Funding Cathedrals

Rising to the Challenge

Peter Coleman


Lincoln Cathedral
Lincoln Cathedral

When I was asked to write this article on fundraising issues facing cathedrals today I thought, ‘Where do I start?’ Historic buildings of all kinds are faced with major challenges, many of which have been highlighted by recent high profile coverage on television. Historic cathedrals are faced with somewhat different, although similar challenges. They are unique buildings, not only because of the restoration and repair issues, huge though they are, but also because they are centres of living communities and they need significant sums of money on a dayby- day basis to fulfil their role.

A cathedral’s role spans many centuries and I suspect that the funding issues we currently face differ very little from the ones faced in days gone by. Indeed, cathedral fabric funds were first introduced in medieval times, with the sole intention of funding repairs. What has changed is the complexity of modern fundraising, the number of sources available, the need for complex funding applications and, probably the most important, the wide range of ‘good causes’ these days to which people can give their money. While different cathedrals have different needs, the common factor for all is the need to raise substantial sums of money to meet their commitments.

The problems around this issue are complex, but in reality they can be summed up by saying that cathedrals are faced with the ‘double whammy’ of increased costs and reduced income. Costs such as insurance, building expenses, staff salaries and new health and safety legislation have increased considerably over the past few years, while income from a range of sources such as investments, charitable trusts, visitors and donations has decreased. Of particular concern to some cathedrals is the uncertainty of English Heritage’s cathedral grant scheme and what the future holds in that direction. The issue of charging for entry to cathedrals is one that has generated many pages of comment and I will not add to it, except to say that in Lincoln’s case we would find it almost impossible to replace this income and if we lost it, the life and work of the cathedral would suffer.

To put this challenge into a wider context, no matter where you work in fundraising it is one of the most interesting and most challenging jobs. Whether you are trying to find funding for one of Europe’s finest Gothic buildings or trying to support a local donkey sanctuary, we all need to address the same issues. The current uncertainty in the economy with the fall in value of investment portfolios is hitting charities hard, and the downturn in the economy is increasing the pressure on our benefactors. The challenge at Lincoln is a complex one, but the bottom line is that we need to raise £2.5 million a year to fund all aspects of the cathedral’s operations. The cathedral has a staff of 70; this includes a works department of 30 people which manages and carries out the repair and restoration programme on the fabric of the building which costs over £1.1 million a year. While this is a staggering amount of money, the cathedral architect’s advice is that this level of spending will need to be maintained for the next 20 years.

Another major part of our fundraising work is to raise the £300,000 needed every year to fund the cathedral’s music, and these two areas, fabric and music, taken with the sums needed to sustain the mission and library, mean that not only do we need to raise a significant amount of money, but also for a diverse range of projects. In addition, we also need to improve our toilets, signage, and other visitor services – quite a shopping list!

So, how do you start? It may help to give some background on the approach that Lincoln took to address the problem. Three years ago the chapter felt that the only way forward was to approach it from a strategic point of view, and so it decided to appoint a ‘director of fundraising’ whose remit was to raise funds for all areas of the cathedral’s work. Before this, fundraising was a diversified function with no co-ordination. My first task was to produce a four-year fundraising strategy which identified the cathedral’s priorities and set out implementation programmes to which were attached targets and timescales.

The next stage was to appraise every area we were fundraising in and to make certain we were using the right approach. For example; were our leaflets clear enough, and were they reaching the right people and organisations? Were our events producing the maximum returns, and were our charitable trust applications attractive enough to attract trustees’ attention? We also looked to see if there were new fundraising ideas that we could develop and thereby offer potential donors some opportunities unique to Lincoln. From this analysis we developed a more diverse approach incorporating both standard fundraising techniques and different ideas, such as the selling of plaques made from sections of roof timber and roof nails removed from the cathedral during restoration. Another initiative was to offer amateur organists the chance to play our world-famous ‘Father’ Willis organ for half an hour on Monday evenings.

One thing that is difficult to explain to the public is that, just because we are Lincoln Cathedral, does not mean that we have some automatic right to funding. We, like everybody else, have to compete with other charities and work as hard and as professionally as they do in order to access funds.

We need to face the fact that we are asking for support in a very competitive market, with many other worthwhile causes all vying for attention. Many of the charities we are competing with employ sophisticated methods and allocate substantially more resources than we have at our disposal, to get people to part with their money. This makes raising money for cathedrals a difficult task requiring a professional approach and, while there is a role for volunteers, if they are not managed properly, the message gets diluted and fundraising suffers.

Cathedral fundraising is a mix of marketing, visitor management and raising awareness. It is about communicating your needs clearly and to the right people, putting in place a combination of interesting fundraising programmes and keeping donors aware of the progress of the projects that they have funded. However, there is a wider issue here and that is the picture which cathedrals present to potential donors. It must be realised that in this media-oriented age, high profile organisations are scrutinised over their every action. Cathedrals must take this into consideration before embarking on any action, which could alienate any new or existing donors. They should have in place communication strategies, so any potential problem can be rectified before it has a negative effect on public opinion and therefore possible donors.

An example of a recent successful fundraising initiative at Lincoln is the sponsorship programme for the Dean’s Eye Window restoration project. This offers individuals and organisations the chance to sponsor a section of newly carved tracery or stained glass for amounts ranging from £50 to £2,000. Launched in February 2003, this scheme has already raised over £60,000. The campaign has been backed up with leaflets, a lot of press releases and articles in local and national papers, interviews on local television and radio, major coverage in the cathedral’s fundraising newsletter, information on the website and direct mail to companies and organisations. All this has generated a great deal of interest; many people have paid visits to see the work in progress and this in turn has resulted in more sponsorship. The project has been featured in the past three fundraising newsletters, and this has kept the donors aware of how the project is progressing.

One thing that has struck me is the lack of discussion of fundraising issues between cathedrals. While one could argue that cathedrals are in competition for some sources of funding, in the main this is not the case and I am convinced that a network or exchange of fundraising information would benefit both giver and receiver. It would certainly help to alleviate the feeling of isolation that I know some cathedral fundraisers feel.

To sum up, how do you approach such a task? Quite simply, you try to diversify your fundraising. Adopt an approved strategy and stick to it. Incorporate new ideas which catch the eyes of potential donors. As well as carrying on with tried and tested traditional fundraising methods, make certain your documentation is attractive and eye catching, and once you have received a donation, keep the donor up to date with the project. Make certain that your presentations to potential sponsors and donors are of top quality and professionally produced. And probably the most important thing of all is make certain that everything is done in a professional manner. Remember: people have an ever-increasing choice of where to give their money.

So, if anyone wants to play Lincoln Cathedral’s organ, please give me a ring but you will have to wait until next year!


This article is reproduced from Historic Churches, 2003


PETER COLEMAN is Director of Fundraising, Lincoln Cathedral.

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