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The Power of Capital Appeals

It is amazing how a capital appeal can galvanise donors into action compared with ongoing revenue appeals.

I recently came across a church that is struggling to cover its monthly revenue needs of around £33,000. Despite regular updates and appeals to its members, monthly donations have remained flat for some time, as wages fail to keep up with inflation. A number of projects have been put on hold as a result.

Recently, however, the church leadership identified a big new project that involved buying a building with a paying tenant, that would enable it to use the building for part of the week, while receiving rent for the rest of the time. It fitted the leadership’s vision of a community based church, moving into a deprived area to offer services to local people. There was one snag – the building was to be sold at auction for around £150,000 within ten days. How could the church find so much money in such a short time?

In its Sunday services and at two specially convened meetings, the leadership told the members about the opportunity and asked what people would be prepared to give to make it happen. Astonishingly, at such little notice, the members came up with pledges of £200,000 in gifts and loans – far more than the expected limit of £150,000 that was agreed should be their highest bid.

In the end, the building was bought by a commercial investor for more than the church’s agreed maximum, so the purchase did not go ahead. However, the issue is this: How is it that a group of people who have not responded to regular requests to increase their giving can suddenly come up with £200,000 of spare cash, especially in the current climate? There seem to be several reasons.

Firstly, the leadership communicated an exciting vision for what buying the building would allow the church to achieve. This was clearly more inspiring than day to day funding needs.

Secondly, this was a tangible, one-off purchase – more visible and exciting than paying the gas bill or staff salaries (the church employs a lot of people).

Thirdly, the project offered something new and different from the usual needs.

So what lessons can we learn for our fundraising operations? Several things I think.

1. Is your fundraising backed by a strong vision that is communicated well? Inspired donors are more likely to give and to make larger donations, so link the appeal to your organisation’s vision of the future and the impact their gift will make.

2. If your appeals are tired and there is a risk of donors switching off, can you offer them something new or different? Varying the tone and content can help.

3. Make things tangible and communicate the benefits clearly. You still need to raise revenue for ongoing needs, but can you rethink how you present these? How can you make them real to the donor? Consider your use of case studies, testimonials and feedback to reinforce your impact.

The postscript to the story of the appeal above is that it has inspired the church to realise it can do more, even in hard times and the search is now on for another building while the pledges are still fresh. It will be interesting to see whether revenue funding is affected positively or negatively by recent events.

For more on capital appeals, click here.

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