How to Create a Powerful Emergency Appeal in Difficult Times

April 9, 2020 Eve Heidemann

In the previous post, we saw that there is good reason to hope despite the difficulties we’re all facing right now with the impact of the coronavirus.
For nonprofits, there has never been a better time to deepen relationships with your supporters and grow your skills as a fundraiser.
But when it comes down to it, many social good organisations are looking at a (short term) loss of income and reduced ability to achieve their mission for 2020.
Most statistical measures are too slow to analyse the impact of the virus on employment (although some US estimates are as high as 13%) – but either way, there’s little doubt that charitable giving is threatened, to say the least, by the pandemic.
That means many nonprofits will be considering how to address their supporters to ask for emergency gifts, but they aren’t alone. As anyone on a mailing list will be aware, inboxes are being flooded with COVID-19 messages and updates right now.

That means it’s never been more essential to write an appeal that cuts through the noise.
So, if you’re contemplating an emergency appeal, there are 3 tips and some following examples for writing a successful appeal that unlocks generosity without alienating your supporters.

1. Sharpen your ask

Yes, income is down.
That might be enough reason for you as an organisation to justify an emergency appeal, but it might not be enough to motivate a supporter to give, especially given the widespread awareness of financial difficultly all around the globe.
Which is why you must design your appeal in a way that acknowledges the global need, while focusing it specifically on your mission.
This useful LinkedIn article explains why, counterintuitively, a regular appeal with a long-term view might just be the best thing in uncertain circumstances.
But whether you decide to write an emergency appeal or take a wider view approach, a sharp ask is essential. Why are you asking for support? Why is it urgent? Why is it important – given everything else going on?
COVID-19 is directly affecting some nonprofits, and indirectly affecting others. Either way, it’s OK to acknowledge that your appeal is in light of the pandemic, but you must be crystal clear on the details of how it’s opened up a special need for support beyond ‘we don’t have the money’.

2. Be minimal and direct

Many appeals come with ‘bells and whistles’ – lift pieces, specialised design features, multiple pages, and for good reason. A curated design process can help emotionally involve the reader and wrap them in your world.
But it’s incredibly important to know that in an emergency appeal these extra features could detract from your message.
And that’s because the message behind an extensive appeal is received before the letter is even opened: that you spent time and money putting this package together.
Which directly counteracts what you’re asking for in an emergency context: financial support, as soon as possible. Spending time and money suggests to the readers that you have plenty already!
It is recommend you keep your emergency appeal to a 2pp A4 letter, with a more minimal design than normal. The same rules apply to e-appeals: keep it simple in design; keep it short.
All of that is to say: your readers will already know why you’re writing… so get to the point.

3. Avoid talking about yourself

A golden rule in donation appeal writing is that organisations should avoid talking about themselves whenever possible. This has never been more relevant.
Instead, there is real opportunity to directly link your donors with your mission – because if it really is the case that your organisation’s capacity is threatened by the virus, your donors have a powerful chance to be the key step in helping your beneficiaries. 
So in your appeal, spell it out. There is a compelling story to tell: that your donors have never been closer to your mission.
As a rule, avoid using your organisation’s name whenever possible (once or twice a page is OK), and continue to reinforce how your donors are the potential heroes in a story that’s heading towards tragedy.

4. Some powerful online examples

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