Disasters: they always seem to strike at the worst times—like when you’re on vacation, spending the weekend with your family or fast asleep in the middle of the night. They come in all shapes and sizes, from wildfires to hurricanes to tornadoes to government shutdowns (and more). And they always take a major toll on your community.
Disasters are an inevitable part of life and can be difficult to predict. However, you must always be prepared to raise money when your nonprofit organization needs it most to serve your community in a crisis.
In this blog, I’m breaking down a few do’s and don’ts for disaster preparedness and fundraising so that your nonprofit can be ready to hit the ground running—no matter the scenario.
Don't: Spend a lot of time on sophisticated marketing
These two go hand in hand. If there's one thing to remember throughout all of this, it's that simplicity is key. When a disaster strikes, complicated processes and sophisticated marketing tactics need to take a back seat.
Things like A/B testing, segmentation and dynamic content are all strong strategies during normal times, but in a disaster, they can slow you down big time. By simplifying your process, messaging and tactics, you'll be able to move quickly and effectively.
Don’t: Worry about a perfect, polished marketing campaign
We get it—pretty campaigns make all of our fundraising and marketing hearts happy. But in a disaster, you don’t need five photo options and copy examples to use in an email or on social. Focus on being authentic, and your audience will respond.
Do: Use a stock photo from a previous disaster
Photos from the scene can be difficult to acquire, aren’t always the best quality and may not be as engaging. Don’t be afraid to use a strong stock photo from a previous disaster as long as it makes sense in your situation.
Do: Nominate one member of your nonprofit to be the decision-maker
If you typically have a committee that handles approvals, consider picking one person to be your disaster decision-maker. This will prevent bottlenecks and slowdowns when time is of the essence.
Don’t: Worry about which day you send your email
Again, speed is key here, so sending an email on a Tuesday when you normally send on a Thursday is OK.
Do: Provide information about your organization’s response
Disaster donors like to know what you’re doing in response to the disaster. Keep them informed about all progress and the work you’re able to do thanks to their donation.
Don’t: Step in where you don’t belong
Know your role in the situation and match your messaging accordingly. If you’re not close to the disaster, it’s probably not a good idea to ask for disaster funds on social media or in paid ads. It can come off as opportunistic. Instead, continue with your traditional advertising practices.
Do: Develop email templates
Having email templates in your back pocket will allow you to move quickly when disaster strikes. Prepare 3-5 templates you can use for any given situation. Keep them text-only or very basic. One paragraph can be the variable that you change depending on the disaster, and the rest can be set ahead of time.
Do: Create a library of images for disaster
Store stock photos or previous images used for every type of disaster that might impact your area. It’s a good idea to keep several generic images for disasters that could work for scenarios you’ve never considered (like a pandemic or government shutdown).
Do: Alter your paid search and Google Grant keywords
People who are searching for how to help or where they can get help need to be able to easily find your organization.
Do: Come up with your organization’s consistent message in response to the disaster
Share this message with all your partners/vendors to coordinate communication. Leaving them out of the discussion may cause brand confusion across channels.
Don’t: Email without a good reason
Only send emails when you have news to share, new information regarding your response or an urgent need. You don’t want to seem like you’re taking advantage of the situation.
Do: Be ready to do resends and faux forwards for fundraising
AM and PM resends and faux forwards are great tools to help bring in donations and make sure your audience sees your email throughout the day.
Do: Send a proactive email before a disaster
If you know a big hurricane is coming or you’re in an area that is impacted by natural disasters during a certain season, send proactive emails ahead of time. Messaging can focus on the help you are prepared to provide, a list of resources available or even prayer requests if you’re a faith-based organization. If any donations come in during this time, they’ll be unrestricted funds.
Don’t: Use emojis or silly subject lines
Disasters are serious, and your copy needs to reflect that. Focus on genuine and timely messaging.
Do: Alter your existing communication calendar
Be sure to check on any prescheduled social posts or emails scheduled to go out around your disaster fundraising messaging. There’s nothing worse than an insensitive or unrelated message going out hours after you just sent an urgent disaster appeal.
Do: Stay true to your mission
Gifts will come in during a disaster, but donors need to know that you’re following your mission first and foremost.
Do: Prepare your website for a lightbox or homepage takeover
Focus on a short “give now” message for your lightbox and homepage takeovers. You can provide more in-depth information on the donation form.
Don’t: Alter your main donation form
In disaster situations, create an additional donation form specifically for the disaster. This version can be more copy-heavy to provide information on how you’re helping. On the disaster donation form, bump up the ask array 20% as donors are more likely to give more during this time.
Having a plan in place for when a disaster hits will help your organization respond efficiently and effectively, allowing you to get back to what you do best—helping your community no matter the circumstance.