How to Create a Crisis Appeal

I’ve seen lots of discussion lately about how—and if—nonprofit organizations should talk about the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis. I believe it is important that you express frankly to your donors your concerns and challenges in the current climate, but there are several mistakes you can make in attempting to deal with this difficult topic.

With that in mind, here are several tips I’ve learned through the years to create a crisis appeal that inspires donors to help generously—rather than turning them away:

  • If you aren’t on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic, don’t stretch to seem relevant. Speak with conviction and clarity about the work that you are doing and why it is still relevant.
  • Don’t make the appeal about budget shortfalls. Most donors don’t support your organization because they care about your financial health. They support you because they believe in your mission. They have chosen to invest in your work because you are helping them advance goals they believe in. Therefore, a crisis appeal should detail how reduced resources available to your organization will affect work the donors believe is critical—and how their donation is even more important now that funds are scarce.
  • Appeal to the donor on an emotional level. The natural human reaction to a crisis is an emotional one. If you write a dry letter filled with facts and figures, it will ring false. You need to express your true reaction to the crisis—how your heart is breaking that you might not be able to continue working on a project due to a shelter in place. You can explain how difficult it will be to tell the clients you serve that funds to help them aren’t available anymore.
  • Express to your donors that you understand that things must be uncertain and difficult for them also. Now is not the time for hard sells. It’s the time for shared compassion and community building.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about your deepest fears. I believe many organizations feel that expressing an emergency need for funds means they are admitting to poor management or shoddy planning. But the audience who receives your appeal is not judging you based on your organizational structure or management skills, especially during an unprecedented crisis like this. They support you because they believe in what you are doing. If you tell them there is a real risk that you might not make it through this crisis without their help, they will be much more likely to open their hearts and their wallets, even in these difficult times.

If you are able to create a crisis appeal that follows these guidelines—and speaks frankly and from the heart to your donors about the challenges you are facing—don’t be surprised if it beats your best expectations. When donors who believe in you see that the hopes and dreams you share are threatened, they will move mountains.

By: Peter Schoewe, Mal Warwick Donordigital