In late 2018 St Bede’s College approached us with a significant challenge. They needed to raise $800,000 by September 2019 to rebuild their Chapel.
St Bede’s is a special character school in Christchurch. Established almost 110 years ago in 1911, it is the oldest Catholic boys’ college in the South Island.
St Bede’s Rector, Justin Boyle explained how the Chapel is the heart and soul of their college.
“For generations of Bedeans, the Chapel has been a space to pray, learn about their faith and celebrate Mass with their classmates. These shared experiences hold a special place for many Old Boys and the Chapel’s physical presence at the heart of the College has always signified the importance of this special character of St Bede’s.”
The College had launched a campaign to raise money for the Chapel in 2017. Their strategy was that many people would give small gifts and together raise a lot.
Initially the strategy worked. People generously gave $500,000 in the first three months, but then the number of new pledges tapered off. By late 2018, the campaign had stalled, and St Bede’s approached us for a proposal to revitalise giving.
REPUTATIONS ON THE LINE
This project was not only a challenge for St Bede’s.
Four months is a very short timeframe to raise such a large amount of money.
Typically, building a relationship with important supporters, from first conversation to gift, takes 18 months. We had half that time.
Also, we had never taken on a fundraising campaign midway before.
Ordinarily, we build a strategy and test our proposition with potential donors, before committing our clients to a campaign.
St Bede’s imminent deadline meant that we committed to raising the money based only on our knowledge and on a brief analysis of their pool of potential supporters.
We knew that there is a strong culture of giving in the Catholic community, so we believed it was possible. But it was a risk. We were putting our reputation on the line.
St Bede’s knew that too. We asked why they chose Barrer & Co. Hayden Ryan, Chair of St Bede’s College Foundation, explained that they picked us for our local focus, and commitment to delivering results.
“It was a critical decision. We needed to make sure that if we spent this money on professional fundraisers, they would deliver the result that we needed. We wanted to be confident that the firm we engaged would have genuine motivation to make the project succeed.”
“Not only were we very impressed with Barrer & Co’s knowledge of the sector, and their excellent insights about our project priorities and strategies that we would need. But their team live and work in Christchurch. We felt that meant they had a genuine stake in the project succeeding.”
Justin agreed. “We all had our reputations at stake. Barrer & Co’s reputation was on the line. Our reputation was on the line. We had to make it work.”
MAKING IT WORK
We rolled up our sleeves and started work in February 2019.
But, before we could start fundraising, we needed to restrategise.
Inadvertently, the College had started their fundraising back-to-front asking for small amounts from many people. Experience and research show that major fundraising campaign success starts with building relationships with major donors.
We had to widen their audience and reengage people with the project, fast.
The College also lacked an overarching funding strategy. So, we created an operational fundraising strategy, using the momentum from the Chapel campaign to reinvigorate their fundraising activities and their bequest programme.
Other key campaign elements included:
A fundraising sub-committee. This was a volunteer task force of Old Boys and Friends of the College with influence. Remarkable people stepped up and engaged their network. We couldn’t have made it work without them.
A case for support, centred on the important legacy the Chapel creates.
A matrix to help the school identify potential donors. Potential supporters needed the means to give a substantial gift. Motivation, in the form of a strong connection to St Bede’s. And a predisposition to support the rebuild of the Chapel.
Coaching Justin and the fundraising sub-committee how to identify key prospects and ask for gifts.
Regular meetings to keep everyone focused, motivated, and productive. With many voluntary organisations this can be a struggle. People have the best intentions, but life can slow progress. Regular meetings maintain momentum and keep people accountable. The campaign relaunched on St Bede’s Feast Day, 24 May 2019. The Chapel was due to reopen on 12 September, so we only had four months to make it happen.
LEARNING THE ART OF ASKING
When you work with us to raise funds, you do the asking, because you own the relationships. We coach you until you’re comfortable and confident to ask.
This can be a surprise.
Hayden said: “We had this idea that in hiring a professional fundraiser, they’d go out and raise the money for us. But I don’t think Barrer & Co asked for a single dollar.
“Barrer & Co helped develop the strategy. They gave their expertise. They structured the meetings. They oversaw the process. They motivated and pushed us to contact potential donors. Sarah often came along to meetings as a wingman to observe, help focus, and make comments afterwards. But they never asked for the money.
“And it worked. St Bede’s Old Boys and Friends of the College want to deal with the Rector, or with somebody they know, like one of our committee. They want that connection and they want to hear from that person before they give.
“As a result, we’ve upskilled our team. Come future campaigns, we’ll know what we’re doing. And we wouldn’t, had Barrer & Co done the asking for us. They’ve given us the confidence to approach potential donors in a professional way.”
Justin agreed. “I saw Sarah as a guide. She gave us specialist skills that we didn’t have. She would rehearse me for the ask. She was a damn good coach.”
“She also instilled in me the importance of finding common ground for each conversation. For example, with one very generous donor, our touchstone was that both our mothers were church organists. As part of a tour, I took him to see the beautiful new piped organ in the choir loft. And we spent a considerable time standing there, talking about our mothers. It was a genuine connection. Three days later, he gave most generously to the Chapel.”
“Now I don’t put that down to any innate skill I have. I put that down to Sarah giving me a focus and coaching me. If I had gone into that conversation cold, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been as successful.”
BENEFITS BEYOND THE MONEY RAISED
The St Bede’s team raised more than $800,000 by their September deadline.
Through the new Chapel, current and future students will have the same opportunity as their predecessors to develop their faith and connect with one another. The Chapel will become a legacy for them, as it is for St Bede’s Old Boys.”
But it’s when the College talks about the benefits Barrer & Co brought to the table beyond money, that we get excited because we do what we do to teach the joy of giving. We share our knowledge to help not-for-profit organisations build meaningful relationships with donors and stakeholders because we all have more impact together.
“Barrer & Co also taught us about the importance of acknowledgment and ongoing engagement. There have been various appeals to our community in the past. Perhaps sometimes our Old Boy network felt they only heard from the school when we had our hand out. We now communicate with alumni monthly. And we hold regular reunions and donor events. Barrer & Co’s plan has prioritised where our energy should go.”
“With Barrer & Co’s help, we were able to identify potential donors who were not on our radar. One of their legacies is that we now have a significant number of potential donors whom we might be able to approach in the future.” “The project was such a great success for us. We would have raised merely a fraction of that money without Barrer & Co. And it went beyond the money raised. St Bede’s learnt so much in the process and has the benefit of that knowledge and experience. “I was talking with the Chair of the St Bede’s Board of Proprietors yesterday. He commented that the school would use -Barrer & Co again for fundraising projects because it had been such a positive experience and such an overwhelming success.”