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A step-by-step guide to organising a major appeal

There is a misconception that a major appeal requires a capital project – it doesn’t. And it is not just about getting cash, but transforming fundraising permanently. Either way, the result must be inspirational, something your CEO really wants, and inspire donors to want to be a part of it. Giles Pegram explains where you should start…

There must be an uncompromised belief that ownership of the fundraising target must move from staff to volunteers. Volunteers don’t help staff achieve their targets; staff help volunteers achieve their targets.
If the target is aspirational, staff-led fundraising simply cannot raise it. So, the appeal board must own the appeal. They can then take the credit – and feel as though they have changed the world for the better.

Inspiring individuals 

I held the position of Appeals Director at NSPCC from 1979 to 2010, and during both of the charity’s record-breaking appeals, there was a precise moment when a group of influential volunteers decided that the plan was right, that the target was right, and that they, together, could achieve it.

During the NSPCC’s Centenary Appeal in 1983, the full board only met five times. Sub-committees beavered away. At the second full meeting, each member said briefly what they were doing, and gave their target. Financial guru (Sir) Mark Weinberg had a pocket calculator and totted up the numbers. At the end, he told the meeting how their contributions compared to the £12 million target. Neither he, nor any member of the committee knew. The total reached £13.6 million.

This sounds like amateur dramatics, but it is absolutely the way it was. Each of the group went away with a spring in their step. They were aware of the challenge, that they were part of a group that could achieve it, and the difference that it would make to their lives. At that moment, instead of the staff constantly working to stimulate the volunteers, they took over, making demands of the staff.

I have seen this happen twice, so not a coincidence, but a mix of individual aspiration to make a difference to the world, and group dynamic of achieving something good, together. Achieving this takes many months, but during this early phase, you need one dedicated member of staff, at most – even for the biggest appeal. Charities need to invest time and hard work, but not a great deal of financial resource.

Preparing for the appeal

The first way
Recruit a chair. Choose someone who has appropriate experience for the size of your target, who is well networked, and who can contribute at the required level. You may have him/her within your supporters. Or, a group of your trustees and supporters might be able to identify such a person.

For the Centenary Appeal, we had no obvious chair. But we already had our own charismatic chair, Lady Holland-Martin; our President, HRH the Princess Margaret; and a former trustee, Margaret Thatcher, who identified the Duke of Westminster, not then a supporter, as their ideal chair. They worked on a pincer movement to get him to say yes. I was not privy to the detail of their plans, but the Duke of Westminster didn’t stand a chance. 

The process of finding a chair may take a year, and then a committee needs to be built around the chair.

The second way
Create a steering group. Identify, from your own supporters, the ones with influence and networks. They may be donors, corporate partners, trustees, or their contacts.

Hold a small reception, which may be hosted by your Patron. Orchestrate it so that one well-considered attendee asks another to chair the steering group. Most attendees will, at that reception, agree to be on the steering group (why else did they come?). But a few will fall away.

Then hold the steering group meeting with 12 to 15 people, where your CEO presents the case and fundraising target. They may be sceptical, so it may take a few meetings to convince them. Finally, they will own the project and the target. Some may fall away but six to eight are likely to agree to form the nucleus of an appeal committee.

Then together, it will usually take another six months to identify both a chair, and new members.

What next?

The rest is execution. It is down to your team’s ability to give good support to the volunteers. Don’t tell them what to do – instead, let them come up with the ideas. Guide them when they have good ideas. Constrain them when they have ideas that are pure fantasy.

Why would you put yourself through this? All fundraising is hard work. This is different hard work, over an extended period. But the rewards when things go well are enormous.

Author: Giles Pegram CBE is a Fundraising Consultant

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