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How to maximise your capital appeals


Charlotte Bray, How to maximise your capital appeals

Help your capital appeal to reach its full potential with these invaluable tools and tips from Charlotte Bray


Success in capital appeals is a mixture of science, art and a little bit of luck. Organisation, planning and project management are essential. You donít build a house without laying foundations. OK, we might attempt an Ikea bookcase without reading the instructions, but thatís when you end up with wonky shelves and a piece missing.


Capital projects involve construction, such as extensions or new builds. This often means interesting locations such as museums or galleries. There is frequently a tight timescale, like 2-4 years, and a multimillion-pound target. Working on a capital appeal can therefore be challenging, with a constant pressure for progress.


My own appeals have ranged from church halls to chimp houses. While each has been very different, I am going to share some set tools which I hope will make your life easier if you are working on, or considering, a capital appeal.


The private phase and the 80/20 rule


The private phase of the appeal is where all the hard graft is done; researching prospects, identifying networks, warming up potential supporters etc. Lead donations from generous individuals and grant-makers can take 12-18 months to translate into a firm pledge or donation. When running a marathon you donít use all your energy at the beginning - and going too public, too soon, can exhaust supporters. If people are asking ďhavenít you started building yet?Ē you started too early!


As a rule of thumb, raising 70-80% of the funds before telling the world is a good plan. In addition, often 80% of the funding comes from just 20% of the donors who give. This is known as the 80/20 rule. (The table of gifts, discussed later, will help you to predict what this might look like.)




At some point someone will suggest you have a thermometer. Do you remember those from Blue Peter? The idea is that, as you raise more money, the thermometer goes up. Be warned: these can work both ways. When you have a big target, the increments can be so small they never go up. This has the opposite effect to positive motivation. As with the private/public phase, wait until the finishing line of the marathon in sight, then have a visual progress aid for the final Ďpushí. This also means youíre not exhausting yourself supporting millions of bake sales and fun runs when youíve got £2m to raise.


Table of gifts


People love and hate these. The main reason I find them helpful is because they lay out the 80/20 rule Iíve noted above. This is useful for you, but also a handy educational tool for your volunteers, board and committee. They show how many prospects you might need to research, contact and engage in order to achieve a single gift; sometimes the ROI is 10:1. There are free examples online if you donít know how to work out your own table. . Remember, itís not set in stone, but as a guideline itís useful.

Table of gifts.jpg


Effort versus return: using Ansoffís portfolio matrix


A matrix is a simple tool for sorting variables into four areas using two axes. For capital appeals, it can be handy for planning your approaches and working with your trustees. For those of you who donít know, the chart maps the amount of effort (internal resources) required for each form of fundraising on one axis, and the estimated financial return (external attractiveness) on the other:


For example, charitable trusts form a staple of many appeals as the investment is mainly in time and skills, not money, and the return can be substantial. Events would be on the opposite scale. Weíd all love to be able to focus purely on the low effort/high return corner. The reality is, your appeal will be a mix.


Towards the public phase, you will move naturally towards high effort/low return (e.g. fun runs, bake sales) While tiring, they give people the opportunity engage with your cause and often generate publicity. The art is in the balance.


Top tips: managing yourself as a resource


In addition to the planning tools above, there is one other major resource that is important to your appeal: you! Capital appeals can be wonderful to be involved with, with highs and lows, challenge and successes. The pace can be very draining and youíre going to have to spin lots of plates, often managing with a minimal budget. Here are some things that have helped me:


  • Be the expert. Everyone will have ideas about how you should approach your appeal. While you should always be open to trying new things and listening to suggestions, also be confident in your own abilities and experience.
  • Motivation: other people. Capital appeals involve change. Sometimes the project has been talked about for a long time before youíve come on board. You may be needed to help keep people positive and reassure them the change is going to happen and that it will be beneficial.
  • Motivation: your own. There will be tough times in your marathon. Learn what it is that motivates you about your own cause. Find a friend, mentor, or sounding board to help with tricky issues. Whether itís a night out, or a slice of cake, find what you need to help keep you energised.
  • Ask for help. You may be pulled into areas you arenít familiar with, like social media, marketing or events. Itís fun to learn new things, but recognise when you need to outsource or ask an expert.
  • Work with your strengths: yours and your charityís. What is your USP? Where do you really shine? What makes your cause brilliant? Focus on these.
  • Plan well, but be prepared for your strategy to change. In the charity sector, any political, social, technological or financial change will impact available funding. Your strategy is like the pirate code: Ďmore sort of guidelines.í


Most of all: have fun. Over the last decade I have had some challenges, but also some wonderful experiences. Iíve travelled to America, met local and national celebrities, fed lemurs and abseiled off a church tower. Plan well, learn your strengths and weaknesses, then prepare to enjoy the ride!


Charlotte Bray is fundraising manager at the Scottish Seabird Centre

2 Comments on How to maximise your capital appeals

Charlotte Bray said at 15:16 on 21 March 2017

Hi Kirsty, I'm sorry not to have responded sooner as I didn't see your comment until today. I don't get notifications. Fundraising really is a professional job these days and unfortunately if you don't have the resources you're up against the bigger charities, museums and so on for the funding pot. I'd probably suggest you look at getting a fundraiser to help you through it all. If you can work out how much your target is and how much you can afford to pay them, then you can advertise through something like the Institute of Fundraising. A good fundraiser will raise way over their salary, so it is worth the investment, even for a short-term project. Having been through so many building appeals, I do feel your pain! Good luck with appeal and I do hope you meet with success soon. Charlotte

Kirsty Summers (Thorpe on the Hill Playgroup) said at 19:13 on 15 December 2016

We desperately need to replace our porta cabin and have no funds to do so. All of the Committee members including myself are just volunteers who move on after a year or so (although I've been there 4 years so far!), so nobody really has the time or inclination to really research all the grants and opportunities. We organise Quiz Night, bake sales, personalised tea towels/bags etc as well as other bits and pieces but that just about covers the costs of the sundries. I'm feeling out of my depth and concerned for the future of our charity playgroup!

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