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10 Ways to Evolve Your Annual Appeal in Uncertain Times

female doctor wearing a face mask looking out a hospital window

According to a recent statistic published by Statista, as of May 10 (2020), 98% of Americans say they have made changes to their lifestyle because of COVID-19. As state and local economies begin to reopen across the country, how we interact with others and conduct business will be — for the foreseeable future — different. 

Sometimes dramatically.

Consider your annual appeal donors. Many of their daily routines have turned on a dime and so have their expectations of how organizations should speak to them.

In a survey by Unruly, consumers were asked the best way for brands to advertise during the COVID-19 outbreak. According to the top three responses, consumers want:

  • Brands to share information on how they are supporting their staff and customers during this time
  • Brand advertisements to include information about COVID-19
  • Ads to provide a sense of continuity and normalcy

Speaking of turning on a dime, how is your annual appeal program shaping up? As 2020 trudges along, COVID-19 will force hospitals and other healthcare providers to take a long, hard look at their fundraising efforts to determine: What stays? What goes? What’s changed? What’s new?

Pro tips for annual appeals

To help keep you on track to meet your organization’s fundraising goal(s), we’ve pulled together 10 tips to help you drive your annual appeals forward in these uncertain times.

1. Remember: Never stop asking. “That’s a mistake that comes from thinking about your donors as your financiers instead of your partners,” says Betsy Steward, Senior Consultant at the Heller Fundraising Group. “Your donors believe in your mission, and it matters to them if you’re successful or not in making the changes to the world that they want to see.” (So don’t leave them out of the conversation during unprecedented times.)

2. Understand: Your annual appeal is essential. Your request for financial support is not an inconvenience. It's not poorly-timed, either.  It's a necessity. Your donors — and the rest of the world — know COVID-19 has made things difficult for healthcare providers. ”For many donors, giving is a key part of them feeling human. They can be generous, despite the scarcity around them," says fundraising expert Marc Pitman.

3. Provide useful information. Always. A leading reason why donors stop giving is because they no longer feel connected to the organization. Before you send anything — digital or print — take time to consider what your donors want to hear.

For example, elective procedures are responsible for driving the majority of a provider's revenue. The pandemic, however, has caused patients and doctors to delay care and consider alternative treatment plans. Hospitals expect to increase elective procedure volumes to near 40% of pre-COVID-19 levels by the end of Q2 2020 (80% by year's end), according to the L.E.K. Consulting Survey. You may know this all too well. Do your donors? 

According to The 2018 U.S. Trust Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy, “when wealthy donors reported being more knowledgeable, they also tended to be more personally fulfilled from their charitable activity, as well as more likely to give more.”

4. Paint a clear picture of their impact. Found in the same report, wealthy donors believe giving is a highly effective way to create change, yet 54% of those who give don’t know what kind of a difference their gifts make. Here’s an opportunity to provide some transparency and specifics around ways  COVID-19 has directly affected your organization and just how donor contributions are used. This may also serve to increase donor confidence.

5. Connect frontliners with content makers to create impact stories. Impact stories are happening every single day in and around your facilities. These stories are human and show your mission in action. They also illustrate just how difficult COVID-19 has been on your organization. Lean on those who can provide first-hand, near real-time accounts, otherwise the details may become muddied, less effective or, even worse, inaccurate.

6. Basic personalization still matters. You know your donors’ names. Use them. “Dear Friend” or “Dear Donor” are not exactly salutations that scream: we know you; we’re thankful for you. A tailored approach to each donor will only help to encourage engagement, trust and appreciation (all good things). 

7. Double down on your mission. Despite it being a year that will forever be synonymous with a pandemic, the purpose your organization serves amid the crisis is one that’s worth reaffirming. That’s because it’s more relevant than ever. As you strengthen your case for support, showcase your mission and draw parallels to your organization’s response to the current health situation.

8. Engage physically; simplify digitally. According to MobileCause, donors are three times more likely to give online in response to a direct mail appeal than an e-appeal. Direct mail creates a high-value, tangible interaction with donors. This touchpoint can serve as a campaign catalyst that ultimately directs donors to give online, on any device, at any time.

9. It’s okay to break some grammar rules. Claire Axelrad, Chief Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang, says, “Every place you’re tempted to put in a contraction, do so. If you want to begin a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but,’ go right ahead. If you want to have a one-word sentence, that’s just fine. If your spell check tells you you’ve got a sentence fragment, you should ‘consider revising’ or ignore it.” Your appeal copy should also be legible (think 14-point minimums), avoid industry jargon, and sound like it's coming from an actual human being. 

10. You don’t have to go it alone. The unknowns around 2020 will continue to pile up. Seeking support externally can help you avoid frustration, remain productive, and meet your goals (COVID or no COVID). Additional reasons for outsourcing some or all of your annual appeals program to a proven partner include: access to accountable experts and the latest technology, heightened speed to market, industry-specific experience, and scalability.

It will always be about building relationships 

Yes, COVID-19 has certainly affected our outlook on “business as usual.” But in the end, your annual appeal program — at its core — must always be about building the relationships you have with your donors. There’s no reason that should change. 


Tom Wozniak is the Vice President of National Healthcare Sales at RRD. Head here to learn more about RRD's full suite of communications solutions for healthcare providers