Appeal Strategy

The 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.

One word of warning: organisations are often so keen to build that they start once the feasibility study says it is possible, which means most donors will think they have the money to finish and will not donate. Trusts and other grant making agencies will usually only give when you have planning permission, but not after you have begun building. No one is going to be keen to fund the reserves you have squandered or pay back your loan. Instead you should follow the stages and build when you have the money securely pledged if not actually in the bank.

Stages

The strategy should set out the stages of an Appeal. Even though those involved in the preparation of the strategy by now see the stages as obvious, they will be new to many others and these players will need to fully understand the significance and reasons for the separation of the internal and external phases. To give one example, it is not in the nature of a Communications Department to suppress a good story, and it is hard for anyone not to mention such a major project for months on end.
The strategy will draw from the feasibility studies research (into the funding sources) how much significance the public phase will take. Usually it is expected to bring in around 30% to 50% of the income, but organisations with few supporters and mainly large scale grant makers to support the appeal may rely much more heavily on the private phase or perhaps ignore the public phase altogether. The latter decision is a warning sign that you might not complete the appeal – does it not have community support? Have you not engaged in creating a strong case for support that will appeal beyond the confines of your immediate circle? If you have no worthwhile public support will you really have adequate institutional support? If you have large-scale major donors why do you not have many more smaller donors?
It may be that you need to postpone the appeal for a year or more whilst you build up public support.
Some organisations are worried that the public appeal will damage their revenue fundraising. This should clearly be dealt with in the feasibility study and laid out in the strategy. The conventional wisdom is that successful capital appeals that involve the whole organisation increase the revenue income over the net few years; provided that the organisation maintains its momentum after the appeal, offering a new vision of the next stages of its work that can now be accomplished and not just settling comfortably into its new offices.

Staffing

The strategy sets out the staffing requirements for the appeal over each year of operations. Under-staffing an appeal is fatal to its results. You will undoubtedly need to take on new staff. For example, an organisation which raised some £5m for a new building in three years already had 9 fundraising staff raising some £3m per year. They took on one extra person, but allocated 1 ½ existing posts to the appeal and took on an additional staff member to replace one of these posts. At the end of the appeal all the new posts were still needed to cope with the expansion, including a new major donor development position.
An appeal director is essential and they will usually need additional administrative back-up plus research, much of the research can be undertaken by specialist agencies but some internal research helps to keep the costs down. To run the cultivation events, work with celebrities and other influential people an events manager post is invaluable. These events must look highly professional and work smoothly, nothing less will do. This is not the time to be amateur or homely. Similarly, there should be adequate staff capacity to handle high-level applications. Again these cannot be less than excellent, and that is now the starting point for applications, the finishing point is a stunning application that is almost impossible to refuse.
During the public phase the change of emphasis means that you may need staff capable of running large-scale events and of working closely with the media. It is possible this phase may require a different appeal director, though that is not a change to be made lightly, as the chances are that much of the private phase activity is continuing steadily in the background.
It is sometimes tempting to draw in volunteers to take on some of these roles. The thinking behind this can be a lack of confidence in the appeal, and therefore a desire to limit expenditure. This is a serious error and likely to ensure failure. Though volunteers can be excellent, the degree of control and continuity is often inadequate and professional standards can slip.
Adequate staff and expenditure early on is like yeast to an appeal, helping it to get off the ground and achieve the unstoppable momentum it requires. Do you remember Emily – early money is like yeast?

Schedule

Many people think visually, and most people appreciate information set out in charts and diagrams. Seeing the overall schedule set out in a simple table with months along the top set of boxes and reach fundraising activity set out in its own row, can bring the theoretical discussions to life.

Research

Like the appeal itself the research usually runs through at least two phases: internal and external. The internal phase often starts by running the charities database against a database of the richest people in the country held by an external research agency. This will reveal, sometimes for free, how many of these people are on the database. It is then a matter of additional research (always at a cost) to learn much more about them and rank the result by likelihood of giving, setting out a personal development plan for each person.
The information is priceless and is added to gradually, over the length of the campaign, and longer, taking care to conform to any relevant data-protection acts. Desk research into the business press, and any other relevant publications, should be systematic and widespread. Some research agencies often produce a journal, from their own systematic combing of the press, to which organisations can subscribe. It is easy, however, to ignore these newsletters and just flip through them once in a while. Instead, they should be part of the research brief, with time set in the week to incorporate this knowledge into the research database. In time one develops an acute sensitivity to the relevant actions of the key players as reported in various media.
Research into grant-making organisations, though perhaps not so glamorous, is indeed vital. A capital appeal extends the range of organisations which can be approached, and helps to build relationships with many potential new funders. The size of the ask also increases dramatically, whereas before the largest application may have been for £50,000 it may now be for £500,000. This makes a considerable difference to the research parameters. At the lower end it also entails a judgement call whether it is best to go for revenue funding or capital appeal money.
The timing of the build also affects the research and applications. It may be possible to look for funding split over two or three years, or for funding pledged for the start or other significant point in the build.
The researcher will have to bear in mind the various ways the project may be split. For example, the building might contain a library, research area and clinic. Each may have different funders who will make a significant gift to the part that interests them, whereas as appeal for the whole project could not be entertained. Such earmarked gifts are by the nature less flexible, and allowing too many organisations or people to pick where there money is spent may mean one part of the project is over subscribed when another cannot be built for lack of funds.
Research into potential patrons, advisory panel members and other celebrities is important to prevent inappropriate or ad hoc decisions being made by people out of touch with who is respected and who would make an attractive host, speaker or add real sparkle to an event. It is the celebrities that often provide the excitement which lifts an appeal from the mundane charity appeal to the exclusive lifestyle opportunity that swings open locked doors and brings the fabulously wealthy beasts out to play.
For the strategy, costing out this research programme and allowing for adequate staffing is essential.

Events

The strategy should show the changing nature of the events, from cultivation events during the internal phase to possibly large-scale national events, as well as a myriad of small events run by local groups or key supporters during the public phase.
Income and Expenditure

The strategy will need to estimate the income and expenditure, and to set this in a schedule so that the cash flow can be estimated. At this stage, this is a hugely difficult problem and it is likely that only broad brush figures can be produced, which must be taken with a large pinch of salt. As the campaign progresses these figures will firm up but this is never an exact science.
The key figures are the early income figures and unless the research study has excelled itself they are, at least in timing, likely to be the least accurate. Real care must be taken not to anticipate early income and to be quite realistic about the length of time charitable trusts etc take to make decisions i.e. several months and possible only in the following year’s grant cycle; and how long it takes to cultivate individuals and move them to a position where a significant ask becomes possible. If the organisation is searching for a chair for the major donor panel then six to nine months just to find the right person, let alone set up their donation and the first meeting, is a common time scale.

The Action Plan

An action plan is another invaluable tool. If at all possible, adding this to the strategy will bring it to life and provide a blueprint for the Appeal Director to use in moving the appeal forward.
The action plan essentially sets out who does what when, rather than why it is to be done. It sets out all the roles that need to be filled, shows the actions each person in those roles will take and when they will take them – it puts the meat on the bones of the strategy.
Who will fill those roles may be less clear, but what they should accomplish will be tangible not just in financial terms, but in terms of ‘input’ and ‘output’ i.e. the actions taken and the difference those actions will make. This should not, however, descend into the equivalent of writing a complex application, it should be brief and practical giving a straightforward outline of actions to be taken. A schedule of activity allows everyone to know who it is intended will take which actions by what date, and allows management to keep the appeal on track.
Appeals often build into complex affairs with multiple applications, asks and events all interacting with a multiplicity of individuals and institutions. So, tight and visible planning becomes essential to avoid the kind of slippage that sees everything slow down.