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10 steps to setting up a fundraising appeal

Anyone can set up an appeal to raise funds for a cause that matters to them. You might have been planning to launch your appeal for some time, or you might want to set up your appeal quickly in response to an emergency situation, such as a natural disaster or other unprecedented event. Whatever your reason for setting up a fundraising appeal, there are some important points to consider before you do that will ensure your fundraising is legal and ethical, and has the best chance of success. 

1) Make sure there is a need for your appeal. 

Check that the cause you want to help has a clear need for your appeal. It is also important that before you accept donations, you can get the money to those you intend to help. Working directly with a charity or organisation that delivers services you want to fundraise for should ensure this can be done easily – see point three below for more. 

2) Be specific. 

It’s important you make sure your appeal has a clear purpose. You need to be specific about who you intend to help and how you are going to do it. It is a legal requirement that you use the donations you receive for the purpose you outlined in your fundraising appeal. The more specific your appeal is, the more information the public will have to make a decision about whether to support it. 

You may decide that you will do something in return for donations, for example, sit in a bath of baked beans for three hours. If you do that, you must make clear whether donations will be passed to the cause regardless of whether you complete the challenge, or whether donations will only be passed to the cause if you complete the activity. 

If you intend to use an online fundraising platform to manage your appeal, you may be required to provide clear details on the purpose before you can begin fundraising, especially if you are not raising funds for a well-known charity. Avoid broad purposes like ‘supporting those affected by COVID-19’ and be more specific, for example ‘raising funds to buy shopping for those self-isolating in the local area’, or to raise money for a specific charity.

3) Work with charities where you can. 

You should consider working with existing charities or local community groups where possible. It is likely that these organisations are already set up to fundraise and deliver the services you want your appeal to support. A charity may be able to claim tax relief on donations if they are registered with HMRC’s Gift Aid tax reclamation scheme. Individuals raising funds do not have access to this scheme, so connecting to a charity directly could generate significantly more funds for your cause.

4) Be aware of legal implications. 

By setting up an appeal you may be inadvertently setting up a charity or trust. There are legal responsibilities you have to meet if you do so. You can read more about ‘What makes a charity’ from the Charity Commission for England and Wales and ‘Start up a charity’ from the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland. There is further advice available in our online fundraising guidance under the ‘Specific Considerations on Administering Funds in times of Emergency’ section and the Small Charities Coalition has additional information on setting up a charity.

5) Don’t go it alone.

If you decide not to connect your appeal with an existing charity, get other people involved to help with decision making. By doing so, you can give potential donors reassurance that they are not just donating to one person. This removes sole responsibility for the appeal relying on you and you’ll also gain valuable skills and experience from others to help you achieve your fundraising goals. Additionally, they could continue to distribute the funds you have raised, if for any reason you are not able to do so.

6) Be transparent and gain trust. 

It is important that people trust you and your appeal as they may be wary of donating to a cause they have not supported before or donating to a person and private bank account rather than a charity. In order to build trust, be open about who you are and how any donations will be used. Make sure there is a way for potential donors to contact you to ask about your fundraising. You should be prepared to answer these questions honestly. It is important that people can make an informed decision about their donation that is based on facts.

7) Decide how long the appeal will run for. 

Set a time limit or financial target for your appeal so that your aim is clear from the outset. You will need to think about how long your appeal is going run for and set out what the goals are. You could consider setting up short-term fundraising goals and then set up new goals when those are completed or the time limit is reached. 

8) Use a trusted payment system to receive money. 

People are more likely to donate if they are able to use a familiar payment service. These will often have the added benefit of payment protection schemes that will protect the funds. We recommend using an existing online fundraising platform for donors to give money through, or use a well-known payment transfer system. 

Avoid using your personal bank accounts for dealing with money transfers wherever possible. Using a personal account can leave you open to suspicion that your fundraising is for personal gain. It may also have tax implications for you if it is unclear that the funds are not your personal income. If you do decide to use a personal account, keep clear records that prove you have used the donations for the purpose of the appeal. 

9) Be clear about deductions from donations. 

Are you going to take deductions or expenses costs from donations for running the appeal? You can do this, but you must be very clear that this is going to happen and you must tell donors before they make their donation. If you are not open about this from the outset, you risk running a fraudulent fundraising campaign, which will have legal implications. 

10) Make contingency plans. 

Be clear about what will happen if you cannot use donations to meet the purpose that you are fundraising for (see point two). This could be because you raise more or less money than your appeal needs or because something has happened after donations were made, but before you are able pass them on to the cause. For example, you no longer need to raise money to buy food for people who are self-isolating.    You need to tell donors before they make their donation how you will use any unused funds. Usually this will be that you are going to pass it on to another group with the same needs or give the donations to a relevant charity. If you don’t have contingency plans in place you will need to contact every donor before you use their money for another purpose, otherwise you may be committing fraud.  

If you would like to know more about hosting your appeal via an online fundraising platform, you can read our guidance here.