Capital Appeals: 5 Top Tips


Thinking of embarking on a Capital Appeal? Here are five top tips to securing those large donations that make for a successful Capital Appeal.

  1. Do your research

A capital appeal is a one-off appeal for a significant sum of money. Whether your appeal is a few thousand for a piece of equipment, or many millions for a building project, it’s essential you identify where the money could come from.

It’s useful to break your target down into a gift chart, to see what number and size of gifts you need, so, for example a simple version for a target of £1m could look like this:

GiftsAmount of GiftTotalCumulative

The question is then who could give the gifts of each size? The most likely people to give are those who already support your cause, and so existing donors are the first to consider, but it is probable you will need to identify new prospective donors. These could be grant-making organisations (Trusts & Foundations, statutory organisations), companies, or wealthy individuals. Use resources like the Directory of Social Change’s trust funding and company giving websites, and look at who supports similar causes. Also consider your own networks and who your board and other champions may know.

  1. Tell the story

The decision to give is an emotional one, so you need to explain why the new building or item is so important. It is very unlikely anyone will give because they are excited about the prospect of a new building, but they may be excited about the difference the new building will make. So explain why it is needed and how it will make things better. Crucially, it’s not about how it will make things better or easier for your organisation or your staff, but about the difference it will make to those you work with. What will more, or better quality space, or cutting edge equipment, actually mean for your beneficiaries. Will it improve treatment? Will it allow you to work with more people? Will it lead to better outcomes?

Case studies and individual stories are incredibly powerful. People can relate far more to one person than they can to 1,000 or even 10, so personalise your story as much as possible.

  1. Get your facts right

Giving may be an emotional decision, but when you are asking for large amounts of money it’s not enough; you also need to satisfy the donor intellectually so that they have confidence in your plans. That means your costs need to be accurately worked out, particularly for building projects where the costs can easily sky-rocket, and your plans to raise the funds must be convincing. You also need to be able to show how you know there is the need for this project, how you know it will make the difference you claim it will, and how you are going to demonstrate that.

Your track record is important here too. If you can demonstrate that you have the experience to deal with the problem, and have shown success in the past, donors are more likely to be convinced that your ideas for the future will work. Similarly, testimonials from influential and respected figures can add a huge amount, reassuring the donor that what you are proposing is important and that it will work.

  1. Build those relationships

Your task as a fundraiser is to make the prospective donor fall in love with your cause, so that they take personal responsibility for your success and are emotionally invested. That is the point at which they will not only give the large amounts you need, but may help introduce you to others who could give too.

Each prospect should have a personalised approach, depending on their own unique interests and preferences. What is crucial is that the people at the top of your organisation – your board and chief executive, etc – are onside and willing to invest time in this process. These are the people the donors want to meet and hear from; not fundraisers. The people on the ground working with your beneficiaries, and the beneficiaries themselves are also important and should be involved.

Dedicated events, to which prospective donors can be invited, can work well. People will come to these if the venue is interesting and the host is someone they want to meet. They are less likely to come if they have never heard of the person inviting them, and the venue is your offices. A simple drinks and canapés event in the early evening is often effective, or you could have a smaller scale dinner, for a select group. In either case, it is unlikely that you will be directly asking for money at these events, but rather will use them as an opportunity to introduce them to the Capital project, show them who it will help, and how.

The key to the success of these events success is in the follow-up. Every attendee should be contacted within a day or two of the event, preferably by someone they met at the event, or else someone very senior in your organisation, who should offer to meet with them, or invite them to visit your existing premises, or your new site.

It can take a long time to go through this relationship building process, but it is important to take the time as the likelihood of them giving a substantial gift will be exponentially increased.

This process is important for trusts and companies as well as individuals. Getting to know them and making them care about your organisation will give you a far better chance of success than a cold application.

  1. You do have to ask

It’s a myth that if you keep building relationships with people, at some point they will offer to give. They may, but they are unlikely to offer you what you are aiming for, and its almost impossible to say “thank you for the offer of £25,000, but we were really hoping for £100,000.”

In most cases, you need to ask for a donation. That’s particularly true for capital projects, which are – by their very nature – time limited, so you can’t wait for ever. For most people asking for money is the single most daunting aspect of fundraising, but it needn’t be.

If you have done the cultivation process right, then the prospective donor knows that it is coming; they will be expecting it. In fact, they might be wondering if you are ever going to get around to asking them.

You can ask as part of an event, similar to those discussed above, but we generally prefer the ask to be made in a more intimate setting, at a meeting which has been arranged specifically for this purpose, so that the prospect knows what is coming.

The best person to ask is someone who the prospect knows, likes and respects. This could be the fundraiser, or better the Chief Executive, but it is more powerful if the person is a peer of the prospect, who has already given themselves. This gives them the moral authority to ask. “I have given £xxx and I am asking you to do the same”, for example.

These tips have focused on how to secure the large donations which most capital appeals need to succeed. For many appeals, securing the support of the general public, through lots of small donations is also important, and we will look at this in a future blog.