Nobody Cares About Your Emergency Appeal

appeals capital campaigns communications fundraising Mar 28, 2022

That's right... I said it... Nobody Cares About Your Emergency

Your need to close your funding gap… NOT an emergency. 
Your need to offer students scholarships… NOT an emergency. 
Your need to fund blankets for Christmas… NOT an emergency.

COVID on the other hand was an emergency - it was something unplanned and outside of your strategic plan; you were not planning on workers being remote, events being canceled, and needing to spend thousands of dollars on air filters for every room of your facility. However, after 2+ years of COVID, it’s no longer an emergency. You’ve had plenty of time to plan and strategize on the repercussions. 

I would say over 50% of organizations have at least one “EMERGENCY” appeal each year (not scientific, but I am on a lot of lists). It’s an addiction nonprofits need to end. 

Christmas comes the same day each week, but many are still surprised by the budget line item. The fact that you are over budget or did not raise as much as you have planned is not an emergency, it’s bad planning. Your poor planning or management is not an emergency. Most importantly, it’s not your donor’s problem.  In fact, you are illustrating to potential funders that you are not worthy of their full support. “We don’t plan for our needs… give money now.”

If you have multiple emergent appeals, you will inevitably become the “boy who cried wolf” and your appeals for immediate action are not heard. Not to mention, you look like you are disorganized and did not plan well. 

Unless it’s truly an emergency (a one-time or unexpected opportunity), do not make your appeal an emergency. As a principle, I recommend organizations limit themselves to one emergency appeal every three years or more - that’s how rare it should be. 

There is an important difference between emergencies and urgency. Urgency can help you collect more gifts and shorten the length of your appeal, but I do not recommend emergency appeals as a usual M. O. 

An emergency is usually something that had not been planned and therefore would fall outside of your strategic plans – and may even vary from your usual business. An example of an emergency appeal worth fundraising for would be a water project that has an opportunity to purchase the land that it has been renting. Owning land and making a capital purchase was not part of the organization’s strategic plan, but owning it not only moves the organization forward, but it also alleviates the stress of needing to relocate if someone else buys the property. 

An urgent need, on the other hand, is strongly aligned with the mission and purpose and is furthering the strategic plan. A good example of urgency is a school that is raising funds to make some renovations over the summer. The urgency is that the students come back but it is planned. Summer is the same time each year that schools can make major renovations and it’s not a surprise, but the funds are still needed or at least could make the renovations better. The renovations directly benefit/impact those who are served: the students. 

The next time your write an appeal - avoid the temptation to make it an emergency, and instead focus on helping explain the urgency of supporting the appeal. Stick with pushing forward your strategic plan.