Launching an Emergency Appeal: Our Six Top Tips
25th March by Mark Astarita
Launching an emergency appeal: our Six Top Tips to avoid tripping over basic good practice.
International charities have been launching emergency appeals since before any of us can remember. They are well versed in both practice and policy surrounding when and how. Also, they have complex arrangements to manage disbursements and, importantly, to track what is almost certainly a restricted appeal.
Every day, we see charities large and small launching emergency appeals connected to the virus outbreak, but many are not covering some basic requirements of such an appeal.
Reviewing the issues highlighted below – from those that have learned the hard way – is wise if you are considering launching an emergency appeal.
Whether you (or your organisation) have never launched an emergency appeal before, these are things you may not have thought of. Or, if you have, they may serve as a useful refresher.
Here are our Six Top Tips to consider:
1. Check your Articles of Association
Before any charity launches an appeal for a particular purpose, your Trustees should be clear they have the powers in their Articles of Association that they can do so and for the purposes you are raising funds for. Some helpful advice from the Charity Commission can be found here on launching appeals. (Page 17 details some advice about managing appeal restrictions, which I explore more below.)
The most important thing to remember is to read the advice – do not just assume you can do as you wish. By following best practice, you will protect your charity from any fallout post-event.
2. Pay close attention to the finer detail of appeal wording
The devil is in the detail but it’s possibly the biggest thing about your appeal, with the potential to give you and your team the biggest headache.
Why? Because if you don’t get it right, you could end up not being able to use all the money you raise (also meaning you can’t close the fund) and/ or not being able to use it for your beneficiaries’ greatest need and where your organisation needs it to fulfil its mission.
You will almost certainly be creating a ‘restricted’ emergency appeal, so be clear in your wording what the restricted appeal will fund, especially if you might use the funds to keep your organisation as a going concern. You may be tempted to just concentrate on your surge activities in the appeal wording. But if you actually wish to use appeal monies to fund all your organisational activities, then be sure to say so.
Don’t fall into the trap of having funds, for example, that can only be used for those affected by the virus, leaving other critical purposes unable to access any new money. Think it through, don’t just assume.
Whilst it may seem unlikely, also include a caveat at the point of donation in case all the money in the new restricted fund is not actually used during the appeal. Without this, it cannot be used for other purposes after the crisis is over.
As we are all well aware, transparency and trust are big issues for donors. Appeal wording that doesn’t reconcile donor intent with your mission and organisation’s greatest needs, both during and post crisis, is a recipe for disaster. Reputational damage, bad press and even having to give back any money because you can’t spend it on what you said you’d spend it on (sounds unlikely? It’s happened before) are all at stake.
Also bear in mind not just what you say, but how you say it. Donor intent is incredibly important and jointly understanding how donations will be used cuts to the heart of this for donors. Remember:
- Be clear and transparent at all times.
- Make sure appeal wording is clear at the point of donation, not hidden somewhere else on your website.
- If the wording is too long for the appeal page, provide a clearly visible link and direct donors to it.
3. Be able to distribute from Day 1 of Appeal Launch
It might sound obvious, but from a donor point of view, emergency funds really are emergency funds.
If you are appealing for an emergency, donors expect aid to get to recipients in real-time. The biggest criticisms charities have faced in recent emergencies are to do with distribution – and especially the ability to help FAST.
Ensure your distribution channels are up and running (and tested) so that your organisation can help the needy as soon as the appeal monies start coming in.
Also have a process in place to start reporting on that to donors asap, via your website and social media, creating a virtuous circle that gives your appeal momentum by encouraging others to give.
4. Plan ahead for Regular/ Monthly Giving
If you launch an appeal to treat the funds raised as restricted (as per the purpose set out in your appeal) this is especially complicated if you are soliciting monthly gifts. Again, appeal wording can ensure it is unravelled post crisis. For example, you might wish to add a time-limit after which all funds will be used by the charity for general purposes.
5. Lockdown Gift Aid
Decide up-front and spell out in appeal documents if Gift Aid will follow the donation to the restricted fund or be used for general purposes. By not saying anything, it is reasonable for a donor to assume Gift Aid will follow appeal purpose. My preference is for the latter, but some emergency fundraising organisations do say that Gift Aid will fund general purpose and they say that at the point of donation.
6. Ensure you can track and report on the funds
Remember you may well need to keep the appeal funds separate from general funds – can you track and code if you only have one point of donation? Most international charities create special appeal pages and donate buttons so they can do this.
Finally, here are some examples, of caveats others have used or are using, by way of illustration:
"Your donation will go directly towards funding Unicef’s work to support children and families affected by Novel Coronavirus. In the unlikely event that the funds raised exceed Unicef’s funding requirements for this appeal, your gift will go to support our Children's Emergency Fund."
"The National Emergencies Trust (NET) was set up to raise and distribute funds fairly and efficiently at a time of large scale domestic disaster. If we raise more funds than are needed for this appeal they will be held in trust by the NET and used to support the UK public affected by future large scale domestic disasters."
“If we find that the needs of older people change during this emergency or we raise more than £10 million we will apply any money raised to where the needs are greatest. Although it is Age UK’s aim to raise at least £10 million, if this target cannot be met the funds raised during this emergency appeal will still be disbursed for the purposes listed in this appeal; wherever the need is greatest.”
"The money raised will be used to assist the victims of the attack, their families and dependants. In the unlikely event that we raise more money than can be reasonably and efficiently spent, surplus funds will be used to respond to similar events in the UK that charity trustees consider appropriate. For more information visit www.redcross.org.uk"
To launch or not to launch may be the question you are all asking yourselves. Doing it well, if not brilliantly, is even more vital. (And as always, we are here to help and support you.)
My inclination is that many charities can and should ask supporters for special help at this moment in time. So don’t hold back or be timid - be brave, you may well be surprised by just how generous folk are right now.
Photo credit: ©roxanabalint – Can Stock Photo Inc.