The 3 kinds of deadlines for fundraising appeals

by guest blogger George Crankovic. He blogs at The Clued-in Copywriter.

Lots of email and direct mail fundraising appeals come with deadlines, which basically fall into three categories. It’s good to know what kind of deadline you’re using and whether it’s helping or hurting response.

  1. Real deadlines. Some appeals have deadlines that are logical and known to donors. They include appeals like year end and fiscal year end. They also include appeals based on holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. When you present an appeal like this to donors, the holiday or other day is often itself a strong deadline. Or you can give a date somewhat ahead of the holiday so the donor’s gift will “get to work in time.” It’s an important part of the offer, and will probably increase response.
  2. Reasonable deadlines. These deadlines aren’t quite as powerful as real deadlines, but they’re still reasonable and useful. They include deadlines for appeals based on National Doctors’ Day, Leprosy Day, Giving Tuesday, and other awareness days. They include deadlines for fund drives and matching grants, for example. Deadlines for fund drives and matching grants may be made-up, but they still make sense. A fund drive or a matching grant wouldn’t go on forever, so even though the deadline is made up, it still rings true for donors.
  3. Arbitrary deadlines. Arbitrary deadlines are made up and slapped onto an appeal with no rationale at all. The appeal says “Give by April 19” with no reason why anyone should — not even a made-up reason. You can imagine the fundraising team sitting around a conference table as somebody says, “Let’s add a deadline!” Heads nod. “Deadlines,” another intones with gravity, “are an important element for urgency.”

Incorporating a deadline is a valid strategy, of course, but it’s better when provide a believable reason for it to be there. Maybe funding is down. Maybe a big project is in the works. Otherwise, it’s possible the fake deadline sets off your donor’s BS alarm, casting suspicion on the whole appeal.

An arbitrary deadline is better than no deadline at all. But you’ll almost always do better by dialing up the need, choosing a more urgent format, and changing the copy voice to evoke more urgency, for example. These and more are better ways to create urgency than arbitrary deadlines.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.