There will be times when a situation emerges where your nonprofit has an urgent need for money.  Do not shy away from asking donors to contribute! Remember, donors passionately believe in your cause, and want to make a difference. You will want to send out a direct mail solicitation as quickly as possible, while remaining accurate and true to your message.

Here are some tips to creating the most successful urgent appeals: 

Have a Plan

While you certainly can’t plan for what the exact crisis will be or when it will occur, you can, and should, be prepared to manage the crisis successfully and be able to reach your donors as quickly as possible. 

Have a meeting with your internal team as well as any outside marketing partners you work with. Determine who will be responsible for what and how you will all work together to get a mailing out as quickly and effectively as possible. Look for ways to tighten up the approval process and talk through solutions for other areas that tend to hold things up. 

Don’t forget to work with team members who are responsible for online fundraising so you can coordinate messaging and are not reinventing the wheel. You can and should be set up to share copy points.

Choose the Right Format

If you want to get a mailing out quickly, you need to pick a format that is easy to print and mail. 

Consider having a certain number of preprinted envelopes and letterhead on hand just for emergency appeals.

Another approach is to use an Urgent Gram format. This is a simple format that is created just for time-sensitive mailings, and can be in the mail right away. 

Check and Double Check your Work

Yes, I know, the idea is to move as quickly as you can to get a mailing out to your donors. However, you need to have QC checks in place, otherwise your mailing could be a disaster.

QC checks will ensure the messaging is correct, the data is being pulled correctly, the signer’s name is spelled correctly, and so on. There is a lot that can go wrong when you are excited and moving fast. Set up a process so you have another pair of eyes on every step of the mailing.  

Keep it Short and Sweet

Most of the time, longer copy wins in direct mail. Urgent appeals are one exception to this rule. Here you want to get straight to the point and keep it simple. Eliminate filler words and unnecessary details. Keep it short and sweet. 

Your donors need to understand what is happening, whether it is an earthquake, a shortage of food for the poor, or an election that is just days away. Tell your donors why you need their help and why you need it right away. Share your plans. What is your nonprofit doing right now in reaction to this situation, and what will you be doing in the days and weeks ahead?

Most importantly, you must to explain to the donor how the crisis is impacting those you serve, whether that is animals or children, here in the US or overseas. 

Tell a Story

We all know how powerful good stories can be. An urgent appeal is the perfect opportunity to tell the donor a story about one person or one animal, and how they are suffering because of this situation. 

Share details and talk about what they have lost, and how they are feeling. Don’t shy away from more emotional copy here. This is the part of the copy that will inspire the donor to contribute.

Don’t Make it about your Nonprofit

Be sure to focus the copy on the needs of those you serve, rather than your nonprofit’s needs. Don’t talk about how bad your nonprofit’s financial situation is, even if it is bad. That’s never a strong reason for donors to contribute and it won’t inspire them. Remember, your nonprofit is the middle man. Donors are most concerned about helping those you serve. 


When things are frantic, it can be easy to want to skip the details, and avoid personalization. That’s the wrong approach. 

Always begin your urgent appeal with the donor’s name. This is not the time for “Dear Friend.” You are asking them to respond to a crisis because they care so deeply about your cause. Not using their name just isn’t right.

Likewise, be sure to use recent donation history to personalize the ask amount so you aren’t asking donors for too much or too little.

The ask will be even stronger if you can tie the donation amounts to specific needs. For example, give $25 to give a struggling family dinner. 

When your nonprofit is facing a crisis, don’t hesitate to reach out to donors. Remember, they want to help! 

Have a plan in place to get an emergency appeal in the mail as quickly as possible. Move with speed, but also be sure to have quality controls in place to avoid mistakes. 

Write about the needs of those you serve and how they are being impacted, rather than the needs of your nonprofit. Keep the copy short and to the point, and tell stories.