Should we launch an emergency appeal?

We’ve been having lots of conversations with charity folks over the last couple of days. Of course there is enormous concern about the implications of the current crisis and how to respond. My initial suggestions are here.

But if there is one question above all that has dominated it is, this. Do we launch an emergency appeal?

And if so when?

For charities dealing with domestic social welfare issues, an emergency appeal might be a novel concept. Those of us with time served in humanitarian agency fundraising can maybe help here.

Here’s a summary of what I know about how to respond to a crisis with a fundraising appeal.

  1. It is all about timing. Essentially you want to be coming out just as the point where public concern turns to public action. Which means you press the button to go before that.
  2. Be really fast. At the right point, where there’s an opening for your issue and your beneficiaries, you need to move really quickly to exploit that. In a rapidly changing situation, this opportunity might be very fleeting.
  3. Preparation is hugely important. When ideas doing this at the turn of the millennium, we were able to improve the time it took from a disaster happening to an appeal going out from a week to 24 hours by sorting out decision making processes and by having pre prepared materials and content. Today you can get this down to an hour. But planning is key.
  4. Follow the need. The right time to launch an appeal is when donor interest is engaged but only if real, genuine need that your organisation is specifically responding to is there. If that’s not true you shouldn’t be going out anyway but also donors will spot that. Go out when its the right time for you. So international development charities, today is not going to work for covid 19 appeals because your beneficiaries largely aren’t impacted yet. They absolutely will be, and really badly. But wait for that moment.
  5. It’s not about you. Don’t launch an emergency appeal because your charity is in financial crisis. No one cares. If your beneficiaries are in crisis and you are credibly responding go out.
  6. Empower the fundraisers. Cut the decision making group down as small as possible and let those people get on with it. Senior leadership needs to give the fundraisers and communicators the tools and the resources and some parameters and get out of the way.
  7. Use all appropriate media. Digital channels are the most obvious and quickest. But a huge proportion of your target audience is stuck at home with not much to do so, you know what, I think they will answer the phone and read their mail.
  8. Spend money. Do this right and you will see returns on investment you may never see again, But you need to spend to get them. Be ready to invest very quickly to roll out success.
  9. Test and learn. This is fundraising 101. But test fast and learn quickly.
  10. Use the experts.  I don’t mean (just) us. There’s a whole cohort of people who know how to do this stuff. Strategists, planners, copywriters, designers, media buyers, digital experts, agencies and freelancers. Use them. They will help and you can avoid re-making old mistakes.  

But above, above all. Be brave. The people your charity exists to serve need you more than ever. It’s your duty to meet those needs by securing all the resources you can.

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