My first experience of a capital appeal was over 20 years ago, in my very first fundraising role. Although as a very junior fundraiser, I didn’t have responsibility for the appeal, I got to see first-hand how existing and new contacts could be engaged and inspired through a well planned and executed campaign. It was a fantastic learning experience.
Since then I have been involved in more than a dozen capital appeals, for causes including churches, disability charities, arts and cultural organisations, colleges and hospitals. I have been part of a team, directly led the campaign, and acted in an advisory capacity, guiding clients as they raise the millions they need for that new building, or to refurbish the tired old facility they are currently working in.
I love capital appeals. They can galvanise an organisation and their supporters behind a game-changing vision, taking them to a whole new level and making a real difference to the services they offer for their beneficiaries. However, not all capital appeals succeed, and when they fall short of target it can be devastating. A failed appeal can cause lasting reputational harm, not to mention internal loss of motivation and morale.
That’s why it is vital to ensure that you have the best possible chance of success before you begin. There are no guarantees, of course, and running a successful capital appeal is as much an art as a science, but carrying out a proper feasibility study beforehand means you can avoid the glaring pitfalls which can derail the most well-meaning project.
In simple terms, the feasibility study seeks to answer the following questions:
- Does the organisation have strong leadership and a clear strategic direction? Does this project clearly fit within that strategy?
- Does the organisation have a positive public profile?
- Does it have a track record of support, which demonstrates to potential donors that it has the skills and experience to manage large donations?
- Do the trustees and senior leadership accept the need to invest in the resources needed for an appeal of this type to succeed and are they willing to commit their own time, energy and reputation in the process?
- Is there a compelling Case for Support to be made for the project? Can the organisation convincingly demonstrate what benefits the appeal will bring – not to the organisation, but to its beneficiaries and to the wider world. Do these benefits represent value for money?
- Are there sufficient prospective donors who can give? These can be individuals, grant makers or companies, but must be able to give at a sufficiently high level to reach the target which has been set.
It’s rare that the answers to these questions show that an organisation should not embark on a capital appeal at all – though that does happen and are amongst the more difficult conversations I have – but they frequently throw up the need for more work before launching. For example, the case for support may not be clear or engaging enough, or there may not be sufficient internal resources in place. These issues are generally quite easy to fix, but risk throwing a major spanner in the works if not addressed. Taking a step back, and devoting a bit of time to looking at things in a clear and rational manner at an early stage, really can save time, money and heartache later on.
So, are you ready for a capital appeal? Give me a call to discuss your plans and to see if we can help.
Bill king, CEO, Group IFC