Harmeny’s Learning for Life Appeal was my first capital appeal. I was originally appointed in 2019 to raise £1.95m to fund the build of new specialist learning facilities for the children who live and learn at Harmeny. However, with the impact of Brexit and Covid on the construction industry, this target grew by 60% to £3.15m at the end of 2021. 2020-21 was a hugely challenging time for the appeal, capital funding dried up for 18 months as focus shifted to emergency appeals to tackle the effects of covid and, understandably, took attention away from capital projects. Having gained good momentum up to March 2020 the appeal was forced onto the back burner and the original strategy and timeline for the appeal had to be completely rewritten.
Since then, I’ve had to revisit and revise the strategy numerous times to reflect the rapidly changing funding environment that has followed Covid. Being flexible has been key, and with it, keeping our volunteers and donors, plus the Senior Management Team and Trustees, informed throughout. My biggest learning from this period was to never to shy away from sharing the realities of fundraising or sugar coat the truth. Our funders and donors all really appreciated our honesty and often helped us find solutions to the challenges we faced. This open approach also helped secure many uplifts in support and repeat donations. By arming the Trustees with the realities of capital appeal funding post covid they were able to make informed decisions and work through a potential plan B to give comfort to funders at times when the successful delivery of the project was on a knife edge.
Celebrating the wins has also been vital. Setting mini milestones has helped keep up motivation and a feeling of progress, even when the new target has felt a very long way off. Acknowledging it is ok to be disappointed with the rejections but always looping back to the ‘why we are doing this’ to help pick ourselves up. Working onsite at Harmeny and getting the chance to work alongside the children and the staff supporting them every day, has hugely helped myself and my team do this. In turn, we worked hard to ensure that we shared stories with our donors and volunteers wherever we could, with our service colleagues speaking inspirationally about their work via Teams and in person.
Now we have made our £3.1m target, and I have had time to take a breath and reflect, I recognise that a robust project management approach, with fundraising being an integral workstream alongside the other key services and design elements, has been core to the success. Working within a cross-organisational project management group meant the needs of the appeal and the construction project have been carefully balanced, allowing effective decision making and increasing everyone’s understanding and ownership of the many different elements needed to bring about organisation-wide change. It has also hugely benefitted my own professional development and helped embed a fundraising culture at Harmeny.
Raising funds for and completing a construction project within the backdrop of the last few years is a huge achievement, particularly for a charity that had minimal fundraising presence for the last twenty years. The Learning for Life Appeal has really tested me and the team across Harmeny. However, through careful planning and a huge amount of teamwork, young people impacted by significant disruption and trauma in their early years can now stay living and learning at Harmeny beyond age 14 - and that makes everything worth it.