In our work with non-profits, faith-based and youth-serving organizations and other charities, we often have conversations about urgency, be it in a case for support or a project timeline. For a lot of nonprofit volunteers, the difference between “urgency” and “emergency” is a bit unclear. When it comes to fundraising, this is a very important distinction.


    An emergency need is the result of something out of your control.
    An urgent need is addressing a critical need in a way that aligns with your purpose and mission.

    Emergency = Our facility’s kitchen was partial destroyed in a fire and we need to rebuild it.

    Urgency = Our facility’s kitchen is inadequate to prepare food for all of our students. We are currently renting another kitchen and shipping food over every morning which is inefficient and expensive. Expanding our kitchen will save that money and allow us to provide more service to these young people who are striving to get their lives back on track.


    An emergency is personal.
    An urgent need has a personal face, but the need may be invisible to others.

    Emergency: A Gofundme page to raise support for a mother stricken with ALS and her four children.

    Urgency: The ALS Association relentlessly pursues its mission to help people living with ALS and to leave no stone unturned in search for the cure of this progressive neurodegenerative disease. As the only not-for-profit voluntary health agency dedicated solely to the fight against ALS, we direct the largest privately-funded research enterprise engaged to uncover the mystery of a disease that affects as many as 30,000 annually. With more than 5,600 people diagnosed each year – an average of 15 new cases each day – our mission is urgent. The search for answers knows no bounds.


    An emergency case has a short shelf life.
    An urgent case has staying power and evolves into new conversations.

    Emergency = Warm, safe places to sleep are critical for our city’s homeless population while temperatures drop dangerously low in the coming week.

    Urgency = The Rescue Mission has a tireless commitment to breaking the cycle of homelessness, addition and despair in the lives of hurting people.


    An emergency need requires immediate action.
    An urgent need requires action to be taken soon. More importantly, it lifts up the future consequences of action and inaction.

    Emergency: Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria have caused unprecedented and widespread devastation, forcing thousands of people out of damaged homes and communities. Our hearts and prayers are with the people in affected areas. Habitat for Humanity will be assessing shelter and housing needs caused by these storms, but our ability to respond effectively depends on available resources.

    Urgency:  Every gift helps a family build a foundation. With your financial support, families can build strength, stability and independence with Habitat for Humanity by building a safe and secure place to call home. Families who partner with Habitat build their own homes alongside volunteers, pay an affordable mortgage and are grateful for your help.


    An emergency need may not part of your strategic plans – and may even vary from your business-as-usual.
    An urgent need is strongly aligned strategic direction, and is fueled by your mission and purpose.

    Emergency: https://www.ymcahouston.org/blog/support-harvey-relief-efforts

    Urgency: https://www.ymcahouston.org/give


    An emergency project inspires donors to do what they can do right now to help.
    An urgent project encourages donors to get involved in a cause for the long term.

    Emergency: Text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief.

    Urgency: Your donation powers the Red Cross response to nearly 64,000 disasters a year nationwide, providing shelter, food, emotional support and other necessities to those affected. By making a charitable donation to the Red Cross, you are there for millions of people who face emergencies every year and help as they rebuild their lives. Everything we do depends on the needs of the people that we serve and we could not be there without the generous donations from people like you.


    Both types of appeals have a place in philanthropy. Many of our clients and colleagues have faced the challenges of leading – and raising funds – through emergency situations. But knowing the distinction between what is urgent and what is an emergency will allow you to speak authentically with donors and your community at large. It strengthens your case for support. It opens the doors for meaningful conversations with potential supporters.

    There are many emergency situations around our country and world that require immediate action from all of us. But that doesn’t mean that your capital project or annual campaign or endowment program can’t be infused with urgency, transforming it from a “nice to do” to “must do” in the minds of your potential donors.


    Got an example you want to share? Let us know in the comments section below.

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