Planning for the unplanned

A charity I am currently working with in Asia recently launched a campaign to ‘buy a brick’ to repair some retaining walls in a sanctuary for rescued animals it runs that had been damaged by severe flooding. It was their most successful fundraising campaign to date.

Having worked with international development and aid organisations for a number of years, I have worked closely on a number of such emergency appeals, which will generally see loyal supporters of your organisation give additional gifts but will also see an influx of new donors.

Emergency appeals are, by nature, not planned for. These fundraising appeals to raise costs for unplanned expenses are often associated with iNGOs working abroad or for natural disasters, but they are increasingly being used by any charity to cover extraordinary, unbudgeted costs. I have seen charities working with the homeless in Canada launch emergency appeals when there is an extended cold snap forecast and environmental charities run emergency appeals when a particular parkland is being threatened by commercial development.

Whilst we cannot predict disasters or emergencies, and hope that they do not occur, we can plan for them to ensure that fundraising messages are quick and clear and that we are following up appropriately with new and existing donors.

  • Have an emergency plan in place so that the approval process for communications and appeals is known to everyone before an emergency happens. This way, appropriate messages can be disseminated through your website, press releases and emails quickly.
  • Part of this plan should be a decision on whether to receive restricted gifts for this emergency or if the expenses and donations will be to and from the general operating fund. It is important to communicate this to donors if they are giving in response to the emergency and being able to explain if the money is going to general operating funds why that decision was made (E.g. we had to take action quickly and have already spent $xxx from our operating costs to cover this emergency).
  • Ensure that there is a way of coding gifts received for this emergency appeal so that you can easily identify first time and loyal donors who gave to the appeal.
  • Develop a follow-up communications strategy and ensure that you are telling donors where and how their donations have been used. This is fundraising best practice, but is especially important to emergency appeals when so often donors will have given a first gift to your organisation or a substantially larger gift than they would have otherwise.
  • Part of your communications strategy might be to have different follow-up going to first time donors and to make those letters and reports be the first phase into a conversion strategy to your regular giving program. I’ve often seen charities exclude emergency only donors from their regular fundraising appeals, but if you can convey the urgency of your work on an everyday basis then these donors are prime warm prospects as they have already shown that they support your work.