Bat­tersea Dogs & Cats Home: secret suppers’

Exhibited by
June 10, 2014
Medium of Communication
Target Audience
Major gift.
Type of Charity
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance

SOFII’s view

It’s always a good idea to bring your donors into the heart of your organisation and show them how much you need their help. When your donors are used to swish dinners at salubrious venues, it took courage to ask the wealthiest of them to a supper in a cold, dank, Victorian railway arch.

And it paid off, one guest said: ‘It was the most remarkable charity event I have ever been to – actually the most remarkable event I have ever been to! You must get as many people to attend as possible as I truly believe you have struck gold with that marvellous space and original idea.

Creator / originator

Battersea Dogs & Cats Home.

Summary / objectives

Battersea Dogs & Cats Home had relied on legacies for over 150 years when, in 2011, it was decided to embark on a major donor programme for the first time. We wanted

1. To cultivate 20 strong major donor relationships for the Home.

2. To tackle the misconception that Battersea as a ‘big’ charity doesn’t need as much support as other charities.

3. To raise funds for our appeal to rebuild Battersea’s oldest kennels and secure pledges of support.


In 2013 we had the idea to hold a series of cultivation suppers in one of the oldest parts of our London centre – a cold, dark Victorian railway arch. Usually used for storage, the arch wasn’t an obvious venue for an event. Despite trepidation from other departments about whether the idea would work, with creativity, determination and negotiation the arch was transformed into an inspirational pop-up event space on a low budget with unique themes and Michelin-star food. The misconception that Battersea does not need as much support as other charities was tackled by bringing major donors into the heart of the Home to see and feel the need, strengthened with highly personal lead and follow up.

We planned to hold three suppers in March, June and October 2013 to cultivate at least 20 major donor relationships for the Home. Our target was a 50:50 split between new and existing relationships with the aim that existing relationships were taken a step closer to making a gift.

  • Success of major donor cultivation was to be measured by the number of follow-up meetings arranged, response to stewardship and guest feedback.
  • The suppers needed to cost as little as possible and to achieve this it was important to secure gifts in kind. This would be measured by cost per head and we set a maximum of £100 per head.
  • Pledging was also to be introduced at the suppers as a new style of event for the Home. Different ideas were created for each supper so that they could be compared and evaluated effectively. Success was measured by the number of pledges made at the events.

The key to getting organisational buy-in was the tenacity and creativity shown by the major donor manager, Carla Cornwell, which was fully supported by the head of major giving, Jane Bardsley, and director of fundraising, Liz Tait.

There were concerns about health and safety, the costs and the reaction of guests who are more accustomed to attending events in more luxurious locations – which was all understandable. The major donor team suggested that the first supper in March could be a pilot and that approval would be given for future suppers if it was a success, which helped to reassure senior staff.

We asked five top donors to give us feedback on the perfect cultivation event and took on board comments such as the need for an original venue as they are often invited to prestigious places such as The Dorchester in London.

A previous Battersea cultivation event at the House of Lords was carefully looked at as a comparison. Feedback was gathered from a cross section of 200 guests and the main areas flagged for development were connection to the cause and effective follow-up, confirming the importance of bridging the gap between the work of the Home and the donor/guest experience.

We had taken note of the appetite for unique pop-up experiences across London, from shops to galleries to restaurants and had seen that Michelin chefs were jumping on board with the idea.

We researched Michelin-star chefs with a connection to our cause such as Tom Kerridge, who has three dogs of his own and a tattoo in memory of one of his dogs

Our data was analysed by Prospecting for Gold to assist with prospect pools and guest lists. Contact mapping was carried out for networks of trustees. Lower- to mid-level donors were also researched and invited if there was potential for a higher donation.

Special characteristics

  • This series of suppers was the first of its kind for Battersea. The Home hadn’t organised major donor cultivation events in our centre before with such a clear strategy or with as much creative detail. For example, guests pledged with Battersea dog tags engraved with their name by attaching it to a Battersea dog’s collar rather than with traditional pledge cards.
  • Celebrities were in attendance (Miranda Richardson, Sue Barker and Sue Perkins), which provided an added draw for the guests as well as the Michelin-star support from Skye Gyngell and Tom Kerridge.
  • The arches had never been open to the public before, which made it all the more exclusive and original. It had never been considered that they could be transformed to suit our wealthiest prospects.
  • Battersea dogs took centre stage with case studies being woven into all follow-up communication and our ‘guard of honour’ (a group of Battersea dogs and volunteers all dressed in blue Battersea jackets) welcomed guests to the arch.
  • Staff across the Home volunteered, for example, greeting guests or serving the Michelin-star food. This enabled internal cross fertilisation and relationship building and gave guests the opportunity to meet those who work with the animals daily which strengthened the guest experience.

Influence / impact

Although a risk, the suppers achieved all three of our objectives. The first was by creating a truly innovative event that was strengthened by a highly personal lead-up, including original invitations of hand-tied bunches of lavender from our dog sensory garden, which resulted in a high response rate.

Being completely transparent about our struggles by bringing prospects into our centre, and using it to our best advantage, we showed prospective donors our need and achieved the second objective. Guests could empathise with how a dog staying in the neighbouring kennels to the railway arch would feel about the unfamiliar environment and the trains rumbling overhead; it was a powerful way to show our history is our strength but can also be our weakness.

Our third objective was achieved by consistent and personal follow-up, for example Battersea dog tags engraved with guests’ names were sent as mementos, and the securing of meetings and visits.

The suppers were increasingly supported by the trustees, kennel appeal board and all in the organisation as each supper evolved and improved upon the last and feedback from guests was consistently enthusiastic.

An example of the positive feedback we received was from Lady Wolfson, who attended the first supper in March. ‘It was the most remarkable charity event I have ever been to – actually the most remarkable event I have ever been to! You must get as many people to attend as possible as I truly believe you have struck gold with that marvellous space and original idea.


  • Three suppers were held and a fourth was confirmed for March 2014 to celebrate the official start of the building of the kennels.
  • We invited 157 guests in total, with an acceptance rate of 43 per cent.
  • Of the 68 major donor guests that attended, 27 were new and 41 were existing relationships. For 32 guests the event was their first visit to the Home.
  • We arranged 16 meetings as a result of the suppers.
  • A total of £5,616 spent on all three suppers combined, making the cost per head £82.59.
  • Gifts in kind were secured from Michelin-star chefs Tom Kerridge, Skye Gyngell, pop-up specialists Whizz Bang Pop, flowers by Wild at Heart and cocktails by Chase Distillery.
  • We raised £25,468 through 10 pledges as a direct result of the suppers with an immediate ROI of 353.490 per cent. A further 18 pledges of support are being discussed.
  • After each supper a full evaluation was written and the main area highlighted for development was pledging.
  • Pledges were asked for with a speech and an interactive, playful idea using our Battersea dogs and engraved dog tags.
  • Guests were contacted the next day and their personalised dog tag was sent to them as a memento of the evening after the pledge was made.
  • Although successful, we would next time also test the more traditional approaches and combine clear pledge cards that have been handed out at the optimum moment with a carefully timed, motivational speech and ask. 


The suppers have generated new, and reinforced existing, major donor relationships, raised funds and led to further partnerships and introductions to key prospects who are seriously considering funding the Home at significant levels.

Other relevant information

The success of the suppers led to a fourth event, held in March 2014, to celebrate the official start of the desperately needed new kennels.

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The Battersea Dogs & Cats Home secret suppers were a scintillating success.
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The stars of the show, wondering where their secret suppers are.