The Appeal Chair

The role of the Chairperson

The role of the chairperson is crucial for many capital appeals. He or she runs the major donor panel, which secures most of the funds needed during the private phase of the appeal. To be effective the chairperson themselves must make a significant donation. During the private phase it is customary to raise half to two-thirds of the total sum needed before the public phase is launched, so this position is vital and must be filled by someone both dynamic and fully committed to seeing the appeal succeed. This is often the point in a CEO’s career where they move from being merely successful to be ‘significant’, and they often say that chairing an appeal was the most rewarding use of their power and prestige in their career.
As your wealthy donors and potential donors are likely to cross generational lines, ask yourself exactly which ask strategy suits each donor. Many will be unable to resist the Chairperson’s big ask, but others will prefer the CEO, Chair of the Board or other person in the organisation that they know well or respect. Especially with boomers, the relationship is key to this most important of decisions.
When sounding out a prospective Chairperson check that they can give substantially (at the same level they will ask) and that they are prepared to phone prospective donors themselves. If they want someone else to phone they are the wrong person – signing letters is not enough. They must also be prepared to bring on board as donors and donation getters a limited number of their colleagues. This is not an honorary position and that particular ask should not be left to someone who is in awe of the prospective chair or doesn’t fully understand that if they cannot happily fulfil all the requirements they do not get the job.

The major donor panel

The panel may consist of some six to eight people, who all make a significant donation and then ask their colleagues to join them in donating to the appeal. Half the panel may come from the Chairperson’s list of potential donors and half from the charity’s. Traditionally the panel meets together only three times. The first time they compare lists and decide who will approach who. They also look at lists of prospects provided by the charity (which can include trustees of potential trusts) and see if they know them personally and if so who is best placed to make an “ask” for a donation.
At the second meeting say, two months later, the panel members report on their successes and any postponed asks. These are then followed up along with any suggested new potential donors before the third meeting, which is essentially a thank you meeting and a celebration of success. In practice there are often many more meeting than this, but they must be practical and no one can be allowed to keep reporting that they’re not meeting or not asking their contacts.
The key to making the meetings work is a strong and determined chairperson who will phone or meet each panel member after maybe two weeks and ensure they carry out their asks. He may offer to join them, drill them in approaching prospects or arrange for staff members to accompany them in their approach to the prospect to provide support, information or even to make the ask.
The ask is however best made by a colleague in the same peer group as the donor who has given a similar amount to that requested. Before meetings take place the prospective donor should be researched by the charity to at least check their shareholdings and the amount to be asked for decided. There must be a definite ask for a certain amount. If information on the prospect is not clear then the only other option is to suggest a range of giving levels from the chart of giving in the Case for Support (all panel members should read the Case for Support until they are word perfect).
The chairperson may also help by speaking at events and by opening up the organisations his company uses to the appeal. For example, a chairperson may wish to use his own PR company if he stays on (as he should if at all possible) for the public phase of the appeal.
In a large appeal there may be several panels and the chairperson of each will sit on the major donor panel. These panels may reflect each division of industry and commerce or they may be a marketing panel, lawyers’ panel, media panel etc. depending on the range of activities of the charity and the components of the fundraising strategy.
Building those panels will be a task for the charity’s Director of the Appeal, any fundraising consultant employed and the Appeal Chairperson acting together. Indeed, those individuals along with the Chair of the Board of Trustees and Director of the charity may well form the Appeal Development Group, which oversees the progress of the appeal strategy.
In a large appeal the setting up and managing of these additional panels is crucial to extending the effective reach of the fundraising programme into new areas. Researching and developing relationships with each panel member will also throw up a huge number of exciting possibilities such as film premiers, first nights, theatre events, exclusive homes for receptions etc. and access to people and places that would otherwise be unobtainable. It is the development of all emerging contacts, by careful research and face to face discussions that will provide exciting possibilities that can be actioned during the public phase. This also often provides the settings in which your celebrity patrons can come to the fore and be worth their weight in donations. This is a key activity which often creates the special magic that gives an appeal momentum and excitement affecting everyone involved.
It should be stressed that every appeal is different in some respects and the right strategy is the one with the best chance of securing the key donations at the top of the Giving Chart. This is, however, a professional task and it will not succeed unless the key tasks are undertaken in the right way, especially the ask itself.