The Private Appeal
The private or ‘silent’ phase is, despite its name, one of intense activity. In this phase the appeal is won or lost and the pressure is intense. It is silent, with no external publicity, for two very good reasons: one that if you announce an appeal with a great fanfare and media publicity and it fails, you will damage your public standing and your reputation for financial acumen (which will damage future fundraising); and if a potential major donor hears of the appeal through the media they might donate, but this will be a fraction of the amount you would have received with a proper face-to-face ask.
So, no publicity, no press releases and no public launch. You should, however, hold an internal launch to kick the capital appeal off to your existing major donors, patrons, trustees and other key supporters. Way before this happens there are some preparations to be made:
Structure – staffing
Research• Internal commitment – trustees and staff
Preparing the database
Preparing the fulfilment – are you ready to thank
Finding any additional Patrons
Before launching your appeal it is necessary to ensure you can handle the work. Nothing loses major donors quicker than a tortoise like response to their gift or enquiry. Nearly all appeals require at least one new full-time staff member and most require several. These can be brought in over time as the appeal and its complexity grows.
Below are two charts showing how the staffing may change between this the private phase and the next public phase.
Staffing comes before structure as you must have the necessary staff to service the appeal structure. Many organisations will, however, have much of this structure already in place; though others may take some time for their trustees to agree the necessary committees, panel and honorary positions. For example, deciding to bring patrons on board for the first time and choosing their names can get bogged down at board level for some time.
Sample appeal honorary committee structure
At the centre of the committee structure sits the Chairperson who pulls together and runs the Major Donor Panel or Business Leaders Group etc. Panel, Group or Board is less off-putting than Committee as the title of a group with which to work.
The Chair is flanked by the organisation’s Patrons who can be called on to help attract major donors at events and the Advisory Board who lend their august names to the appeal or organisations. Usually both these bodies will report to the CEO, though in practice the Appeal Director will probably be the person who has most to do with the patrons and other celebrities and the Advisory Board will be in name only and never, or very rarely, meet. Above the Chairperson are the Vice Presidents and the President who are often the great and good who came to the appeal too late to be the chairperson and too grand to be a patron. These posts are useful to add lustre to the appeal (we live in a celebrity crazed culture) but can, if the chairperson or others do not perform, take their place and lead the appeal or just open up new possibilities for income generation.
Below the Chairperson are the various fundraising committees. These allow key donors to head up a group from their sector, profession or trade and raise funds in the same way as the Chairperson; who will ensure each of these groups actually performs as it should meeting and raising serious sums. The Communications Panel, for example, reaches out to the media making contacts and preparing for the launch of the public appeal, which is perhaps two or three years away. At that time it may transform itself into the marketing panel and drive the appeal publicity forward. Be prepared to battle this committee to stop them launching the appeal before you are ready as, the chances are, they will spot media opportunities that will break their hearts to miss.
a. Private Appeal phase:
N.B. The panels above are suggestions but they are all fundraising panels with the exception of the Patrons, Advisory Panel and Communications panels.
The Appeal right from the start of the feasibility study stage should have a guiding body, often called a Development Committee or Capital Appeal Team (CAT) it consists of four to six key players in the organisation. These are usually senior staff (the CEO, Head of Fundraising and maybe an appropriate programme Director), the consultants (usually the lead contact) and trustees (usually the Chair and/or Treasurer). This ensures that the whole organisation is thinking as one in the crucial steps of developing the appeal. This body may then hand-over to the professional structure above when the Appeal Director is in place or Appeal Chairperson starts.
In the public phase the pattern changes. The structure above may continue if it is useful. The presidents, vice-presidents, patrons and advisory panel are likely to stay in place. Unless the Chairperson is enthusiastic and effective in the public arena and has the time to spare, there may need to be a change of person carrying out this role.
b. Public Appeal phase:
The structure becomes more adapted to broad-based events, community fundraising, local groups and communications. Bearing in mind that this phase may be raising one third or even half the funds needed it will require as much dedication as the private phase; the whole community, or even the whole country, needs to be alerted to the appeal and galvanised into taking action. This is a major undertaking that will involve the whole organisation and greatly raise its profile, and its structure needs to allow for that by setting up a marketing panel that consists of experienced professionals to advise on the activities that will impact the media and hopefully bring their own contacts into play.
Often a wide range of events are undertaken to attract the public and raise funds. These are time consuming and best based on previous events the organisation has run with experienced staff taking the lead, but with an army of enthusiastic volunteers ensuring they run smoothly and at a low cost.
Community fundraising also comes to the fore in this phase. Backed by a wave of publicity local institutions, industry, commerce and local societies including religious and secular groups can be brought into the appeal. Extensive work at this stage, in the community served by your organisation, will last for many years allowing your community fundraising to grow steadily after the ‘big push’ of the capital appeal has faded. Once the building or service is up and running the premises can often be used to benefit the wider community, indeed this is sometimes the quid pro quo of planning permission, mitigating any local opposition to the building. Thinking in terms of community benefit and outreach, rather than purely fundraising from the community, may give rise to some innovative ideas.
Appeal staffing structure
Ideally the appeal should be organised by an Appeal Director, who would report to the Head of Fundraising and be advised by an experienced consultant. Reporting to the Appeal Director may be an Appeal Administrator & a Researcher who would keep the records, provide information on new and current prospects and liaise with a research agency as required. This may initially be one post that grows into two separate positions. Also reporting to the Appeal Director would be an Events Manager who would run the series of events needed for launches, cultivation and most likely the larger fundraising events for the public appeal. The Events Manager would work with the patrons and other celebrities liaising with the Appeal Chair as appropriate.
The Appeal Chair may nominally report to the Director or Chair of the Board, but in practice the Appeal Director will need to be able to ensure the Chair is performing their task properly. Access to the time of a key communicator, who can deliver the message movingly, is also a pre-requisite. This could be the Director, Chair or other staff member or even a dedicated key volunteer.
It is appreciated that many organisations are not in a position to take on all these posts immediately due to limited funds in the early stage. Not only may there be limited funds available to employ staff but also to provide fundraising materials and to pay for receptions, etc, at which potential donors could be engaged.
During the feasibility study you or your consultants will have created lists of targets from charitable trusts, government departments and other grant-making agencies; likely corporate donors and individuals. That may have been some time ago and these need dusting off, and checking to ensure they are up to date, before applications are made. A chart of deadlines should be drawn up, pinned above your desk and the applications should now roll out methodically to arrive well before the deadlines. It is good practice to set deadlines a week before they are really due. The sums you seek maybe so large that one missed deadline could cost you the appeal.
The company research you have done requires a more complicated approach. Each company may present several rather different possibilities; a small company may have a Chairman’s fund, some money the CEO can give, a small charitable fund that the workers vote on and an advertising or marketing budget you can approach for sponsorship or to advertise in an event brochure. They may also have goods you can use, and such gifts-in-kind are often much easier for companies to give than money. All these methods of giving will be found in your long-list of companies, and your task will be to decide who will be approached for what and by whom and when. This is another wall chart for your office.
Finally your list of individual prospects and major donors will join the other two on your wall, giving you a complete overview of the fundraising campaign. If it has not already been done, you will need to set up detailed research into these prospects both internal and external. You cannot know too much about your prospects and in the following chapters we will discus their cultivation and the ‘ask’. There are several excellent agencies who will run your prospects and existing major donors against their databases and tell you if your list is bulging with multi-millionaires. They will then, for a price, tell you the estimated wealth and publicly accessible information about these people. It is this intelligence which will be crucial in your early contacts with donors before your personal understanding of them takes over. Do treat the wealth estimates with some scepticism as house prices are often very significant, plus much wealth is unreachable for various reasons and an estimate often comes in broad bands being based on limited data. Wealth estimates are, however, crucial to effective asking; so do not try to save money by ignoring them and guessing.
You should also be in possession of a long list of potential external donors. You may need four of these ’suspects’, who are affluent enough to give and for some reason can be considered to be predisposed to favour your charity, for every true ‘prospect’ who turns up at one of your cultivation events and four of these ‘prospects’ for everyone who eventually gives significantly. This is not to say you will receive an acceptance for every four people you invite to a cultivation event. It may be more like 1 in 10 in the early days of the appeal.
Internal Commitment – Trustees and Staff
The feasibility study should have shown up any dissent or unhappiness about the appeal at board, staff or key volunteer level. Once you have decided to go ahead this should be tackled immediately, with clear cogent reasons for proceeding given to all trustees, staff and volunteers. Those who have expressed dissent should be seen personally by the Chair or CEO and their questions answered. Capital appeals often last several years and it is important that everyone is on board with the programme or during the hard times when it appears no money is coming in these people will affect the motivation of others and can damage the prospects for success. Though it may takes years, slowing down an appeal can lead to the inflation of the building cost rising above the organisation’s ability to cope. It is this imperative, to keep to schedule or fail, that crucially distinguishes capital appeals from major donor appeals.
One effective ploy to raise motivation is to ask every trustee and senior member of staff to give a donation no matter how small it might be. This is also a useful thing to mention to a variety of prospective donors. Giving should start at the top with the Chair giving first then asking the other trustees and the CEO to give and after that asking the other senior staff members. I would not attempt to go beyond senior staff.
Other key planning steps involve preparing the database so that you can both record all your prospects in the necessary detail and hold their donation and involvement history at each step of their contact with you, and consequently preparing the fulfilment programme so that you ready to thank each donor quickly and appropriately with the acknowledgement coming at the right level and a phone call for all key gifts and commitments.
Once all this is set and you are ready to engage the campaign should already be won – at least on paper. If you haven’t won on paper and know exactly where the money will come from and how you are going to go about getting it, you are very unlikely to succeed in practice. On the other hand if you have a clear idea of your sources (with ample to spare to replace refusals) and an agreed action plan for each part of your strategy, then your campaign is very likely to succeed.