Coastguard, the charity saving lives at sea

Sheridan Bruce with Dominique Leeming, NewzViewz December 2014

It's fair to say, Kiwis love nothing more than spending their recreational time either at the beach, lake or river, fishing and messing about in boats. In fact, one in three New Zealanders over 18 indulge in some sort of water activity with this peaking over the Christmas/January holiday period.

2,240 highly trained Coastguard volunteers donate their free time to aid those in need, and in 2014 they brought 6,828 people home safely to their families from incidents at sea. For Coastguard to deliver on its vision of 'No boaties' lives lost at sea' these generous volunteers need fit-for-purpose vessels, equipment, and buildings. Capital Campaigns Manager, Dominique Leeming in partnership with Coastguard volunteers has been instrumental in raising over $5M over the past two and a half years, including over $2.3M to purchase two new vessels to operate in Marlborough and Southland, $1.1M for a new Coastguard base at Kaiapoi and $630,000 for an extension to the Coastguard Whanganui building.

Q: How do you prepare for a capital fundraising campaign?
A: I start by putting together a test case for support. It is really important that Coastguard is able to demonstrate an urgent and compelling need for the project we are putting forward to the community. We need to be able to show how our project will make a real difference to the community and is therefore worthy of their support.

I then conduct a fundraising feasibility study, interviewing 25 to 30 local stakeholders, funders, business and community leaders. In the feasibility study interviews I ask these people their views on our proposed project, our reputation and visibility in the community, if the needed funds are likely to be available, and if there is willing and able volunteer leadership interested in being involved. The information I gather in these meetings is so interesting and the first step in the engagement process. At one interview I walked into a businessman's office and the first thing he said to me was "You guys saved my daughter's life", at that point I was pretty confident he would be interested in supporting our project!

While I never ask for money in these interviews (it's really important that you are clear that these are meetings where you are seeking advice not money) I did have one interview start where the gentlemen I met told me he dreamt of giving $1M to Coastguard to buy a new boat in his community. He's now a major donor and deeply involved in our organisation.

Of course these interviews go both ways and I also hear negative comments about our project, where people don't believe it is a 'must have' project but rather a 'nice to have'. It is really important I hear the candid views of the people I meet with so that we can make a very rational decision about whether to proceed with a fundraising campaign.

Q: Walk us through the steps involved before you go public with a campaign.
A: Once the fundraising feasibility study is complete, and if it is agreed that we should go ahead with a fundraising campaign, I work on putting a volunteer fundraising committee together. I start by finding the right chairperson because they will then have a lot of input into the makeup of the rest of the committee.

Generally these are people external to Coastguard. Our Coastguard volunteers join the organisation because they want to be out on the water saving lives, very few are keen fundraisers.

I have worked with with a few outstanding committee chairs and they all share the same attributes; they are absolutely committed to being a success in the role, they are tenacious, persistent and in one's own words 'pig-headed', they always do what they say they will - in other words they are high achievers who get things done. I remember recruiting one chair where we met at his home on a Thursday, he agreed to chair the fundraising committee, he called his first meeting for the following Tuesday and by Wednesday I had the minutes and action points from the meeting. And he continued to work like that throughout the campaign.

It is important that the committee is made up of people with outstanding reputations and the ability to open the door to various sectors, for example in Taranaki we needed people  respected in the oil industry, and in Bluff it was important some had connections to the commercial fishing sector.

Next we go out and start introducing the project to the key individuals, funders, and companies that we believe are most likely to support the campaign with significant contributions. Only once we have reached at least 50 percent of our funding target do we launch the public phase of the campaign.

Q: How important is the reputation of Coastguard in achieving your goals?
A: Crucial! Community perception might not always be an accurate reflection of our organisation and the volunteers who do the work however it is the reality that we need to deal with. If our reputation is in any way in question then we are unlikely to succeed.

Q: What about your stakeholders. Is there a role for your board and other influencers such as the media?
A: Our boards certainly play a role, each Coastguard unit has its own board and we have 64 units around the country. The way board members talk about the project is very important.

Other influencers also have a powerful role to play. In one project I have worked on a major funder submitted on our behalf in a local authority planning process in support of our request for a significant level of funding.

Media, particularly in regional and smaller communities often help us raise the profile of a campaign. The best example of a campaign. The best example I can give is of The Southland Times. The now retired editor was interviewed during the feasibility study and he expressed strong support for the project and a willingness to be involved in the campaign. In that case the Times launched the campaign publically for us with a full front page story outlining our case for support. They then ran a call to action daily for six months and every week ran a story about the project or fundraising campaign. This helped us raise a six figure sum and brought hundreds of new donors on board.

Q: How do you go about prospecting among the public?
A: We don't often reach out to the general public in our capital campaigns, excepting the example I mentioned earlier in Southland. We clearly identify our constituency, starting with those who have previously supported Coastguard and those closest to the organisation and move out to others who could benefit from our service - for example in Marlborough where we ran a campaign for New Zealand's only marine ambulance (over half Coastguard's work in Marlborough is done in partnership with St John), we identified boaties and bach owners who might need to use our service. We then clarified further by looking at our linkage to the people identified, their interest in our organisation and the service and their ability to support the project.

Q: What does success look like?
A: For us success comes when we launch a new rescue boat or opena Coastguard base. But beyond that I think it is when we really build community support and engagement. Capital fundraising campaigns are a wonderful opportunity for us to reach out and build lasting relationships with the people who support the campaign and often these are new friends of Coastguard.

In my role I work hard to provide good stewardship to all donors, large and small. It is those special moments when you really connect with a donor that feels most like success to me. Just this week a donor came up to me at an event, she is an 80 year old lady who told me she gave to the campaign because when she was a child she sailed a P-Class yacht in Tauranga and her family were all sailors. She told me how grateful she was for the efforts I had made to help her get to the event" you really went above and beyond" - that felt like success. 

Making things memorable is also important, that's where storytelling comes in. I always include a compelling and emotional rescue story in our case materials. At a recent launch we invited a man we had rescued to be part of the launch event attended by major sponsors and donors and had him present the volunteer who had spotted him in the water with his skippers certificate - we wanted our guests to go home with positive and memorable feelings about Coastguard that would ensure their continued support. So success in capital fundraising campaigns, as in all fundraising, is about building lifelong relationships and support for the organisation.

To learn more about the good work Coastguard does, visit 

Coastguard, the charity saving lives at sea



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