Sponsored Events

Sponsored events are good fundraisers for organisations with large membership or local group structures. If supported from the centre with materials, T-shirts and national publicity, even local groups sponsored events can become very serious money makers.
Sponsored walks have long been the traditional sponsored activity, but charities have done very well out of sponsored swims, cycle rides, and a large variety of other activities. It helps if you can link up with an appropriate company or add a special flavour to the event. Some years ago Friends of the Earth organised a mass sponsored walk through London’s parks called Ark Day. Participants, dressed as animals, walked to a huge ark built at the highest point of the city. Thousands of people took part in the spectacular event and enjoyed the day out. There is most likely a feature of your work that would help to raise a sponsored event out of the ordinary. I have seen local groups undertake long tractor pulls for the Young Farmers and bed-pushes for local hospitals.
The funds for sponsored events come from individuals asking their friends and colleagues face-to-face for money for a charity in which they believe. This is a very effective proposition. It is helped if the person asking has a well-designed form to fill in, showing just how the money raised will be used, and if they are enthusiastic and persistent. An incentive to raise a lot of money helps the person asking to say, ‘Please give generously because I’m trying to raise the most money so that I can …’ and for the person giving to think, ‘I’m being extremely generous this time because I want to help him/her to …’
Keys to success
Incentives such as a T-shirt for each £50 raised, a jacket for £100 and an appropriate gift for £500, can make far more money than merely selling T-shirts to participants. If you change the T-shirt design each year, people will collect them. Your key to running a successful sponsored event is to maximise the number of people taking part and to ensure the first gift pledged on the sponsorship form is a large one, because everyone following will agree to give the same amount. You ensure this by simply printing in a sample sponsor and gift: John Brown, Anytown, £35… This looks best if done in half-tone.

Art Auctions

There are innumerable events that can be held to raise funds, but art auctions are a particular favourite of mine. At their best they bring out a huge spirit of generosity on the part of the artists, auction houses and bidders, and they are great fun. Quite extraordinary sums can be paid when several people decide they must have a certain painting. Your expectations should, however, be realistic. The art market varies greatly from year to year and prices follow suit. Not every painting by a famous artist is worth a lot of money (prints are often worth very little indeed). In fact, most works will go for quite modest amounts. Let the auctioneer know that bidding will be a little slower than usual and talk through with him how to handle events if you have reserve prices that are repeatedly not being reached. Celebrities’ paintings do not sell in art auctions unless the celebrity has a second career as a well-known artist. Celebrity memorabilia is a different event entirely and very specialist.
It is a good idea to move from fine art (oil painting on canvas)one year, to water colours the next, perhaps to cartoons the third year and then to sculpture, before coming back to fine art. Always ask for “significant” works of art. Do not confuse the issue by mixing an art auction with an art exhibition. Auctions make money quickly. Exhibitions take up huge amounts of time, and cost money to prepare and ship from town to town or country to country. You will need to plan your art auction a year in advance, taking time to cultivate all those whose help you will need and to have the opportunity to overcome the setbacks and problems that will, no doubt, occur. The three elements that need to be brought together are the auction house, art gallery(s) and artists. It is essential to find a sympathetic auction house and art gallery. Never use an amateur auctioneer: the auction must be conducted professionally. An amateur auctioneer will cost you a very large amount of your potential income. Auction houses often have auctioneers who would like to undertake charity work and you can sometimes have the finest auctioneers in the land working for you as volunteers. If you have one major work of art for a local auction, consider entering it instead into a city auction where it may obtain a better price, and where your local buyer may well send it the week after. Think about auctioning on-line through ebay.com etc. On-line auctions can also be used to sell unsold works of art.
AuctionIf your organisation is a major national charity or equivalent, start with the auction house, (possibly one of the top three: Sothebys, Christies or Bonhams), looking for a possible date twelve months or so in advance. As you get nearer the date, seek their advice regarding the quality and nature of the works you have collected and the most appropriate way of selling them. Let the auction house guide you on price, order of sale, number of suitable lots, etc.


The artworks

It is much better to aim for thirty or forty pieces of good quality art than a hundred mediocre works. Of those thirty or forty, there will probably be only half a dozen which are outstanding and the serious buyers will come for those alone. They will not come to sit through the sale of a large number of paintings they are not really interested in. You do not have to put everything given to you into the auction.
Make sure you have somewhere safe to store the works of art and that you are adequately insured. Always use a suitable van to transport the works and check the size before collecting or you could be in for a surprise.
The gifts of artworks will come through because of a combination of the profile of your organisation, the strength of your cause and the importance and connections of the person making the ask for you. As is usual in fundraising, the personal ask from a close colleague is the strongest possible way to attract a donation. Learn the connections in the art world that your organisation may have with the great and the good. It is very worthwhile to spend time on this first. Often the best way is to put together a committee of these people. Working together to secure the best quality art will enhance the result and be less work for you. You will have one committee to organise, rather than dealing with each individual separately. As with all such committees the chairperson is the key and they must be well respected, effective and stay active throughout the project. If you can persuade a major artist to ask persistently for you you are home and dry.

The galleries

It is at this stage that art galleries will prove invaluable. Their owners have many connections and an extensive understanding of the art world. Your committee people should know gallery owners and it is usual to attract at least one gallery to work with you, helping to make the auction a success. Without a committee, you, or others in your organisation, must have such a connection or you will need to seek help from artists known to you. Another route is to talk to the gallery that handles the work of the artist who donates the finest work. In any case, you will need to work your way through all the galleries who handle your artists and interest them in publicising your auction to their customer list (galleries mail their customers about each of their shows).

The artists

But before thinking about the buyers, you will need to reach the artists. Always start at the top, going for the best artists in their field. Once you have one or more major artists, it is much easier to ask others to join them. Take advice about the best method of approach, which is often to have another artist make the request personally. If a major artist does donate, find out if they would be willing to approach fellow artists. This is how large charity rock concerts are put together (again by face to face or at least telephone presentation). By the way, a good existing work of art will sell much better than something specially created for your organisation. That is fine for merchandising products, but rarely for works of art. Artists may delight in depicting the suffering you are trying to alleviate, but buyers may be less enthusiastic about having this hung on their sitting room wall.
Store the works of art with great care before and after the auction. If they are very valuable, use professional storerooms. You may have some left over that can be sold through other outlets or saved for the next time. Always make sure they are insured and move them cautiously. Check the size of the artwork before collecting it. If they are paintings, they will usually be unframed and you will need to frame them for the sale. This can be prohibitively expensive but framers will often do this for free in return for appropriate publicity. It is worth spending a lot of time cutting down on costs by befriending framers. A volunteer with a good voice will be needed to ring round countless companies obtaining all you need, from frames to food, free, to keep costs down to a minimum. (Free drink at auctions is essential, food is inessential, and possibly a distraction.)
Once the venue is arranged and the works of art collected, or suitable arrangements made, you will need to create a catalogue for the sale. This is often the most expensive part of the operation. Good quality colour reproduction is essential if buyers are to be attracted to your event. Make sure the works are fully described, their title, size and medium are important. Always use a professional photographer who has photographed works of art before, (do check their portfolio). This is a professional task, especially if they are large and covered by glass. Focussing on a large canvas so that the final picture is clear from corner to corner requires a specialist. You can recover some of your costs by selling advertising space in the catalogue to your suppliers and others. Set the date of cataloguing carefully, because you will need adequate time to have it printed and to reach the buyers before the sale. That means the setting of a date by which all works of art are ready. Leaflets and advertising are the next highest expenses.

The buyers

Buyers are found through three principal sources. Firstly, through the galleries which already sell works of art by your artists. Secondly, through the great and good in your organisation, including your top donors. Thirdly, through appropriate advertising: try art journals, obtain lists of buyers from other organisations, and talk to journalists about an article on charity art auction bargains. Invite the gallery owner and anyone influential to the private view. (Although your members should know the auction is taking place they should be discouraged from turning up unless they are prepared to bid.)
The auction house will have a lot of advice about the private view and catering on the night. Use the private view as a ‘thank-you’ and cultivation opportunity for top donors and others – do not forget gallery owners, framers and businesses that have advertised in the catalogue. You should try to ensure the best artists attend and that there is good quality wine as well as soft drinks. As much of the drink, food, flowers, etc., as possible should come free from businesses, for both the private view and the auction itself. (When you have exhausted already friendly companies, you can work your way through Yellow Pages.)
This is a prestige event, so it can also be used for fundraising purposes such as a high price raffle – ‘put your business card or signed £20 notes in the hat.’ Have photographs taken for your own internal publicity and to highlight the auction in your external publicity afterwards. Do make sure that there are enough volunteers present to cater for all the guests and make sure no one is feeling lost. Ensure they keep a record of the people they spoke to and their interests in your charity. This will be invaluable information for your major donor development officer. To invite people to all such events you should use quality invitation cards e.g. with chamfered gold edges and round corners. Select your most prestigious and appropriate person to make the invitation.
The auction proper will take on a momentum of its own and you will need to free yourself from other duties, in order to concentrate on managing the dozens of unanticipated things that occur.

Naturally, you may not handle them yourself, but you will need to feel on top of the proceedings by knowing you have allocated all the important tasks to people you can trust and monitoring that they are actually taking place on schedule. On the night, give yourself the freedom to deal with problems by not taking on any major task but let yourself float and liaise with key people.
Take advice from the auction house about the date and timing of the event. It is fine for it to be a weekday and early enough in the evening for business people to attend on their way home. Give the audience time to enjoy their free drinks and look through the catalogue before starting. If you have a lot of lesser works to sell, you could hold a silent auction at the same time whereby people write their bid on a piece of paper below the painting and other bidders add their names and bid more if they wish. This can be quite entertaining but do not let it distract from the main event, perhaps by using a separate room.
Try to avoid reserve prices and percentages going to the artists – you want it all! Some artists, however, like to keep their prices up and in difficult times are loath to give away anything when they could earn from it. The auction house will handle the taking of cheques, etc., at the end of the event and the dispatch of the works of art, but agree on all this beforehand! You will need to dispose of those left over. This can sometimes be done by arrangement with people who bid under the reserve, or those who missed their chance to bid by hesitating. Do not incur storage charges by hanging onto works that are not valuable. Return them to the artists with thanks. If, for some reason, very valuable works are left, auction them off in a regular auction later, but let the artists know this may happen.
My own preference is to avoid reserve prices like the plague. They hamper the natural flow of an auction, which requires some works to go cheaply so others will be scrambled for. Reserves take the fun out of auctions. Having to sell or return works afterwards makes you look incompetent. Everyone asks “Did you sell out?”. Works sold later require storage, consume huge amounts of time and bring in annoyingly trivial sums.
As always, thank everyone personally and make sure you have included all those who helped, regardless of the size of their contribution.

On the day:

Let a key person or celebrity speak before the auction to remind everyone to be generous; and, at the end, to thank them (and be prepared to jump up in the middle and enthuse them if things are not going well).
After the event thank everyone promptly, as usual. The event has not finished until everyone has been thanked, including all the volunteers.
The key to successful art auctions is to put as much effort into attracting real buyers as into attracting major painters. Artists will wish to see their work sold properly, for good prices. Remember, they have a market in their work to maintain.


Individual Expeditions

Charities are often approached by individuals who wish to undertake a particularly difficult or hazardous task or trek, like climbing the Matterhorn or crossing the Sahara on a bicycle. These offers should be treated with extreme caution. They are well meant but show a fundamental lack of knowledge about how sponsored events work. It is very unlikely that people in your organisation, or their friends and colleagues, will give money because someone they probably do not know is undertaking a difficult task. This is not to say that those expeditions do not have their contribution to make. This is really from the publicity that they can garner from the media (often mainly the local media)for the cause. It may help all your other fundraising if someone is seen to be making such a huge effort to help. The sponsorship, in this case, often comes from companies giving equipment that can be featured in any photographs or filming of the trek, which the company can use for marketing purposes. Occasionally, the participants can raise quite significant sums themselves from affluent contacts, or sometimes from companies if what they are doing is certain to feature on a television programme. It is important that all this is made clear by your organisation from the start, otherwise the participants may feel badly let down by you, for failing to take full advantage of their hard work by not raising much money.
Planning a sponsored event
Make sure the route goes from A to A, not A to B, or the
participants will have a long journey back at the end of their efforts.
Everyone who agrees to take part should have
– a route map – clear instructions – a sponsorship form that can be photocopied. The form must have a space for telephone numbers because after the event those who take part will need to ring round all their sponsors and chase up the pledges quickly before they go cold.
If you have a local organiser they will need to know who has taken part in their area so that they can chase up the money likely to come in. It is the organiser’s enthusiasm that will keep the event going from year to year and will enable it to become more and more successful. Make sure they have access this information.
Design T-shirts to wear on the walk and take photographs of participants to sell to them so they can take them home immediately afterwards (develop in one hour ?). Make the event fun and unified in design. If people have endured certain hardships together they become closer, and these events can engender a spirit of camaraderie which helps them to continue year after year. So don’t lose participants’ names and addresses.
It is usual to sign (stamp) people in at the beginning and out at the end, so showing that the course has been completed. (A certificate like this helps the pledges to be collected.)
You will need enough marshals to cover the late starters and finishers, and along the route to help people over roads or with any difficulty they may have in following the route. Some drink and refreshment is very helpful during a very long walk.
Always notify the local police and seek their advice. They will often advise you not to proceed but if you insist they will be very helpful.
– check your insurance
– take every precaution over safety to eliminate risks as far as possible.
Any open air event can be insured against rain (pluvial insurance). This is, however, very expensive, often one fifth of the amount insured. The time you are insuring for also needs careful thinking through. Do you simply insure against rain at the time the event takes place, or for, say, a two-hour period in the morning when people are making up their minds whether to attend, or on a Friday morning for a Saturday event? Personally I prefer to take the risk.

Concerts and Open Air Events

Another type of event is epitomised by the rock concert. Here artists forgo their fee (giving their time or art for free), and the proceeds from the event go to the charity. So, often your only advantage over a commercial venture is that you have saved the fee.

Planning for a concert
The big surprise for most people is just how risky these events are. Most large charities have a horror story or two (some people never learn) about concerts that have lost money, credibility and induced concert rage as costs spiral out of control and income fails to materialise. Especially serious are the artists’ expenses. After the initial contact with a celebrity you will probably be dealing with their management and you can be sure that they don’t care about your charity at all. In fact they will see you as a good chance to fly their star, the band and tons of equipment back from South America for free, as well as an opportunity to have two weeks in the best hotel in town for a large number of people they owe favours to.
Set a limit expenses, and read the contract details carefully. Most of them are designed to stop the artist being put into a squalid hotel, taxiing around at their own expense, and changing in sordid dressing-rooms – but does the carpet really have to be turquoise, and do they need that amount of root ginger and vodka before appearing on stage? Everything is negotiable – up to a point. The entertainer’s fee is only a small part of your expenses, so you are still left with major costs. You should consider:
hire of the hall
programme printing (ticket printing for major rock shows etc has to incorporate security measures. Do use a speciality printer who is used to this.
sundry expenses (which can easily amount to more than the total take if not watched rigorously).
When drawing up your budget, allow 10% of the expected income for publicity and have another 10% contingency sum so that you can cover the unexpected. You may need this at the last minute to boost ticket sales. These will be much easier to judge after the first time you run this kind of event.

Points to watch
-When approaching stars, ask the best first. (Who wants to join the worst on stage?)
-Making sure the artist and venue match is extremely important.
-Check carefully that the artist has not just failed to fill a larger venue. If they have just toured, will their fans go yet again to see them? Read the music press to keep in touch if you are planning such an activity.
-If you have more than one artist appearing make sure they complement each other. Do not assume that if you have five completely different artists you will have five times the audience. People will not sit through a performance by someone they cannot stand in order to hear someone they like.
-You must only reveal the names of artists to the press when they have definitely agreed. This can take some time as their management will try to hold out for as long as possible in case paid work comes up.
-Fix a deadline to decide when all confirmations from performers must be in, and stick to it.
-You should spend enough on advertising to fill the venue, but budget to break even at half full and to be profitable at two-thirds full. It is surprising how often an event is two-thirds full and how often the real break-even point is a full venue leading to a serious loss.

Straightforward promotional ideas are best. Free tickets or T-shirts to radio shows and newspapers for listeners and viewers who ring in first or who answer a simple quiz correctly (what is your name?)are a very good investment. This gives your show integrity in the eyes of the audience (being linked to their favourite show) as well as publicity.
Photo opportunity stunts are fun, but the chances are you will have to take your own photos and push them to the press (not forgetting to take your own broadcast-quality video for an electronic news release). Events always take up twice the staff time you have available but are an excellent opportunity to make the most of your volunteer support. Draft in volunteers early, and give them specific tasks under a volunteer co-ordinator who can organise them into an effective work force over the time needed. For major venues use professional organisers and promoters.
After it is all over do not forget to thank the stars and everyone who has helped you in any way at all, as well as all the volunteers and staff. You will need them again next year, and they will love to help again if they have received recognition for their effort.


Keys to success
Your key to maximising revenue is to remember that the artist will only attract their usual audience, who will only pay the usual fee for that venue. Check what that was and price your tickets the same. Nobody will go or pay extra just to support your charity.
The key to making events work is to run them year after year. You will find that there is a steep experience curve, and the second and third time you hold the same event (or one very similar) it will be much easier, cheaper and more profitable. Your helpers become professional, the audience returns (it was such fun the last time) and you know exactly what to do.


Cultivation Events

The classic set of cultivation events are visits to your see your work in action, office visits or ‘open days’; receptions at your premises or at prestigious venues; dinners both large and intimate; events which have ‘after-show parties’ with the chance to meet the stars, such as film premiers, theatre events or concerts; and special events for a few people with a ‘must meet’ host or other top celebrity. The venue can be your work place, an upmarket hired venue (e.g. London Club, House of Lords), or an appropriate celebrity’s home.
Numbers can vary from a small group of a dozen or so to 25 to 50 people in a room. It is, however, also possible to use your AGM or a regional gathering of supporters. For a major donor programme a select few that you can get to know personally is much better than a large crowd many of whom you will not meet personally.
Choose a name (using just two or three words) and a theme for your cultivation event to ‘brand’ it, for example, Our ‘Open House’ events, the ‘Seeing is Believing’ tour, ‘The XYZ Experience’ our ‘Friends and Family’ day.
Naturally these are very varied in their circumstances and your planning will also vary but you must plan. It is crucially important to ensure you have a copy of the guest list, that you can identify your guests (yes, do always badge everyone – it’s professional) and collect the contact details of anyone you do not know. You and your colleagues can then divide that list between you, so that you have enough time to meet and chat to all your prospects. Your colleagues must, of course, be briefed by you, know what to say, are prepared to take notes (so much of importance in conversations is forgotten so quickly!) and will meet with you immediately after the event to share this information; which will add to the pre-research on each guest.
Passion is important and speakers should recall the sense of outrage they may have felt when they first heard about the problem and decided to get involved. Speeches without passion are dull and do not inspire audiences. Once moved, people will be keen to invite their friends and colleagues to similar events.


Plan the event well in advance. Remember invites must go out 6-8 weeks beforehand and they take time to create, agree on, design and print. In the UK prestigious invites have round corners, and chamfered gold edges using thick card with the guest’s name hand written in perfect script.
Always visit possible venues before deciding where to hold the event.
Do think about flowers they enhance almost any setting.
Do have a professional display about your organisation with leaflets.
Do have a professional photographer to take pictures for your newsletter and marketing. If you have a celebrity there people love to have their picture taken with them – talk to the photographer about how the pictures can be ordered.
Music sets atmosphere and live music sets tone. Do have appropriate music playing where possible. Think about your target’s possible taste in music, not your own, and consider the venue and impression you are trying to achieve.
Gather a ‘house team’ for the event to cover every action (allow for one or two to drop out) and brief them appropriately on the timetable for the event (often just one hour from start to finish), their exact role, the relevant details of research on the individuals on their personal to-meet list, details of the current relationship and the overall purpose of the meeting with its objectives.
Refresh all this with your team just before the guests arrive.
A typical cultivation event Though the location and themes of cultivation events vary the sequence of impacts on the prospect is very similar. Do bring together your home team and brief them all (yet again) on their roles at the event, and remind them they will all meet after the event, before they leave, for debriefing about the event and the guests. A typical sequence of actions for attendees is that:
They are greeted in friendly fashion by staff or volunteers and made to feel personally known and welcome. Their immediate needs taken care of:
Where do they put hats and coats?
Where do they go in the building and where are the various facilities, such as registration?
They arrive at the registration desk, which must be walked round to proceed, and are given a programme and a badge. If they are guests of an invitee a badge is made up for them and a business card taken or contact details. The latter is very important as you may otherwise lose contact with a potential supporter. Naturally, they can decline to give any details, but they should always be asked. For example you can say, ‘Can I note your address and phone number so that we can contact you?’ If that is a problem ‘Do you have any other contact detail we could use?’ If asked why, and few people do, it is because we wish to keep in touch with the guests. ‘We will be contacting everyone after the event and would like to include you’ or ‘So that we can keep in touch with you’, or ‘So that we can inform you of the progress of the appeal’, or ‘So that we can invite you to our next event’ are all good responses. Another way of doing this is to hand out a form and pen, but don’t let them walk away with it ‘Could you fill it out here please and hand the form back to me – thank you’. Their phone number and email address must be on the form.
They enter the main hall, dinning room etc. This should be separate room from the registration desk, so that late arrivals do not interrupt proceedings and people do not wander past the registration desk.
Meeting people. There are usually two key opportunities to meet people face to face, just before the event and just afterwards (often when people are drinking and eating canapés). These should always be taken advantage of by your house team using the list of key potential or existing supporters you have given them before the event. It is a good idea to give them small note books and pens to jot down who they have talked to and what they said.
Find out: What people thought of the event, which part of your work they are excited about, if they wish to help, whether they would like to visit and see the work for themselves and possibly if they are ready to give. All these questions need finessing to fit the event. Remember this is rarely the time to ask for a donation. If you are going to ask for a pledge of support do harmonise both operations.
Most importantly bring the home team together after the event, before they go home; to talk through who they met, and what was said, or they will not remember.
The event should start on time, the guests having usually been told to arrive half an hour early e.g. 6.30 for 7.00.
The host (perhaps a celebrity patron) will start the proceedings with an upbeat message, and introduce each speaker in turn. This is usually less risky than asking each speaker or act to introduce the following person as they sometimes forget leaving an awkward gap.
All events should start by welcoming people to the event. It is then usual for the key note moving talk by your best communicator (this is sometimes the charismatic founder). This talk is often based on a moving anecdote about the event that inspired them to help or start the organisation, or a more recent example of someone they have only just met. They should end with their vision of the future.
Ensure you know the script or at least the key areas that person will cover so that the following areas can be covered by someone else (e.g. the Director) if not already mentioned.
Setting out the basic facts There will be people at your event who do not know your organisation, even committed supporters may not be very clear about the basic facts. So start with a quick summary of your mission (why you are in existence), what you now do (how you carry out your work), where you came from (your history), where you are now (number of beneficiaries, number of staff, volunteers, turnover etc) and where you are going (your imaginative steps forward that they will be supporting), what you lack to get there (funds, new building, equipment) and finally who will suffer if you fail to make that step ‘two thousand children will go hungry’.
Stirring the emotions The classic way of doing this is through poems, prose and stories of your beneficiaries journey. It greatly helps if you have a patron who is an actor who can read or relate this part of the proceedings. Actors have trained voices, can remember scripts, read well and move audiences. Do invite them to be patrons and have enough signed up that one is likely to be free when you want them, but book them well in advance.
Another excellent way to do this is to use a video featuring your beneficiaries. If the same people can also be present at the event, and appear after the video to say a few words that is often the point at which people think “I must help this organisation”. Tell three stories, not one exceptional one, or a pair of complementary tales that can seem like exceptions. More than three just confuses people.
Seeing the work This event may be based on a tour of the organisation’s programme or offices. This should be relatively brief and to the point. It may replace the video in being the emotional high-point of the event, but do ensure that this happens e.g. by telling emotive stories as you move around the organisation.
Questions There should always be a time for people to ask questions, but don’t let a persistent person ask all the questions or make the session too long. They can be introduced to someone who will spend time with them later.
The end End on time! And do thank everyone for attending and all those who helped. Do allow plenty of time at the end for your potential major donors to mingle with your celebrity guests; and ensure the celebrities are booked in to stay, not just read their lines and disappear without having a personal word with the attendees.
After the event Phone everyone after the event (the key reason you need their phone numbers).
Thank them for attending.
Ask them what they thought of the event. Listen and record what they say even if it doesn’t seem relevant at the time.
Ask them if they would like to be involved with the organisation and allow them to suggest ways – record these. Do not ask for a donation, but if they indicate a willingness to give suggest a meeting with them (your calling cards should have the desired outcome for each individual noted on them).
How could the event be improved? The negatives should come after the suggestion of involvement not before.
Do they know anyone they could invite to another event (mention that they will not be asked for money).
Don’t push people who are unwilling to help. You just want to retain those who are ready to help financially or to become more involved.
Handouts Keep them simple – your basic leaflet, one-side of A4 for a fact sheet and your needs again on one-side of A4 is enough. These may all be in a simple brochure and can be given out at the end to stop people leafing through them during the talks and tour. You may, however, prefer to give them out at the start. Remember people cannot hold materials and drink and food at the same time. At an ask event it is better if people are sitting down, as it is difficult to write clearly whilst standing.
Size matters An event in a private house naturally has a different feel to one in a hall. There are usually fewer people and more chances to talk to them in a relaxed informal way. Nevertheless the evening has to proceed on clear lines so people are led logically through a programme. It is not a party where people just mill around.
Asking everyone to look at a video is rather formal for such an occasion, and it is perhaps stronger to have an actor read appropriate prose or poems. In a close environment their presence and the emotion they convey is very strong, as is the presence of the people you are helping.
In large halls with a lot of people it is tempting to have everyone standing but if you are asking them to write out a pledge card or cheque it is better for them to sit. It is also easier on them if the event happens to overrun, and it is easier to have a clear start and finish with everyone sitting.
The end game In all the events above there should be an Ask either for a pledge of a gift or for a commitment by direct debit, bankers order etc. This should, however, not be the last thing that happens on the day. It is much better to finish with a reminder of the vision, an appropriate comedian, or music, or food and drink depending on what has gone on before. Do remember to thank everyone for coming.
There should always be a mention of the next event which people can attend and bring a guest to. Indeed, if growing the number of your major donors is the key target at this stage then calling each of the people who attended the next day (don’t put this off!) and thanking them for coming, asking them about what they thought of the event and if they know of someone they could invite to a similar event is an excellent method of reaching the right people.
Inviting people to cultivation events is easy, people know there will not be an ask for funds, which might inhibit them from bringing their friends and colleagues. Later, when it comes to an ask event, the ask itself can be assisted by staff members or a key volunteer.

The Ask – The Thank You

In the events above the scene has been set for an ask. The audience has been taken to the point where they are emotionally moved by the work that needs to be done, and they understand intellectually how their donation will contribute to the relief of suffering or the solution to the problem.
It remains for them to be given a route for their contribution to reach the organisation. This is simply to outline to them the mechanics of giving and let them follow that path. For your capital appeal you will be looking for significant gifts, which require a face to face personal ask. This is tackled in depth later on. At this stage the events are staged to allow you to meet the potential donors and to ascertain whether they are ready to be asked personally for their gift. This is why they are often called cultivation events and separated from ask events, when everyone at the event is asked to give. Cultivation events preceding a separate ask tend to be smaller gathering of only a handful of people, which allows them to feel privileged and you to discuss the appeal with them properly.
There will be times, however, when there are groups of lower level gift donors who attend an event and whom it is efficient to ask together possibly as part of the silent phase or in developing them for a larger gift ask in the coming years. One of the simplest ways of doing that is to give out envelopes containing pledge or contribution cards to everyone there.
The envelopes should be brightly coloured and too large to fit into a pocket – you do not want anyone to take the cards home because, however well intentioned they are, the chances are they will just leave the card in a pile or behind the clock on the mantelpiece. Once home the magic of the event wears off, the good intentions evaporate and the TV presets the next wave of terrible news taking our minds away from our resolutions.
Each table (or row of seats) should have a staff member or volunteer (the table captain) who will give these out when asked. Do not leave them on seats as they will be mislaid, or incorrectly filled in, or folded up into pockets, by the time people are asked to open them.
Inside the envelope the card is a simple form. This restates the proposition ‘I would like to help…’ and shows the ways of doing this. This is often in the form of a check list stating that: £x will buy this, £10x will buy 10 of them etc. but it should also have the opportunity to pledge the same amount for several years. People can then choose how much to give and over what period of time. For large donors this is a very powerful tool, which is akin to the ordinary donor’s monthly donation being repeated year after year after year.
For example:
 £10,000 a year for 5 years
 £5,000 a year for 5 years
 £1,000 a year for 5 years
Or £……….. for ……… years
This is simply read out with pauses so that people can tick the amount they wish to give. You may wish to adjust these sums and years up or down depending on your audience.
The card should also have their contact details on it. These are preferably to be on the card beforehand and the envelopes personally addressed, but that may not be possible and your speaker may need to ask for this. Nearly everyone honours their pledge so do not worry about a serious drop off rate, but do follow the pledges up promptly with phone calls and letters.
If you are not asking for a pledge but for an immediate gift, then you will need to have the usual set of payment methods outlined from credit card to monthly standing orders. Most asks of this kind are for a monthly standing order and this brings in far more than a ‘cash on the night’ ask, which is to be avoided and really a sign you have not planned your income and expenditure properly. Monthly gifts are easy to make as people are usually paid monthly; they are also rarely cancelled and it is customary to budget for a monthly bankers order to last for an average of four years, though seven years is often more accurate.
The ask need not be the last presentation on the night. Organisations have used a wide variety of closing devices such as an appropriate comedian, music or activity by the organiser’s client group. Often it is a closing speech over coffee or dispersal to drinks and canapés. It is important that people end the event on a high note and it has the feeling of having been a successful and an enjoyable event.


We live in a celebrity culture and many organisations have taken account of this to enrich their supporters’ experience of such events by asking along their celebrity supporters. This cements the supporters relationship with the charity by making it part of their lifestyle. The rich get to meet and know celebrities through their charitable activity, and though it is not the reason for their charitable gifts it is part of the glue that cements the relationship.
It is unlikely that anyone will admit to being influenced in this way, but it is clear that attendance and income at major donor events featuring celebrities far outstrip those without such involvement. Meeting in celebrities’ homes, picnics on their lawns, hanging out with them at after show parties, first nights etc. are all very impressive and go a long way towards making your organisation the exiting one whose events a major donor actually turns up for or cancels other events to attend.
Whilst we are talking about celebrities there are two issues to cover, the issue of appropriateness and of scandal. The celebrity should ‘feel right’ for your charity, whether they are an author, actor or athlete. It greatly helps if they have a connection to those you are trying to help or obvious reason to be concerned, but that is not a precondition. Trustees are sometimes concerned that a charity supporter may become involved in a scandal and that would bring bad publicity to their organisation. There is no evidence to suggest there is any bad reflection in the media on the charity, though if the charity was involved in a scandal the celebrity supporter might find themselves questioned about how much they were involved. There may be mild embarrassment felt by some supporters of the organisation, but this kind of mishap is so rare and the positive advantages so great it gives little credibility to trustees who voice such concerns.
If you are writing to a celebrity asking them to be a patron of your organisation (the surest way to develop a positive relationship with them), do say that, “Patrons are people who agree that their name can be used in our literature, and who attend one event per year at their convenience”.
The combination of a prestigious venue, respected host, celebrity guest and your charity should be strong enough to tempt potential donors out of their homes in the dead of winter. In large cities the possibilities are endless, but in rural areas it is often possible to put together an invitation from such luminaries as a Bishop, in the presence of the Lord Lieutenant with an address of a local but nationally known actress.
This pattern of cultivation runs through the capital appeal, with those who are affluent enough and who in discussion appear willing enough being asked personally for the major gifts as set out in your giving chart.

The tipping point

Ascertaining when people are ready to be asked is an art and not a science. During the feasibility study names will have been matched to the amounts required, often three or even four names for every amount.
These can be ranked against each other by taking the largest gift they have given (in say, the last 2 years) and your feelings about how warm they are to the appeal, operationalising this by giving each a number from 1 to 5 (with 5 being high) and multiplying them together. This will give you a crude idea of their readiness and capability which will allow you to rank your prospects and decide the order of asking.
Personally, I prefer to look at their wealth and derive an estimate of giving ability, then to see if this is matched by their actual gifts. If there is a great disparity then I have found an interim gift or two is required before they will give at their full potential and each of these gifts probably requires more than one personal discussion. Many very wealthy people will give quite small amounts, often these are token gifts for a special reason; and mean nothing in terms of commitment to your organisation’s goals. It is good to eliminate these people from your prospect list as soon as possible, hard though it is to let go the dream of a mega gift.
The remaining high potential donors are then your key prospects and an individual cultivation and ask pathway should be constructed for each of them.
Running alongside and helping the ask side of the major donor programme is often a committee structure which has at its apex the major donor panel (by whatever name) chaired by the most important person in the campaign. This is the appeal chairperson whose role is set out in another article.