How to Add Urgency to Your Fundraising Appeals Without Being Pushy

Most fundraisers agree that you won’t hit your goal unless your fundraising appeals ask for the gift.

You have to ask the right people, in the right way, at the right time. But just asking is not enough.

Your fundraising appeals need to answer this simple question: Why now?

Like you, your supporters are constantly bombarded by brands seeking their attention and wallets. Just because you had their attention yesterday doesn’t mean you’ll have it today.

So it’s your job to compel supporter to act now. Not tomorrow, not next week.

But how to you convey urgency without being pushy?

1. Talk about the most important thing: them

Have you ever been at a party and someone across the room calls out your name?

After a few seconds, you realize they’re calling to someone else. But when you heard your name, it got your attention.

Whatever conversation you were having suddenly became less important in that moment. Your ears perked up.

What gets the most focus, and the most attention, is when you talk about your donors. Use their name, use second person narrative.

2. Talk about urgent news

The HRC team are master ninjas at leveraging urgent news in their appeals. Very soon after a major breaking news event, they’ll send an appeal that invites supporters to take action.

Check out the email I received soon after the news broke about Comey.

Tapping into news trends (aka newsjacking) that are already on your supporters minds is smart because:

  • It doesn’t require creating awareness about an issue.
  • It lowers cognitive friction (weighing pros and cons, considering options, etc.)
  • Friends are also talking about the same issue (social proof).
  • Supporters are often primed and waiting to take action.

Check out this useful graph from David Meerman Scott:

3. Tell them what they’ll miss if they don’t act now

You and I are more likely to take action to avoid losing something than to gain something. All humans are hardwired this way, including your supporters.

So how can you leverage this ethically for fundraising appeals? Rather than telling supporters what they’re going to gain, tell them what they’ll miss if they don’t take action.

For example, check out this email from Bob Brown Foundation:


4. Tell them their impact will be doubled for a limited time

One of my favorite ways to create urgency in fundraising is with matching gifts. Matching gifts are genius strategies for two reasons:

  1. It makes you look smart to major donors because it leverages their gift to create urgency and acquire new donors.
  2. It creates urgency for donors because it doubles their gift.

The key with a matching gift is to have a deadline. It doesn’t make sense to have a matching gift all year long. A matching gift program is an incentive for donors to give NOW, not next month or next year.

5. Tell them that seats are limited

If you’re having a physical event like a fundraising gala tell people seats are limited. This is always true for every event.

You can even create special seats for early registrants as an incentive.

6. Tell them to do it NOW

A simple way to create a sense of urgency is to use certain time-based trigger words in your copy:

  • Now
  • Quick
  • Instant
  • Hurry
  • Fast
  • Etc…

Check out this example from Mercy for Animals (subject line: Hurry, investigators need you!):

What if they just wrote “Investigators need you” and “Become an ally”? Supporters could easily procrastinate, thinking “I’ll do this tomorrow or next week…”

Instead, adding “hurry” and “now” puts the focus on taking action now rather than in the future.

John Haydon