Coronavirus: 5 tips for writing an appeal during a global crisis

07 April 2020
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Wayne Murray, Strategy Director at Audience Fundraising and Communications, gives his five pointers for writing an emergency appeal that will keep your audience connected with your cause.

It’s all happening isn’t it? Challenging times for all, and for fundraising it’s a whole different playing field to a few months back. We can’t look too far ahead, but we can focus on the here and now (with an occasional side glance at the medium-term too, if we are brave).

Many charities have been, or are in a state of flux. Re-pivoting strategies, reforecasting, redeploying, shutting down income streams, new models of working. It’s scary stuff, but in the long term will have a hugely positive effect on the sector for those that hang on tight enough during the period we are in now.

What’s happening now is transformational, and sector-wide transformation has been needed for a long while. We’ve just been doing it too slowly and tinkering around the edges. The crisis we find ourselves in now and the journey to organisational transformation has just been truncated. We’ll get there quicker. Out the other side of this crisis, we’ll be braver, more agile, and have a clearer focus on who we actually are, and how we connect with our audiences.

So, the most important thing for charities now, especially from an individual giving perspective is to focus on emergency appeals. In the short term through email and social, and then through mail. It’s pretty much all my agency has been doing for the last fortnight. So with that in mind, five quick pointers. We are all up against it, and we’re all grappling with multiple spinning plates, but let’s not slip back into bad habits, knee-jerk, or ostracise our audiences.

1.  Make it relevant. How are your services and beneficiaries being affected by the crisis? What are you doing, or doing differently due to the virus? Don’t just think that the crisis is a good opportunity for a BAU appeal, and don’t crowbar the crisis into your comms. You need clear and unarguable relevance as to why people should donate to you specifically.

 2. Connect to humanity, not finances. Yes, the crisis is affecting every single charity in terms of a drop in income. But ‘plugging a financial gap’, is not a relevant proposition, you’re not pitching this to accountants. Focus on beneficiaries, impact on services, and not your reserves. We are all affected, the one thing we share is humanity. Amplify it.

3. Be quick. If your email and social appeals aren’t out yet, you are late, but not too late. Create the internal working group and agency support to turn this around quickly. Ditch outdated sign off protocols and get busy. Going forward, you’ll need to be able to get an email and social plan out in less than a day, work towards that goal.

4. Level the playing field, shorten the divide. A trend I’ve noticed with some recent emergency emails, is that they focus on heritage, longevity, history. It’s perpetuating a weird ‘you’ and ‘us’ divide. It sounds institutional. Instead, level the playing field. As a charity you are a loose community of caring individuals, each with a role to play. Including donors. Keep them close, don’t push them away. Focus on ‘together’ and ‘us’. A lot.

5. Think ongoing comms. This situation will be with us for a long time. It will also morph and change. There will be developments and breaking news. Your emergency appeal isn’t a ‘one and done’. It’s the start of ongoing, relevant, timely information between you and your tribe. Think regular emails. Recent insight from us shows that the third weekly email outperformed the first for one of our clients. Keep connecting. Keep updating.

And above all else, realise we are all in this together. Keep communicating to your peers, other organisations and external agencies. It helps.

Wayne Murray
Wayne Murray
Strategy Director at Audience Fundraising and Communications
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