COVID-19: Using the Right Tone in Crisis Appeals
by Mike Montalto
April 2, 2020

So, your nonprofit has decided to send out an appeal during the coronavirus outbreak. That’s great news! It’s important to keep raising money and achieving your goals during this uncertain time. But you will need to use the right tone in crisis appeals if you want to have a positive impact.

You can’t rely on the same messaging you use for your usual appeals! Afterall, these are not usual times. Your appeals need to reflect that if you want to connect with donors and raise money during this pandemic.

So, how do you craft a message that resonates with donors and inspires them to give during the most uncertain time in recent history?

Don’t Just Send Your Regular Appeal

Many organizations started working on a spring appeal as soon as they wrapped up their year-end fundraising push. And it’s usually great to work ahead! But these are not usual times.

We know, it really stings to think about throwing away all the hard work you’ve done on your spring appeal. Many were about to hit the presses right before the world got turned upside down.

But your spring appeal cannot ignore the current realities of our world. Remember, COVID-19 is on your donors’ minds, whether there is an obvious direct impact on your work or not.

And ignoring it entirely and sending out a standard appeal can come off as tone-deaf. Your supporters will be wondering if you live under a rock! And they will be offended if you ask for money without even asking how they are doing!

Talk About What’s Most Important

The world is worried. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. And nor should you!

Let your supporters know that the health and safety of your staff, volunteers, donors, and community as a whole is most important. Tell them how your team is working remote and how you’re protecting the health of your community by encouraging social distancing practices.

And make sure that your supporters are hanging in there, both physically and mentally! It’s important to express your genuine concern for the wellbeing of your supporters.

After all, these are people you’ve known and engaged with, for in some cases years and years. You have a unique relationship with them. You should genuinely care about how they are holding up. And they will be touched that you cared enough to ask.

COVID-19 and Your Mission

Many organizations are fighting the COVID-19 pandemic on the front lines. For example, if your work is involved with healthcare, or helping the homeless or unemployed get back on their feet, you already know how the coronavirus is impacting your mission.

However, what if the connection is not as clear? You still need to set the right tone for a crisis appeal and develop a message that explains why your work is still important. So, you will need to get creative, while still being straightforward about your needs.

For example, organizations that preserve open space can work a unique angle. Today, there are not many reasons to leave the house. But getting outside and getting exercise is still important to our physical and mental health.

Talk about how your work is more important than ever because your organization is responsible for making sure people have a place to enjoy the limited recreational opportunities they have during this unusual time.

Independent schools can talk about how donations help the school adapt to online teaching and learning. Museums and arts organizations can focus on the future and ask donors for their help to make sure they provide the best experience possible when they re-open.

And don’t forget to appeal to the donor’s sense of self. There’s a reason why someone supported your organization in the past. And that reason hasn’t changed because of this pandemic. Speak to the donor’s motivations and remind them that your work is important, even if you’re not fighting the outbreak on the front lines.

Be Respectful and Understanding

According to the Department of Labor, over 6.5 million people have already filed for unemployment in the United States since the outbreak. Don’t forget, you are fortunate if you still have work and a paycheck coming in. Some of your supporters may not.

So, set the right tone in crisis appeals by showing you understand it may not be the best time for your supporters to make their usual donation.

This is not the time to use an aggressive ask string and ask for an increase in support. In fact, we urge the opposite.

Do you usually use a donor’s last or average gift as the lowest gift on an ask string? This is a common way to subtly encourage donors to increase their support. However, you might consider using their last or average gift as the middle option instead this time around.

You can also get even less formal and avoid a targeted ask string all together. Instead, just leave a blank space for donors to write in an amount that works for them.

You can preface a blank ask with a message like:

“We know these are uncertain times, and any support you can provide is greatly appreciated. If you can, please consider matching your last gift of $50, or writing in an amount, no matter how small, that is more comfortable for you today.”

Your New Appeal

We know. It can be a really hard decision to throw the months of work you put into your spring appeal out the window. However, you’re going to do more harm than good if you don’t use the right message and tone in crisis appeals.

Your supporters will think you don’t care about their own struggles during this difficult time. You can come off as cold and apathetic. You’re essentially telling your donors you only care about the money they can give. And that could be enough to lose support from even the most loyal donors.

Think about it. As you’ve been home, I’m sure you’ve checked in with many family members and friends to see how they are doing. And you may be annoyed if a specific person hasn’t reached out to you yet. Your organization needs to think the same way.

This isn’t just another appeal. It’s your chance to tell donors, “We care about you, we know times are hard. But our work cannot stop, and we need your help.”

 

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