Fundraising news, ideas and inspiration for professional charity fundraisers

Capital Appeals – Theory Versus Practice

Capital Appeals – Theory Versus Practice

At this week’s IoF West Midlands seminar on capital appeals we had a stark reminder that major appeals can still succeed, even when things don’t go to plan. It was a valuable and encouraging lesson for any of you who may be struggling to meet your target!

The first speaker was the venerable Marion Alford, who set out very clearly how a should be run (feasibility study, preparatory phase, private phase, launch, public phase and completion). Marion should know how it works, as she was famously the brains behind the legendary Great Ormond Street appeal, which raised £84 million.

But – and it was a very big but – Marion was then followed by speakers from three charities that had carried out capital appeals recently who, without exception, confessed that they had not followed the classic model, had frequently deviated from what was “right” and yet had managed to raise the funds they were looking for.

In fundraising, there is the theory and then the reality, which can be very different. As with life itself, things happen along the way (building costs go up, you cannot recruit the right appeal leadership or staff to run it, an expected lead gift does not come through etc). Things rarely go exactly to plan and, as a fundraising manager, you have to react to these and deal with them, while maintaining fundraising momentum and keeping things on track.

I can think of various clients of ours who have run major appeals and very few have done things by the book. Quite commonly, we have been brought in to help beef up or rescue a struggling appeal. In most cases, they had omitted something important (e.g. failed to recruit the necessary voluntary leadership), but usually it was not fatal and they got there in the end.

Of course, I am not saying it does not matter how you run an appeal and whether you follow recommended practice. The penalties for those who don’t can be severe – delayed appeals, resulting in cost overruns or scaled down ambitions. But what I do see is that there is no one single “right” way to raise a given sum and that, provided there is a strong enough need, which can be communicated effectively, an appeal can often succeed despite, rather than because, of the way it is run.

If you have any revealing capital appeal stories or need advice to get one on track, feel free to contact me on

Simon George, BSc (hons) FInstF (dip) FRSA is a Director of Wootton George Consulting and has been fundraising since 1987. He has special interests in fundraising strategy, legacies and charitable trusts. A longstanding member of the Institute of Fundraising, he founded its Trusts and Statutory Special Interest Group in 1999 and was also the first Chair of the IoF’s West Midlands region. He has written two e-books on legacies and grant fundraising, published by SPMFundessentials and has achieved the Diploma in Fundraising Management. In 2010 he was made a Fellow of the Institute of Fundraising. Today he manages a team of 20 fundraising consultants around the UK.

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