Now the reason for that being a rather unfortunate choice of words is that emergency work usually follows a crisis of some kind – war, famine, a natural disaster – and is often sent out in the context of a great deal of human suffering. In situations like these, there is some comfort to be gained from 'doing something' and it's a useful reminder of what a donor feels in the face of the catastrophe they see played out on television, radio and in newspaper coverage. They want to 'do' something too and we, as fundraisers, scramble to ensure they have the chance to give their help.
But there's another reason I enjoy working on emergency campaigns. I think you see the best fundraising, done in the fastest, most cost-effective way. So I've been wondering, could we treat every job like an emergency?
Here are the defining qualities of an emergency campaign:
- There is a real and immediate need. So not only no time, but no need to debate a proposition.
- We can show the donor a tangible difference they can make in the short and long-term. That might mean giving a gift that covers the cost of medicines or food, although I'll share a slightly different example in a moment.
- When it comes to the printed materials produced, we tend to allow for just one quick round of amends before despatch, so very little time is spent on stylistic changes which are unlikely to affect results, but often add disproportionately to the time and therefore cost spent on scheduled (non-emergency) appeals.
- From the first strike to a keyboard to being mailed out, an emergency appeal can take as little as five working days (with most of that being spent on printing and despatch). A press advert can be created and in a newspaper within hours. (For some clients, we have templates set up and do occasional 'practice runs' to ensure we can hit the required deadlines).
- Emergency appeals bring in much-needed sums of money at relatively low cost. For many charities, they also represent the most effective way of recruiting new donors and re-awakening 'lapsed' donors. Better still, more and more donors proactively find their way to the charity at times of crisis, giving their first gift online.
High need; no time wasted; client and agency working together in the most efficient way; highly motivated donors: there's no real reason why such practices need be confined to an emergency, but somehow they tend to be. It's a great shame because the more efficiently we work, the more we can reduce costs. In the case of a natural disaster, we don't charge at all for our work for retained clients here at Bluefrog. And for other kinds of campaigns that need to be up and running in quick time, we can massively reduce costs.
So here's an example, which won an award at IOF a couple of years ago.
The Art Fund contacted us to let us know that The Blue Rigi by JMW Turner had been sold to an overseas buyer and had been placed under a temporary export ban. That left them with a matter of weeks to launch a public appeal and approach their members and other funding bodies for donations – a total of £5.8 million was needed (although Tate stepped forward immediately to pledge £2 million).
This was our first time working with The Art Fund and they may have perhaps found our confidence fool-hardy. Because when we asked about their last emergency appeal to donors, we thought carefully and said we thought we could probably add an extra 'nought' to the total raised – simply because the campaign had all the components (outlined above) of a compelling fundraising ask.
Here is the main mailing.
I seem to remember one of Turner's paintings had recently been voted 'Britain's favourite' by Radio 4 listeners. And the threatened loss of a key work represented real and immediate need.
By way of a slight digression, there are various interesting studies that demonstrate that 'loss' is a compelling motivator in decision-making. Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion* contains a chapter entitled 'What can you gain from loss?' from which the following example is drawn:
'The notion of loss is compelling in terms of the messages that we receive too. When posing as representatives from the local utilities company, researchers from the University of California found that one group of homeowners were 300 per cent more likely to carry out recommended energy efficiency improvements in their home when they were told that they would continue to lose an average of 50 cents a day than homeowners who were told they could save 50 cents a day...The 50 cents remain the same economically, but psychologically the loss-framed message generated a three-fold increase in persuasion".
The main mailing went out to Art Fund members and Tate members. I can't remember if we added any cold names or a doordrop but we have in other similar campaign, such as saving Tyntesfield for the National Trust. It's simple, but effective DM.
The Art Fund also put together a great 'buy a brushstroke' website, which attracted some excellent PR as well as a large number of lower value gifts. There were press adverts that went into distress spaces, which worked all the better for the high level of news coverage.
Were we successful? Well if you're in the Tate Britain at any point, take a look for yourself. Turner's Blue Rigi hangs on the wall – thanks to the efforts of many thousands of people throughout the UK. Emergency fundraising is successful so let's use its principles more often.
*Noah J Goldstein PhD, Steve J Martin and Robert B Cialdini PhD.