Coronavirus fundraising and what not to do

Fundraising for the coronavirus emergency is, well, unusual so far.

A soup kitchen sends an email with the subject line “A message from the president.” If you’re a donor scanning your email inbox, that could be just about anything.

Then when you open it, there’s still no indication. The headline says “A message from the president.” So you read the first line: “I want to keep you informed about our response to the growing coronavirus threat and the impact it’s having across the country.”

The following paragraphs talk about how the organization’s main priority is health and safety, working with local officials, taking the coronavirus threat seriously, taking necessary precautions, following CDC guidelines, and so on. The email goes on like this for five long paragraphs.

Only at the very end does it mention that costs for extra cleaning supplies and other measures have caused a budget shortfall. And only at the very end is there an ask for support.

In a similar vein, an email from an international aid and relief charity opens with an announcement that the WHO has officially declared the coronavirus to be a global pandemic. It goes on to talk about how the organization is taking steps to protect its staff and clients, how it has launched preparedness efforts, and how they’re dedicated to protecting the most vulnerable. There’s a link to a webpage that lays out the organization’s plan. There’s no ask in this email. It’s all informational.

Question is, Why is this emergency being treated differently from any other emergency that people and nonprofits would deal with … any other tornado, hurricane, flood, fire? Why the form-letter, corporate-sounding pronouncements from on high?

There’s no need for a charity to issue a formal public statement about the coronavirus. Donors know all about it. The news coverage has been wall-to-wall for weeks now.

The best practices for disaster fundraising are pretty well established. They could and should be put to use in this disaster too.

The email from the soup kitchen could open with a subject line and a headline that talk about helping to protect people from coronavirus.

It could go on to talk about how the homeless people, volunteers, and staff are facing serious risks, and how need for cleaning supplies, disinfectant, cleaning crews, and more is incredibly urgent.

Then it could have a specific and direct ask to fund the supplies and other actions needed.

That would be along the lines of a typical disaster fundraising appeal. Lots of charities will need additional funding in this coronavirus emergency just as aid and relief organizations need additional funding after a hurricane, and there are specific best practices for disaster fundraising that show how to secure that funding. We should use them.


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