The Fundraiser - Practical advice and insight for the charity sector

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How to run a magnificent major appeal

Thinking of running a major appeal for your charity? Giles Pegram gives his expert tips on organising a successful major appeal.


A major appeal can transform a charityís fundraising. Whether large or small, you will find new volunteers, new staff members, new ways of doing things and new donors.


First, though, you need a strong case for support - which articulates the need, then the solution, then the reason your charity is the right one to provide the solution, then the need for money, then the specific need for an appeal. And so the planning phase of an appeal can be quite long. You need to allow at least two years even to get to a fully-formed appeal board. 


Putting together the board

An appeal board can be put together in three stages:  


    • First, hold an engagement event at an attractive venue, hosted by the chair of the charity. Invite your existing supporters. These may be wealthy individuals, or influential and well-networked individuals who are not themselves wealthy. 
    • From that engagement event, aim to recruit a steering group of 10-20 volunteers who will agree to serve for six meetings at monthly intervals to review the charityís plans, agree that there needs to be a major appeal, agree a draft fundraising strategy and, finally, identify members of the appeal board and its chair.  
    • At the end of six months, some members of the steering group will formally step down. Some will continue on to the appeal board, together with people whom they have identified over the previous six months. The third stage is the formation of your appeal board. Whether you call it a development committee, a national appeal board or whatever, it must comprise people who are committed to the charity, who own the case for support, who are influential and well-networked in their own communities, who use their networks to bring others onto the appeal board and to raise the agreed sum, and who take responsibility for the target.  


Inspiring your volunteers

All of this is easier said than done. Itís not always easy to get volunteers onto boards. Meetings of the steering group can be fairly chaotic; particularly the first one. People challenge the case for the support, the target and the need for an appeal. It can seem daunting, but you need to be single-minded in your resolve to get them focused on the appeal. 


Remember, your volunteers would not attend a meeting unless they wanted the charity to succeed. A good national appeal board meeting will have interaction, peer pressure, people helping each other, people coming up with ideas and, most important of all, people leaving the meeting feeling better than when they arrived, with actions having been agreed that will make more money.  


It does take time to get people engaged to the level required for them both to open their wallets, and to persuade their contacts to give too. For the next two years, the appeal is likely to be driven by staff cajoling the volunteers. Eventually, though, the appeal will acquire critical mass, and from that point onwards the volunteers will drive the appeal, and the staff will support them.


Making things clear

Itís crucial that your board members are clear on what exactly their roles are and what is expected of them. Ideally, have a sheet where you say what the volunteer can expect of the organisation, and what the organisation expects of the volunteer. It does not need to be signed Ė just read and understood.


A key tool for the fundraiser is the gift table. This table shows how many gifts are required, and at what level, starting with a lead gift - usually around 10 per cent of the total - and then cascading downwards. 


The gift table needs to be top heavy. Something like 70-80 per cent of the total needs to come from a relatively small number of large gifts. Given that you need eight prospects to engage four people to get one gift, if you donít have a top-heavy gift table you greatly increase the pressure further down the gift table, and make it impossible for staff to support that many engaged people.  


Itís important that your board members know they are expected to contribute to the appeal themselves, and the gift table also sends a signal to the appeal boardís chair and members about their level of contribution. Donít expect the chair to give the highest gift; he or she needs to make a gift that is appropriate within the gift table, but the likelihood is that the biggest gifts are going to come from people you donít even know at the beginning of the appeal.


The gift table also shows how you expect the money to come in, and the resources youíre going to need to deal with the number of prospects. Furthermore, it provides a very simple and conspicuous tally of success. As the boxes get populated, this has an enormous motivational effect.


Keeping an open mind

Finally, remember that a gift can be a gift of money, but can also be a corporate adoption or promotion, an event, a media adoption, a sponsored event and so on, all of which have a monetary value.  


All the above applies equally to a large national charity, or to a small local charity such as a church wanting to replace its steeple. This is a very simplified view, and to run successful appeal you will need an experienced appeal director, or at the very least a consultant who has been through the process. 



Giles Pegram CBE was appeals director of NSPCC for 30 years, during which time he organised the Full Stop Appeal, raising £274m. He now works as a consultant.


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