Testing project feasibility for a major donor
“Action Planning came with a wealth of experience and brought clarity and insight to what we are trying to achieve, as well as being realistic about our strengths and weaknesses. They were very professional in the way they worked and their questioning, while all the time encouraging us in our endeavour.”
Nigel Poulton, CEO, The Island
Stewardship is a Christian charity that facilitates tax effective giving for donors. In this instance, a donor couple wanted to give £1million to a charity in York called The Island, to buy a piece of land on which to develop facilities and expand the charity’s activities. The Island provides islands of space and time for vulnerable children and young people in York and this money was to be the trigger for an exciting new project. Before going ahead with the donation, however, Stewardship recommended to the donors that they should commission a project feasibility study as part of the due diligence process.
On behalf of the donors, Stewardship asked Action Planning to carry out an independent examination of the plans for The Island’s expansion in order to establish that the project was realistic.
We spent two days visiting The Island and speaking to its staff team, its Trustees, the local authority, and some of The Island’s advisers. We began with CEO Nigel Poulton to gain a ‘big picture’ understanding of the project, particularly in relation to the costings and phasing. We discussed the plans for funding the capital costs and explored the networks and connections that he and his trustees might have. We were able to gain an understanding of the current supporter base – in particular individuals, trusts and companies – and researched other potential funders for the project.
Talking to some of The Island’s professional advisers enabled us to make sure that the projected figures were reasonably accurate and to understand any likely exclusions. Informed by our research, we produced low, medium and high estimates for the capital sum that might be raised for the project and made recommendations for a fundraising strategy to achieve this sum, including resources required, a budget and outline timetable, taking account of revenue funding requirements.
To underpin this work, we held one-to-one interviews with The Island’s Trustees and senior management team to gauge the extent to which additional governance, leadership or management capability may be required. We compiled all our findings and recommendations into a report that could be used both to give comfort to Stewardship and the donors, and practical advice to The Island in order to maximise their chances of success with the various stages of this project.
Our report was delivered to Stewardship, then presented to and discussed with the donors, who were happy with the positive outcome of the study. The Island subsequently commissioned Action Planning to work with them to develop a more detailed business plan to support future fundraising.
This was a beautiful example of collaboration at its best: a generous donor couple who wanted to make sure that their money would really make a difference; a professional adviser (Stewardship) who didn’t just ‘take things as read’ but wanted to ensure that the plans really were solid; a visionary Chief Executive who takes every new obstacle in his stride; and a Board with the right mix of skills, simultaneously maintaining a sense of realism whilst strongly supporting the Chief Executive in his endeavours. To be honest, we approached this project with a degree of scepticism. But whilst we recognised the many challenges the project faces, we came away deeply impressed and had no hesitation in recommending that the planned donation should proceed.