04.25.22 3 min

The why and how of emergency fundraising for nonprofits

Richard Geiger

Richard Geiger

SVP, Data Axle Nonprofit

Every organization needs an “in case of emergency” plan. For nonprofits, part of that plan needs to be a strategy for effective (and often necessary) emergency fundraising. In case of a natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina or the Texas Winter Storm of 2021, nonprofits need access to funds to provide people with immediate support and relief. Nonprofits need to be prepared to swiftly launch a full-scale omnichannel fundraising campaign at the drop of a hat – not an easy task. In this article, we tackle the challenges of emergency fundraising as well as provide recommendations to help you connect with emergency donors.

Challenges of Emergency Fundraising

When a tragedy strikes, people around the world mobilize en masse to help. Unfortunately, in today’s digital landscape, it isn’t uncommon for scammers to try and capitalize off of a tragedy. Bennett Weiner, executive vice president and chief operating officer with the BBB (Better Business Bureau), told the BBC “When people try and take advantage of generous donors, they’re going to do so when the emotion runs high and the heat of the moment. And that’s mainly after disasters and tragedies — things of that nature when people are motivated to give.”1

For example, The Federal Trade Commission is warning U.S. consumers about scammers taking advantage of the crisis in Ukraine. “It’s true after natural disasters, when scammers set up fake charities that look and sound like real ones to get your money,” the FTC warned this week. “And it’s true now that millions of people want to support the Ukrainian people.”2

This makes it tricky for people who are looking for a legitimate charity to donate to, especially when people need immediate help. For this reason, it’s more important than ever for nonprofits to step up during times of tragedy and provide a legitimate donation destination.

Your Data Modeling Toolkit for Emergency Fundraising

While raising money is not a new task for nonprofits, doing so under the time crunch and scrutiny of a tragedy is more uncommon. It can leave many organizations struggling to provide necessary resources and support in an appropriate time frame. As you look to prepare your nonprofit’s emergency fundraising plans, this is the data you need to have ready and at your disposal.

Have Data Ready to Go
A key factor of your organization’s preparedness is the type and quality of data you have available. Remember, with emergency fundraising time is of the essence and you will need to have clean, accurate data at your fingertips in order to reach your audience.

Instead, nonprofits should identify lists of emails and phone numbers to more quickly reach people. It’s especially efficient if the data can be segmented to designate people more likely to contribute in an emergency, such as previous donors. This can most easily be done by finding a qualified data partner. For example, Data Axle built Apogee, a cooperative donor database, that leverages data on millions of known donors who’ve made over two billion individual donations. With this information, a nonprofit can source prospective donors or optimize their existing donors quickly and reach them in any channel.

Be Prepared to Model Quickly

Finally, organizations will not have the luxury of long lead times to supply new data and create new model builds. Rather, you should leverage the existing models and knowledge of industry experts, powered by prior donation activity to select the best audience for your organization in relation to the emergency at hand.

Designing Your Emergency Campaign

Emergency fundraising is not your typical fundraising campaign that you plan six months (or more) in advance. As a result, a nonprofit must be ready to act fast and pivot at a moment’s notice. With the necessary tools at their disposal, nonprofits are able to turn their focus to launching a full scale omnichannel campaign to provide awareness of how to help during an emergency and provide people with a legitimate opportunity to donate.

When preparing your emergency fundraising campaign, the goal is to act swiftly but still strategically. To do so, be prepared to do the following:

Remain Nimble and Track Performance in Real-Time

Key is to just get started. It’s critical to start with one message to start testing and learning. Be sure to set up a dashboard in place to track daily performance and to make adjustments on a weekly basis as you learn what creative will have the largest impact.

Find the Right Audience to Target

The right audience to target for emergency fundraising might look different from your usual segments. This is where you will need to quickly pull and model data to help you find the best potential donors and determine the most effective channels to reach them.

Leverage Omnichannel

This is where knowing your audience is key. Launch your campaign across the channels your audience is most likely to engage with– whether that’s email, CTV, social media profiles, websites, etc. This helps to expand your reach as quickly as possible.

Loop in the People Behind Your Organization

While a tragedy might be enough to motivate someone to donate, adding in the fact that a person who is established or respected is asking them to donate takes it up a notch. Part of a nonprofit’s emergency fundraising campaign needs to include amplifying the message with the help of others: board members, community leaders, and even volunteers.


Unfortunately, the world is not in short supply of notable tragedies. At some point, your nonprofit will need to enact an emergency fundraising campaign to show your support for those most affected. To do so effectively, ensure you have the necessary tools at the ready and be prepared to launch your campaign across a variety of digital channels.

Does your nonprofit need help firing at all cylinders during an emergency? Contact us for help.

1 https://www.npr.org/2022/03/30/1089551973/heres-how-you-can-avoid-getting-scammed-when-donating-to-support-ukraine
2 https://spectrumnews1.com/ca/la-west/public-safety/2022/03/04/scammers-are-taking-advantage-of-ukraine-crisis-to-pose-as-charities

Richard Geiger

Thanks for reading

Written by Richard Geiger, SVP, Data Axle Nonprofit

Richard brings a wealth of experience and leadership in selling and delivering strategy, analytics, business process and technology to large complex nonprofit organizations.