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Raising Funds in a Crisis: Connect and Tell Your Story

You need to draft an appeal to your annual donors and prospects in the middle of this COVID-19 global pandemic, but you are worried your donors have a lot of other things on their mind right now (just like you do). How can they possibly think about giving when they are faced with challenges, concerns, and uncertainty? Yet, your donors are generous, and your mission relies on gaining their support—points that affirm now is not the time to stop fundraising.Raising funds in a crisis

In today’s headlines, stories of giving and volunteering win our hearts and attention. Philanthropy and the spirit behind it are bringing us together now, as much as ever. People are responding to positivity and calls to do and help. So, they are ready respond to your appeal for support—but, you must first connect with them.

When you are faced with a blank screen, it can be hard to decide where to begin. Create an appeal by starting with the fundamentals, then customizing from there. Here are some strategies that will strengthen your electronic or mailed appeal:

1.  Consider tone: Inspire hope and possibility in your donor, while also being real with them. Make the overall appeal true to your organization’s personality. Set a tone reflecting the urgency of the real issues your constituents are facing, particularly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, without pulling the reader into despair.

“The pandemic has created new challenges and demands that we weren’t expecting—including retrofitting our campus for the health and safety of our students. Luckily, we are well-prepared to adapt and grow, thanks to committed supporters like you and our incredible staff members and volunteers.”

2.  Tell a story: Connect your donor to your mission with a brief, impactful story. Highlight current challenges that the pandemic has caused. Focus on an individual or family and how their life has changed because of your organization and all who support it. Describe the conflict—the challenge—and how donor support makes a timely, responsive solution possible.

“Maria was suddenly out of a job and had three kids in her care. Worried about where their next meal would come from, and on the edge of homelessness already, Maria turned to our organization. Within 24 hours, we used emergency funds to keep her utilities and housing in place for the next 60 days, while also connecting her to food and other assistance to make sure her family’s basic needs are met. Maria now has weekly check-in calls with our guide, who is working with her on a plan for long-term stability.”

3.  Speak to your donor: Take a donor-centered approach—one that describes how they are vital to solving the problems that your organization addresses. Be personal, direct, and professional (while avoiding jargon). Most importantly, be sensitive to the many situations your donors may be facing–loved ones who may be sick or compromised, separation from family and friends, risking health and safety as front line workers, juggling at-home learning and caregiving while working from home, etc.

“You are in our thoughts during this challenging time—and we wish you and your family and friends health and hope. Here is how you’ve made a difference and made lives better during this pandemic…”

“Thanks to you and your past gifts, last week, Maria and her family (found a home… ate a hot meal… attended this program… ). You made that possible.”

4.  Personalize: Customize the appeal to recognize the donor’s past support—and suggest a donation amount whenever possible. Be direct, but also sensitive in your approach. Potentially recognize that their circumstances may have changed, and any support they can give makes a difference.

“Thank you for your last gift of $100, which helped provide (tuition assistance, # meals, # clinic visits). Would you consider making a gift of $125 or $150? Your gift of any amount will make sure even more students/patients/families have the help they need in this crisis. And, if now is not a good time, we understand. We’ll stay in touch to share how your support continues to make a difference in these hard times.”

5.  Other elements—and outside review: Add a picture. For email solicitations, create a punchy and compelling subject line. Consider the overall look and feel. Step back and edit with fresh eyes. Consider testing and further refining the appeal by asking one or two board members, friends of your organization, or others to read and offer comments. Their review will offer a perspective that will allow you to adjust and strengthen your message.

These steps aren’t magic bullets. You need to assess your donor base, how the pandemic has directly impacted your community and organization, and then customize your approach. No matter what, make sure you are staying in touch with donors. You can follow many of the steps above as a stewardship step, then use the p.s. to softly offer an appeal or donate link.

To dig into this topic even more, here are a few resources helpful resources:

Please share your successes and challenges in creating appeals, as well as any resources you have found helpful.