Preparation for a Capital Appeal

Capital appeals are essentially acts of faith, in which we seek to progressively diminish the risk; first by undertaking a feasibility study and then by careful research and cultivation of the key prospects, and asking in the right way at the right time.
Keeping that faith alive, over a number of years (often 3-5) and through the inevitable ups and downs of a major venture, is one of the prime tasks of a capital appeal fundraiser, CEO or other key player in the process. From the Chair of your Board to the CEO and other professional staff and the volunteer leadership, all will need to be reassured about the prospects for success and to have their hopes kept alive by a thorough understanding of the situation and possibilities. This is a tactful, knowledgeable role that will add time to the working day and cannot be successfully handled without a clear understanding of the dynamics of the appeal.


At the heart of any successful appeal is a strategy that shows the stages the appeal will pass through and an action plan that sets out clearly who does what and when. Ensuring all parts of the organisation understand their roles and are willing to play their part in the appeal is vital. One tool for this is the early establishment of a Capital Appeal Team (CAT) with representatives from the Board, the CEO, appropriate staff and other key stakeholders. As usual with such teams, a small group of about six people will work much better than a much larger body. That this team communicates its decisions to those affected by them and keeps them informed of progress regularly and effectively is essential. Conversely one of its key functions is to ensure that all parts of the organisation can input to the team so its decisions and advice to the Board is based on an understanding of the situation across the whole organisation. Monthly meetings are often held in the early days until the feasibility study is completed and the appeal proper is launched, usually after a Board decision based on advice from the CAT. That then devolves much of the team’s authority to the Director of Fundraising or another person designated to lead the appeal from the staff side. The team still meets to keep all parts of the organisation in touch with each other, but may change its members and its remit from key-decision making towards playing a more informative and supporting role. More about Planning for a Capital Appeal

The Case for Support

If your appeal literature is ‘glossy’, thorough and makes your organisation look ‘professional’ it may deter the older generation who will feel you are wasting money, but it will convince the boomers who want to know you are professional enough to deliver a ‘high level’ cost-effective service.
In asking any donor for a major gift, where they must stop and think before replying, you are unlikely to succeed unless your target is aware of the problem you are trying to solve, agrees it is a serious problem and believes that your organisation can help solve it. They are also likely to want to know the answers to a series of other questions. At the head of that list is: ‘Why are you asking me for this amount?” and “What exactly will you spend it on?’ followed by the often unspoken question ‘What does this mean for my relationship with you and the organisation?’
The case for support sets out the answers to all these questions; so that, well before you ask, the donor is sold on the idea and keen to help. The only question left being the level of gift they should make and number of years over which to spread that gift. Setting this out in writing, so that it is unambiguous and can be studied at leisure, gives a lot of reassurance that you will carry out what you say you are going to undertake. It also contains a useful list those factors that might sway a decision; such as the status of members of your main committees, and your ‘receipt of donations policy’ so there is no misunderstanding about the acceptability of any kind of donation. Of course, this is also a useful time to set out the tax advantages of any donation.
Naturally the case for support should be full of pictures, stories about your beneficiaries’ lives, or your programme work and the great results you are achieving. It also contains the architect’s drawings and an artist’s impression of the new building; which is often used on the front cover, though you must concentrate of the benefits of the new building not the structure itself. It is only a means to a very positive end.
The case for support should be readily available to you or your colleagues when they meet the donor, and provide huge reassurance by enabling you to look up any key facts you may not immediately recall such as the tax position on a donation of shares in the UK.

More about The Case for Support
Feasibility Study

Many capital appeals fail and this is often because the organisation just was not ready to launch such a long term, demanding and unusual fundraising programme. Starting with a feasibility study (often called a ‘research study’) will give you the best indication whether your organisation is ready to undertake such a massive venture. If the study gives a strong indication that you can succeed, the work done will not be wasted as it would nearly all have been required were you to have gone straight ahead with the appeal.
You will discover if the money is likely to be there. If your organisation is entirely behind the appeal, prepared for the long haul and fully understanding the level of commitment. The study will culminate in putting the strategy in place and setting out the resources needed, the tasks to be done and the schedule for the next few years.

Appeal Strategy

The appeal strategy set out in the case for support (CFS) will be used both as a basis for an Action Plan (who does what and when) and to engage with the staff and volunteer leadership, so that they understand the ideas behind each of the actions they will be involved with; as well as the schedule and, of course, the cost. A good consultant will not just say whether their feasibility study shows the likelihood of reaching your target but also set out the steps or stages you will need to follow.