When to employ a professional fundraiser

by
07 April 2017

Ted Harrison assesses the value of professional fund-raisers and project managers to churches

THE architect delivers a depressing report on the state of the church building. A growing congregation has a vision for reordering the inside of the church to make it more welcoming and user-friendly. What­ever the reason, suddenly the PCC has a very large sum of money to raise. As the projected costs mount, it all begins to look like an imposs­ible mountain to climb for a vol­unteer team of dedicated but ama­teur fund-raisers.

As the Worcester diocese place-of-worship support officer, the Revd Andrew Mottram, says: “There are no short cuts to fund-raising. Sometimes, you will need the help and guidance of an objective fund-raising consultant, or you will wish you had someone else to do the fund-raising for you.

“Personally, I prefer not to use the word ‘fund-raisers’. It en­­­courages bad thinking. The pro­­­fessionals are project managers. They direct fund-raising and give advice. The churches must do the work and keep focused on the true purpose of the project, by constantly asking, What has it all to do with our mission?”

 

BATH ABBEY is currently raising £19.3 million for a programme of extensive and ambitious capital works. “We’re almost there,” the project director, Charles Curnock, says. “Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund’s grant of £10.7 mil­lion, and other fund-raising to date, the Abbey’s target is now firmly within its sights.”

At one time, Bath Abbey had two full-time employees working on the project. In addition, an outside professional consultant is involved whom Mr Curnock phones “every month or so” to review how things are going. A large project, Mr Curnock says, needs various talents, from the up-front character who meets donors and presents the case to to them to the person who can work met­iculously on grant applica­tions. “Applying to the Heritage Lottery Fund is jolly hard work. Some trusts are easy and quick to deal with, but I remember one trust that politely took us apart — but then ended up giving us £250,000.’

Mr Curnock is conscious, too, of the importance of keeping donors up to date on progress and not just taking the money. “One never knows who we might want to return to with a new request.”

 

THE Church Times columnist the Revd Maggie Durran, a retired church fund-raiser and project man­­­­­­­ager, says that, essentially, sources of funds divide into four categories: rich donors; trusts and charities; the Heritage Lottery Fund; and public fund-raising.

Which of the four sources turns out to be the most auspicious depends on the purpose of the fund-raising, she says. “Applying to the Heritage Lottery Fund might be worth considering, if money is being sought for a building of great his­torical interest needing repair,” but a project designed to benefit a wider community might better qualify for money from charities or specialist grant-making bodies. Money to build lavatories, buy chairs, and create a children’s corner may best be found through local fund-raising.

”Before thinking of calling in a pro­­fessional fund-raiser,” Ms Durran advises, “think of the catch­ment area of your fund-raising. A high-profile London church or world-famous cathedral needs a professional. A local parish might do better with an able volunteer with plenty of time to spare.”

 

SIMON GEORGE, of Wootton George Consulting, is a professional fund-raiser. “Church members may think they can do it for themselves, and then make some big mistakes, such as putting up the thermometer outside the church before any funding is in place,” he says. “Don’t go public until the thermometer can show that you are well on your way. People often delay making dona­tions until they are assured that things are already going well.’

Mr George suggests that the church ask itself some hard ques­tions right at the start, such as: “Do we have a strong enough case to put to the community? Is there a com­munity benefit, or are we just doing this for our members? Is there any realistic hope of getting the money?” He suggests that a feasib­ility study is carried out before a single donation is asked for. “Dep­­ending on the size of the pro­ject, an outlay of £5000 to £10,000 to commission a consultant might be worth considering.”

On the other hand, the church might decide that the best value for money is to be had from sending a volunteer on a training course, or to a conference on church fund-rais­ing. “Raising Funds for Christian Charities and Churches” was a one-day event held at Central Hall, Westminster, last November. It was organised by Stewardship to provide more than 500 church and charity representatives with an opportunity to hear from philanthropists and experts in raising funds for Chris­tian causes.

More focused training might be gained from a course that con­centrates on a specific aspect of fund-­raising. The Directory of Social Change, besides having a website giving lists of grant-givers, runs training days, and will, for about £200 per person, give guidance on such subjects as writing applications.

 

SIMPLY handing over the Heritage Lottery form to an expert is not nec­essarily the solution. Mr Mottram goes as far as saying that funds have “acute antennae that can spot the professional’s hand, and those applications can go to the bottom of the pile”.

Malcolm Fisher managed to achieve a £240,000 grant for All Saints’, Cockthorpe, without any help from outside professionals (although his 19 years’ fund-raising experience as a former secretary of the Norfolk Churches Trust prob­ably helped). He successfully neg­o­tiated the Heritage Lottery Fund application process, and now future generations can continue to enjoy the 14th-century jewel of a church and its ancient wall-painting. “The bureaucracy to be navigated was immense,” Mr Fisher recalls.

There is a range of other grant-making bodies that specifically help church projects, each with its own subtly different brief. The Church and Community Fund, for instance, funds innovative church com­­munity outreach projects. The Wolfson Foundation conserves the historic fabric of Anglican churches that pre-date 1850. Some bodies are regionally focused, such as the Owen Family Trust, which concentrates on projects in the West Midlands and North Wales.

“Trusts have their own agenda,” Ms Durran says. “Applicants have to be aware of exactly how each trust directs its giving, and understand the terminology they use. It might be important to know whether a wedding, for instance, is defined as ‘church use’ of the building or ‘community use’.”

 

THERE is no clear-cut figure above which it is best to get professional help. It comes down to the mem­bership of the volunteer pool, and the complexity of the project. If the project involves mostly grant ap­­plications, an experienced profes­sional fund-raiser will certainly know about, and may well have had previous contact with, the grant-giving organisations. On the other hand, all the information is in the public domain, and can be accessed by an efficient and keen non-specialist, given time.

“If a church has a legal issue, it quickly seeks advice from a lawyer,” Stefan Lipa says. He has advised on church and cathedral projects, and is the former chairman of the As­­sociation of Fundraising Con­sultants. “Similarly, a tax pro­b­lem will quickly get referred to an ac­­countant. But, when it comes to fund-raising, there is a tendency for congregations to mistakenly think that, just because they have run a successful boot-sale, they can do things themselves, that all you need to do is send a few letters off.”

Finding the right professional is crucial. Two useful websites are the Institute of Fundraising (www.institute-of-fundraising.org.uk) and the Association of Fundraising Con­­­sultants (afc.org.uk). It is better to find someone with specialist ex­­­perience of church fund-raising, Mr George says; other fund-raisers suggest engaging a generalist with a good track-record who can take a fresh and open-minded look at proposals. Mr Lipa says that, at the very least, the professional needs to know how churches work; but he or she also needs a certain detachment, and a good understanding of the business world.

 

PCC members may want to meet two or three potential consultants before making any commitment to paying for their services. An initial “No fee, no obligation” can often be arranged to discuss the brief and costs.

Then a contract needs to be drawn up, following the Charity Com­­­­­­mission guidelines, which do not advise paying consultants a percentage of the money raised but rather, an agreed hourly or daily rate. Ms Durran says: “Small pro­fessionals might charge £50 an hour. Big companies charge £300 to £400 an hour. It’s essential to ensure that the professionals invoice as they go, on a regular basis. You don’t want to reach your target after much hard work, and then get a whacking great bill.”

The Charity Commission re­­­minds churches that they are entitled to inspect the professional fund-raiser’s financial records relat­­­ing to the contract, and advises churches to “take advantage of this to ensure that it is obtaining a fair and full return from the arrange­ments”.

 

 

Technology that can help
OUR offertory hymn number is. . .”, and, on cue, the collection plate is passed from pew to pew, collecting cash in a ritual that our 19th-century forebears would recognise. Occasionally, as a concession to modernity, a worshipper might use a Gift Aid envelope.

So, if visitors turn up with bank cards and only a few odd coins, they may not be able to donate the sum that they would really like to give. Yet it is now increasingly possible for churches to catch up with the modern world of online money.

One company that has been specialising in software for churches and charities for 30 years is Data Developments, which has devised systems to use credit/debit cards, Paypal accounts, direct debit, and apps all to their maximum effect, while keeping the process easy to use for church treasurers.

Stephen Hendy, from Data Developments, says that his company is “reimagining how donations can be received in an increasingly cashless society”.

It is likely that church collections in the future will not involve regular trips with cash to a bank branch, but just a few minutes spent on a laptop after the service.

 

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