The Public Appeal
The external appeal comes when you are convinced you can raise the remainder of the funds you need to complete the project, including inflation and those added costs that were not apparent when you started, from the public. You are therefore confident that you will not get egg on your face or damage your organisation’s public image by failing to reach your target.
Your plans, evolved well before the decision to go public, should be set and everyone show know what is expected of them. It is useful to create a simple chart listing the various events you will hold and each of the other sources of income outstanding from individuals (including those of your supporters on your donor-base not already targeted), companies, grant-making organisations etc. The amount you expect from each and the date and technique to be used on each plus a column listing who, apart from you, is responsible for the success of that activity. By now you will be more than aware that for any target amount it is sensible to line up a number of possible donors, giving you as near a certainty as you can obtain that the amount will be raised.
Remember the public crosses all age cohorts seniors, boomers, gen-Xers and millennials so ensure you have fundraising activities that will appeal to all of them
Having said that, the public phase is the one most likely to attract serendipity with all your high-level contacts occasionally sparking excellent new ideas or possibilities. For example, a donor I was approaching declined to be involved, but then said he could let us know of any possible film premiers we might benefit from, and explained how these, pre-views and private views all worked. He then proceeded to mention us to the right directors and this led to the kind of occasions whose after-event gatherings major donors often find irresistible.
This action list on its own is not enough to maximise your chances, it also needs to be combined with a strong marketing campaign to ensure that your organisation maximises its coverage and that hopefully your capital appeal too will also be covered. Per se capital appeals are not newsworthy, but celebrities, innovative events and spectacular launches can be news; but they will only be mentioned and grow into a campaign if your communications are highly professional. A PR company who has done this for a capital appeal before, or a PR team led by an experienced media professional is a priceless asset. Working with your high-level donors, appeal advisory board and others you should sound them all out, through the private phase, to see if you can secure the services of a great company. This will transform your public phase. If you hire a company that transforms the relationship, and they may be keen to hold all kinds of events for you, at great expense, without the slightest chance of them being reported anywhere in the media – if in doubt pull out.
The launch of the public phase
This is the signal to the world, and to the whole of your organisation, that the capital appeal is now launched and they can be ambassadors for you. By now, the appeal will have a media friendly title e.g. The Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children’s ‘Wishing Well Appeal’ and it is this that you will be announcing along with the fact that have raised nearly all the money needed – bar that last few million pounds.
A press launch is often a badly attended, disappointing event, held in the rain on the grounds of the proposed new building; with the chairman showing just how hard it is to put a shovel through frozen earth. Instead, in the absence of a PR company who is on your side, take advice from someone who has been a journalist – would they cover that event? Would their editor use their story? Indeed, the way to think is about the story. The Medical Foundation launched with an event on site on a freezing day, but with a set of ex-hostages who came together for the first time and this became the story. The appeal was incidental but received a mention that could then be used by the organisation in further publicity materials. It is sometimes not the coverage that counts, but how you use that coverage to good effect in creating a dynamic momentum for the appeal which affects staff, volunteers, donors and potential donors.
Internally, the public phase can be launched through receptions, diners etc. For example a dinner for the next 100 highest-giving warm donors, who have not yet been asked can draw spectacular results, using say, a pledge ask. These donors can then be asked to draw others into the appeal.
The public phase is all about events large, medium and small – run both by your supporters on your behalf (they put in their money and time, not yours, run their own event and send you the profit) and by your formal structure such as local groups, your events team ad your capital appeal committees.
Other supporters It makes sense to approach all your donors you cannot reach face-to-face with a direct mail or other appropriate ask. By now, this can have delightful drawings, plans and elevations of the proposed new building and site. There are many imaginative ways to convey the importance of what you are doing for your beneficiaries. Remember, this group of people are giving comparatively small amounts and they will want to be absolutely certain this is the right thing to do for your clients, so stressing the advantage of the new building for your programme is vital. Amnesty International called its proposed new offices not Amnesty’s new offices, but Amnesty’s Human Rights Action Centre; no matter the activity within was barely changed.
Local groups The public phase is the ideal time to build and develop, or to re-activate, your local groups. First, of course, you have to convince them that the appeal is a good thing for both your beneficiaries and for their work. How will the local groups relate to the new building and will it enhance their work? This is a great time to help local groups by linking their work to a national, or regional campaign, which has the attention of the media. Can you utilise local celebrities to take part in local group events, perhaps assisted by your events team.
Do make it very clear what you can do to help local groups and individual supporters and what is not possible. This applies especially to the use of celebrities and celebrity patrons. Once an appeal gains public sympathy all sorts of people may try to help, by such activities as; booking football stadiums and telling you they have done the hard work, now all you have to do is the easy bit like get some celebrities there such as David Beckham. Or they will send you a cheque for all the money their friends have sponsored them to climb a mountain, then ask you for their expenses of flying overseas to climb the mountain. Evolving a set of rules with your supporters early on is vital to maintaining your sanity.
If you have an existing events programme, which you may have been using to piggy back major donor involvement, now is the time to increase the public rather than private nature of the technique used.
Piggybacking other organisation’s events can save you time and money. For example, taking a table at a celebrity event and inviting your major donors or others you wish to influence can save you a lot of time and money. The Medical Foundation took a table for ten at the Hay Festival when Bill Clinton spoke and invited its key supporters. Subsequently, they were some of their most loyal supporters of the appeal.
Often a capital appeal is for a building that will help people in one community. You will have engaged the key movers and shakers in that community in the private phase, and may now open it up to the whole community turning it into an appeal the community takes on as its own. The public endorsement of key figures is important as is the subsequent partnership with the media, newspapers, radio and television. This is where your celebrity patrons really come into their own, because their arrival at community events is indeed newsworthy. If you run ticketed events consider giving a handful to selected media to give away to their readers, listeners or viewers. This will gain you both support in the media, publicity and local interest.
Companies with a workforce in your community can also prove much more amenable to helping than richer companies without local involvement. Try them for gifts in kind, staff to run events, boardrooms to borrow and trucks and vans to help with events.
The events Appeals vary much more in their public phase than in their private phase. The skilled fundraiser will be taking advantage not just of their organisation’s events team activity, local group structure and community fundraisers; but creating additional activity through the myriad of contacts that have been built up in the preparatory years. Major donors, patrons and others will be re-approached to follow up mentions of ideas or contacts to the worlds of film, sport, fashion, literature, music etc to see if an event can be sparked off in a new area.
It is often these contacts that deliver the exclusive events and opportunities that give the capital appeal glamour, staying power and which in turn deliver new opportunities as new groups of people come into play. For example, do think about each area of cultural activity and how your contacts could provide an intro to an event. The Medical Foundation public phase provided exclusive garden parties, a private film showing and after-show party, art auctions, poetry readings and two ‘immortality auctions’ of character’s names in forthcoming books by famous authors.
Large national events can raise a lot of money, but they also carry the risk of large financial loss, the embarrassment of people not attending, the possibility that key stars will be ill or unavailable on the day or that the weather will be unkind. It is beholden on a fundraiser to ensure the organisation is aware of the risks it takes at the time it agrees to the action, but nevertheless to press for activity that is likely to bring in the funds required. No fundraising activity is without risk, but betting the shop on a rock concert or equivalent has damaged more than one organisation. Some risks like the chances a competitor can roll six sixes in one go or shoot a hole in one in golf can and should be insured against if the stakes are high, but many risks are too expensive to ensure against and expertise and common sense must instead prevail.
Throughout the public phase the private phase activities continue. Many more potential major donors are likely to be revealed by your ongoing research programme, and they should be treated just as the original targets were. The original donors must not now be neglected. They have a vested interest in the project succeeding so are prime targets to keep helping, by providing contacts etc; but more importantly the relationship you are building up with them must not come to an end with their donation. This is for the long-term and the public phase, with its publicity and great events, is a good time to deepen those relationships and give back to your major donors by providing them with an interesting lifestyle.
These invariably continue through the public phase. Many trusts or other funding bodies will have wanted to help, but been unable to as they had spent their funds for that year, not yet modified their objectives, required you to adapt your proposal, needed to see your work or required further proof of your effectiveness etc. All this should have been picked up from the replies to the first round of applications but you are also very likely to have uncovered a few new trusts etc. that were not on your radar during the private phase.