FYI Blog

The Art of Rapid Response Fundraising

tjhillinger webAt some point, all nonprofits are affected by a major external event — a devastating natural disaster; a Supreme Court decision; a presidential candidate making an outrageous statement on their issues — and must turn on a dime to raise donors’ awareness and/or appeal to them for support.

We recommend setting up a rapid response plan framework now, with options and procedures nailed down so you can respond within 48 hours, 24 hours, or even that same day. When creating this framework, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Have a written implementation plan in place that has been approved in advance and distributed to all involved/interested parties.
  • To send the first communication as quickly as possible after the event, some procedures have to be tweaked, or abandoned altogether: forgo testing; expedite copywriting and approval; simplify segmentation; use generic art, or a text-only format to imply urgency.
  • Maintain a list of everyone who will need to approve rush email copy and graphics – include contact email and cell phone numbers. And make sure these people have signed off on the rapid response plan before you need to implement it.
  • Consider instituting a quarterly email pull of active and lapsed donors/supporters to have fresh data available at all times.
  • For events like an anticipated Supreme Court decision, you can create two responses ahead of time and launch the appropriate one when the decision is handed down.

Avalon has had great success with rapid response campaigns, in particular for clients Farm Sanctuary and the League of Women Voters.

FS Rapid ResponseWhen Farm Sanctuary was tipped off about a horrific farm where animals were living in unspeakable conditions, their staff and Avalon moved into rapid response mode. Just days after the rescue, we launched an email campaign to supporters that included a link to a YouTube video of the appalling conditions that the rescuers found at the farm. Photos showing some of the rescued animals, and a graphic description of cruelty these animals endured, completed the compelling presentation.

We followed up a week later with a second email about the rescued animals’ improving health, while pressing the need for emergency funding for this and other inevitable future rescues. This campaign was Farm Sanctuary’s highest-grossing rescue campaign produced by Avalon, and also the highest-grossing single email that we’ve sent.

In early April 2014, the US Supreme Court handed down the controversial McCutcheon decision, which essentially allows individuals to donate millions of dollars to candidates and political parties and corrupt our political system. The League of Women Voters needed to add an unbudgeted, urgent appeal in response to the McCutcheon decision.Avalon quickly drafted copy and art for a direct mail appeal asking supporters to speak out against secret money in elections by standing with the League. Within days of the decision, the high-dollar, first-class version of the package was in the mail, with the low-dollar version following shortly after. This appeal generated the highest response rate and the highest revenue per thousand of FY14.

An urgent unbudgeted e-appeal accompanied this campaign and went out the day after the decision came down. With a 23.91% open rate and a $54.40 average gift, the e-appeal was also a tremendous success.

A rapid response plan – put in place well before the emergency occurs – means that organizations can capitalize on breaking news to capture their supporters’ attention and move them to act.