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Anatomy of an emergency DRTV campaign for Haiti

Howard Lake | 23 February 2010 | Blogs

While urgent life-saving work continues in Haiti, I find myself reflecting on some great work by Concern Worldwide in the Republic of Ireland. Doing so has reinforced some great lessons about emergency fundraising. And flagged up some new opportunities…

While I and my colleagues at DTV were literally waking up to news of Haiti’s earthquake, our client at Concern was already in action. Of course they were in action in terms of defining need and how they could best meet that need. And that included raising money. We were soon briefed on producing an emergency drtv campaign (this was in the Republic of Ireland only as it was immediately clear that this would become a DEC appeal in the UK).

Within 48 hours we had created a new ad and got it on air. You’ll find a detailed timeline on that work at the end of this blog. Not surprisingly, it raised huge amounts of money.


Why your supporters are wealthier than you think... Course by Catherine Miles. Background photo of two sides of a terraced street of houses.

Here’s the ad http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_12OqBSAlA8

While producing drtv is a specific discipline, working on the ad reminded me of the foundations of all good emergency fundraising. I’ve tried to distil this down into a simple check-list.

1. What is an emergency? It may sound daft, but before you start asking everyone to jump very quickly and very high, be sure what you mean by an emergency. This will tend to mean a large/dramatic event where there is a clear need that generates large-scale media coverage.

2. Let everyone know this is an emergency. This is important as you are likely to have more streamlined systems and approval procedures in an emergency.

3. Clear processes. Lines of authority, areas of responsibility, and approval procedures need to be agreed in advance. You can’t start making this stuff up in the thick of an emergency. It’s all about emergency preparedness for fundraising.

4. Don’t be too creative. I can’t quite believe I wrote that. What I mean is, don’t start trying to be too clever, and certainly don’t start re-inventing trade-craft. Keep it simple. If this is a real emergency, then the news media is likely to express the need. Hence, the function of your ad (press or tv) is to offer people the opportunity to help. Check out this great post from Jeff Brooks on ‘Stupid Disaster Fundraising’ http://ow.ly/19TUM

5. Keep it real: in particular can you use strong images to link the appeal in your audience’s mind to the news footage and news stories they will have seen.

6. Don’t forget fundraising fundamentals: tell people precisely what you want them to do, how much you need, and what it will achieve. And remember, you’re not just Making an Ask, you are Offering an Opportunity.

7. Thank people as swiftly and personally/precisely as you can.

8. Where are these supporters going? Plan for the journey you want to take these supporters on. How can you best connect them to the wider work of your organization.

I worked to these principles for more than 20 years, going way back to raising money for what was then Feed the Children in Bosnia.

And while some things don’t change, others do. For example, this was my first experience of using Twitter in a large-scale humanitarian emergency. From the morning of 13 January I was following @RAMhaiti (Richard Morse), a local in Port au Prince sending moving and dramatic testimony from the frontline. It was through his tweets that we discovered quickly where we could get stills for use in Concern’s drtv ad. And before long I was also following (and still follow) @aidwkr (Dominic McSorley of Concern Worldwide) for a clear-headed and moving view of the reality of delivering aid.

It’s already clear that Twitter is an excellent vehicle for enabling supporters to hear from, and interact with, frontline aid organizations. Exciting stuff.

Meanwhile, back at DTV, here’s how the campaign swiftly unfolded (with many thanks to Concern Worldwide for giving permission to share this story and the timeline).


12 January
21:53 Earthquake devastates Haiti 13 January
12:48 Concern briefs DTV for an Emergency DRTV ad to run in Ireland
13:30 DTV check on availability for voice artists – on pre-agreed selection list.
14:30 DTV begins footage search including “speaking” directly to people in Haiti via Twitter
18:02 Concern approves booking airtime – 15th January to 19th January with view to review and book more spots, depending on success of ads.

14 January
08:31 DTV submit initial Haiti images to be used
10.08 Voice artist confirmed
10:54 Final script sent to Concern including specific Haiti facts  13:28 Concern approves script
14:00 Voice artist records voiceover
17:50 Offline edit sent to Concern & to Ireland Copy Clearance 18:35 Ad approved by Concern
18:36 Online edit and dub production commences
19:30 Tape delivered to Adstream
20:57 Ads digitally delivered to Irish stations 15 January
15:49 First transmission of Concern Haiti Emergency Appeal

19 January
12:00 Income from DRTV ad €491,939

15 February
09:00 Income from DRTV ad €984,271