We often get asked to help charities get themselves ready ahead of an Appeal. The most organised charities, like CRUK, might approach us years ahead of a proposed launch date. But, even if you only have a few months notice, using our assessment framework can help. It’s particularly useful in focusing on the key priorities and sorting out what needs to be done.
We have created the =mc readiness tool which we have now shared and tested with over 20 different organisations. It’s a tried and tested model that combines the seven essential dimensions of readiness. The diagram below summarises these dimensions.
Each dimension is interdependent, although some will be more or less pressing for different organisations. Typically we find, there are three critical aspects that must be right before launch to increase your chances of success. The others are all important but you can fix these later, as the fundraising unfolds.
Note that the assessment tool is quite different from a feasibility study – we recommend you need one of those too. Its key purpose is to consider a number of key factors that help you pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses in your current set up. It also encourages you to fill in the fundraising readiness gaps before you rush off too soon or it is too late.
Each dimension poses specific questions. Here is a little more about each of them:
Major campaigns put a huge strain on the whole organisation and not just the fundraising department.
It is absolutely essential that the senior leadership team and the Board of Trustees fully understand the implications of launching an appeal. They must give it enough time, resources and personal involvement if it is to succeed.
Make sure the CEO, the senior management leadership team and the Board all believe that the Appeal is an organisational priority. Double check that the work to be funded really is considered as fundamental to the charity’s vision, by those in charge. If you have any doubts, press the pause button and have the difficult conversations before you commit yourselves.
If you don’t sort this out right up-front, you run the risk of being left holding a fundraising white elephant, sidelined and overlooked, while the real action takes place elsewhere.
The chances are, you will need to persuade experienced and influential funders – whether individuals, company bosses or trusts and foundations – to stump up significant sums to meet the target. And guess what? Donors with lots of money to give away are no pushovers.
Potential major donors will expect you to have an organisational plan – with credible numbers – on which the fundraising targets are based.
You might persuade a few closest friends to give you money simply on trust early on. And that’s great as a start. But any major Appeal will require lots of new funders to make up the sums you need. And new supporters will expect to do some basic due diligence if they are going to invest their money in you.
Most charities are not used to planning so far ahead and two or three years can be quite a stretch for delivery teams. Don’t despair if you haven’t got detailed plans for the length of the appeal to hand.
Most donors understand that detailed budgeting takes place on a rolling basis – it is what they do in their own world. Just tell them, when they can expect more detail and keep them updated as plans develop.
“What’s our story and why is it compelling and urgent? How do we share it in a simple and powerful way?”
Let’s assume the Appeal is for critical work and that you have done some planning and budgeting already. Telling your story has just become a lot easier.
Of course the numbers are only part of the argument. Donors also want to know the difference they will make through their money. Through stories and case studies, you will bring your work to life. And that builds emotional connections between funders and the people and issues they care about.
A word of warning; it is easy to get carried away with your own arguments about how important your cause is. Just remember that you think is important for donors, may not resonate with them.
Make sure you test your initial case with real donors and other stakeholders. Take note of what they say and incorporate their feedback into your next version. Keep doing this until you are sure the case is really doing its job.
Then you can use the case in earnest to raise funds – including as a basis for a toolkit of communication tools suitable for use across different channels. Don’t forget to tailor its contents for every audience you engage.
Major Appeals rely on senior volunteer leadership, typically Fundraising Boards or Committees. Occasionally, it is the Board of Trustees that takes responsibility. Volunteer-led fundraising is key, as the best way to engage to new prospects and donors through networks. Unless you are really lucky, your charity is going to need a whole lot of of new high value donors, so the Board is vital to major donor fundraising. Without their leadership, you simply won’t have access to enough sources of money to lift your income to a new level.
Engaging potential Chairs and Board Members is a vital role of the senior leadership of any organisation and a strong reason why you need their buy-in to the Appeal from the start. Members of the fundraising team alone will never have sufficient corporate clout to recruit a Fundraising Board. The type of influential person – with the right networks, influence and personal or professional resources to be good on a Board – will expect to meet the CEO, the Chairman and other senior staff. And to maintain a direct line to them too.
You will often have to recruit a fundraising board pretty much from scratch. If you are lucky you will already have one or two potential board members known to you, possibly even the Chair. You will need to have lots of conversations and meetings to build a critical mass of support and have enough people to form a fundraising group.
To get the right people together will take time and effort. Make sure you have factored this in to your Appeal time lines – and cash projections too.
Chances are you will need more experienced fundraisers in place to drive the Appeal, working in partnership with the senior team and Fundraising Board.
Appeal Boards eat into everybody’s time – especially that of the Director of Fundraising and/or Head of Major Donors. And those key individuals will also need to keep business as usual going.
Working with senior volunteers also requires a whole new set of fundraising skills, beyond the technical knowledge of specific fundraising disciplines – corporate, special events and major donors. You may need some external training to help you learn how to get the most out of a committee.
Finally, it’s often wise to review of existing management processes so that you are confident the “back office” functions are working effectively.
“Do we really know how make donors feel appreciated and welcome their involvement? Does everyone feel that is their responsibility?”
It’s not good enough for a charity to leave valuing their donors to the fundraisers alone. It is everybody’s job.
Respect for donors should come from the top of the organisation and flow all the way through – from how the receptionist treats supporters on arrival in the office, to the involvement of senior people in formal stewardship and recognition activities.
Donors know if they are being fobbed off by a charity. They sense if an organisation is paying lip service to welcoming their opinions and involvement in their work.
Major donors may not always give the senior team an easy ride but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored or dismissed.
Funders will often want to be involved in the direction and leadership of the organisation. And if you want their financial commitment, you must accept they have a right to be heard – even if you don’t necessarily agree or action what they suggest. It is much better to make it clear when/if their views count and be transparent about when and why they don’t.
Getting ready for major appeals is hard work. But it really is worth the investment of time and thought. We hope this article helps set out what you need to think about.
=mc has almost 30 years of experience supporting large and small organisations to run special appeals. Our team has been involved in some of the UK’s largest appeals – from Oxford University’s £2B education campaign to CRUK’s £600M appeal for the Francis Crick Centre.
We’ve also helped a number of national and international agencies including:
UK: Marie Curie, National Trust for Scotland, MacMillan Cancer, Hull University, Addenbrookes Hospital, Science Museum, Imperial War Museum, Hepworth gallery, National Gallery, and Oxfam GB.
International: MSF International, WWF International, Doctors Without Borders USA, Dian Fosse Gorilla Fund, MEF Museum Argentina, UDEM University Monterrey Mexico, and Eastern Arc Mountain Endowment Fund, Tanzania
If you would like to know more about the =mc assessment tool, or want some help with your appeal, please get in touch with Bernard Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org
 A feasibility study will test the realism of your fundraising targets by analysing the value and number of prospects you can actually expect to engage who will then go on to give over a given timeframe.