COVID-19 - Should I launch an appeal?
by Ashley Elliott
Since launching our COVID-19 Helpline a few weeks ago, we’ve helped a number of charities who were in need of advice. A recurrent theme, is that of appeals.

This is a difficult time for everyone. Charity leaders have some hard decisions to make. Many of us know people who have already been financially impacted by COVID-19, which naturally makes us more cautious about launching appeals to the general public.

A number of charities acted very quickly, launching appeals online within days. Some decided to cease community fundraising activity all together. If you’re still thinking about what to do, here are some things to consider.

Timing – when is the right time to launch an appeal?

Launch the appeal as soon as you know there’s a definite need and there is little alternative to meet the gap.

Many people want to give and do something to proactively help.It’s important that charities, don’t deny people the opportunity to make a difference. For the charities I’m most passionate about, I would want to know if they are struggling and would want to be given an opportunity to help.

So long as the appeal is well thought through, authentic and communicated to the right audience, then people should understand.

Be specific – what is your appeal for?

If you’re projecting a fundraising deficit, what is it? What is the total amount, and how have you worked that out?

For things like the London Marathon it should be relatively easy to work out what the deficit will look like. How many runners were meant to take part? What was their fundraising target? A straightforward multiplication should give you the figure.

If you’ve seen a sharp cancellation of regular giving – how many have cancelled, and what does their combined total mean to your charity?

For a general reduction in community income, you could work it out in a few different ways. One would be to do a direct comparison between March’s figures for say, the past three to five years. How much lower was March 2020?

What is the impact of a fundraising deficit?

Let’s say your income has reduced by 25% - what does this mean for your service? What does this mean for your beneficiaries? Is it an emergency situation – or more of an appeal to help safeguard the future of your charity?

Will you need to place staff on furlough? Will that mean temporarily reducing the number of people you support? How will that help your fundraising deficit?

Will you need to cancel certain activities with your beneficiaries, or change the approach? Be clear about what the reduction in income means for the here and now.

What is the impact of COVID-19?

What are you currently doing to meet the needs of people you support in light of COVID-19? Have you needed to adapt and introduce extra measures at an additional cost?

What is your response to the pandemic? What are you doing to support your staff and volunteers? The public are watching how companies lead their staff and treat their customers, they will be viewing charities the same way.

What does the demand for your charity look like?

Some charities have seen the demand for their services go up. Have you seen more enquiries, or more referrals?

If demand has gone down, what does that do to your funding need?

Do you have any alternative funding methods?

What other options do you have to secure any vital income? Alongside any appeals have you decided to approach more trusts? Are you contacting any major donors?

Do you have reserves to help meet any of the costs? If yes, how long for? If not, why?

What should you ask for?

This depends on how much funding you need to find and how quickly you need to secure it.

One thing to think about is the historical data from your appeals. For example, do general appeals without a specified amount perform better than a defined ask? If your audience likes a more direct, tangible ask, what does that look like in terms of the appeal you’d like to run now?

If you’ve never ran an appeal before, this could feel quite daunting. Once you’ve worked out what your appeal is for and why you’re asking people to support you, you’ll need to review your database and figure out who to ask.

How is their donation going to make a difference?

With appeals it’s just as important as ever, to remind people of the difference they’re making when they donate to your charity. How is their donation going to help?

Who should you ask?

Whichever ‘ask type’ you go for, it’s important to direct the appeal to your core audience who understand the importance of what you do. There will be lots of new appeals over the next few weeks, and people will naturally be inclined to support the causes closest to their hearts.

Depending on your database, you may want to segment your donors and ask for different things from different people. When was the last time you issued a regular giving ask to people who have made multiple donations? Or, conversely, the last time you asked your donors for a one-off gift? Could you ask any of your supporters who were due to take part in third party events to run a Facebook fundraiser in lieu of the event instead?

How to make the ask?

There are lots of different ways to make an appeal. It could be tempting to just get something out on social media and see what happens – though in all likelihood this will be lost in a sea of other asks if you aren’t utilising targeted posts.

Do you have capacity to make some calls to donors? Amongst other things, now is a really good time to check in on people and see how they’re doing. If they were due to take part in an event, it’s worth touching base to see how they’re feeling.

If you have the ability to write to people, now might be a good time. Most of the population are at home in isolation and could have more time to spend focused on what you have to say.

Have you thought about stewardship?

With many charities now placing teams on furlough how are you going to manage the donation process?

Many charities have come a long way in improving stewardship, and it’s important that the urgency of the situation doesn’t lead to bad habits creeping back in. If you have a donor who gives to three appeals, don’t let your charity be the one who forgets to even acknowledge the donation.

Some examples

We have seen a fair few appeal over the past week or so, below are some examples.

Anthony Nolan


Shooting Star

There’s lots to think about, but remember well thought out, well communicated appeals will always do better in the long run.

If you have anything to add to this list, or need to chat to someone about an appeal you’d like to run – please get in touch via our Helpline. We’d love to hear from you.

Stay safe.

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