at the highest level. This is not instead of support and understanding for the work you do in the field, but as well as that commitment. These events will not be effective in raising large sums on their own, but they can become a very effective tool in your major donor programme, and one your rivals will exploit if they can.

The pattern of events rests on the strategy that comes from your analysis of the group of major donors you have selected during the research phase. Are these people keen, knowledgeable and ready to make a serious donation? If so, why waste time before asking them? You may, however, need to meet them first to ascertain their readiness, knowledge of the organisation and, most importantly commitment to the cause. This is not always easy to tell just by looking at their past donations and analysing their potential to give. So, the next question is, should you ask them out to lunch? Should you set up and invite them to a special event, or does your organisation have an appropriate event? Remember that you will need time to talk to each person on their own, and do not be tempted to invite them all to the same event, in effect treating them like a higher level donor club.
This is one of the many parts of major donor fundraising where you need to exercise judgement, creativity and imagination. It is also the most fun, and a time when fortune favours the bold. Who will you ring and invite out (to breakfast, lunch or dinner after an event), who should make that call and who should attend? If you have engaging, high level staff or key volunteers who are good at this you may want to set them up and work behind the scenes; or you may be more controlling and need to be there yourself, to know what is happening and to develop the relationship with you rather than with a proxy.

Your personal character and style is important here, but so is the long term objective. You may not be the most likely person to succeed in asking out a major donor. In general the more important the person asking the more likely they are to succeed; but there is no point your CEO with the OBE asking someone to lunch if they are going to be boring or not follow your major donor strategy. There is plenty of room here to become unpopular and you will need a thick skin and persuasive manner to negotiate this and other situations where your access to the rich and famous will attract envy and sometimes a discreet power struggle.

You may feel that a potential donor is not on board enough to respond positively to a personal invite to lunch; but that they would come to a reception or better still an open day or visit to see your work in action. If these possibilities already exist in your organisation then you should ensure that they directly meet your needs if you are to add one or more major donors to the list. Attend one yourself and take notes. Do they greet people well and make them feel welcome and comfortable? Do they give a clear idea about the programme and then stick to the timetable? Do they deliver a really moving experience that will move emotionally the hardest heart? Do they also give a strong intellectual explanation why your organisation is the right one to deliver the work you undertake? Do they end properly with time for people to ask questions and most importantly, for you, is there time to chat to people informally?

If these events do not really deliver, you will need to create your own and take round your donors one by one, or in an appropriate group of people who are likely to enjoy each other’s company.
It may be your donors look or prove rather harder to reach and that an event with other attractions may be the first step in developing their appreciation of your work. This could be one of the receptions, dinners or other events we mentioned above; either run especially by you or by your organisation.

In planning your events the first year will be largely speculative. You are learning what your donors will respond to and what your organisation can provide. You are also establishing your relationships and working practices. Each major donor programme is slightly different though they are all based on the same human reactions. Where they fail to work is where these reactions are ignored. Organisations sometimes become precious about allowing major donors access to their premises, staff or clients and do not understand how tightly controlled that access can be, or how rewarding it is for staff and clients to talk about the work. Where access to clients is really not acceptable, their stories can be told and perhaps those who have passed through the system will be prepared to speak about their experiences. The clients are the most moving advocates for your work.
Organisations too are often wary about engaging the emotions and shy away from presenting their work in these terms; preferring to cloak it in academic jargon or in cold facts and figures. This merely denies the donors ready access to the same emotions that drive the staff and takes the humanity away from the work leaving only the hard shell. It is a question of allowing people to engage and share their emotions. There is no harm in being passionate about your work, indeed it is vital to transmitting that spark of enthusiasm for your cause which results in the top donations.

So what is a cultivation event? Put simply the idea is to give your prospect an excellent opportunity to feel emotionally why your organisation is important, that is to share your enthusiasm and passion for the cause; but also to appreciate the necessity for the actions your organisation carries out and your future needs. It is important that the prospect appreciates the importance of your needs as an organisation, so that they have an intellectual understanding of the task, not just a feeling of pity for the people you are trying to help.
Increasingly, as more of our donors are from the baby-boomer generation they will require proof that the work you say you do is actually carried out and is effective and efficient. Your monitoring and evaluation procedures will increasingly be moving to the centre stage of your organisation’s operations if you are to be convincing enough to compete with other organisations. This means you will probably need baseline surveys to set the starting point for measurement, indices of development to judge progress and a reliable management process that checks what you think should be happening is really happening. Naturally, things change and sometimes go wrong – if it was easy you might not need the money. The idea is not to disguise this, but to know about it and work on the problem so that you can report it to funders if appropriate.