Armagh House: Covid-19 emer­gency appeal

Exhibited by
Sonya Swiridjuk, CFRE, Fundraising Consultant
April 30, 2020
Medium of Communication
Target Audience
General supporters
Type of Charity
Domestic abuse survivor support
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance
March 29, 2020

SOFII’s view

Any fundraiser, wherever they are, can be forgiven for imagining that right now – in the depths of the international coronavirus crisis – must be the worst possible time to be fundraising. Donors everywhere are in lockdown. Most can’t work or are anxious about their financial future as well as their health and well-being. Economies are teetering on the edge, uncertainties are everywhere. But as this remarkable story from Canada shows, fundraising success can indeed arise from a crisis, even at the worst of times. We hope you enjoy reading Sonya’s story below.

Next week SOFII will be running a feature called Fundraising success at a time of catastrophe. This will catalogue fundraising success from all corners of the world and show that now is not the time to be cutting back on donor communications. When you turn to your donors at times of trouble, remarkable things can happen. Please keep an eye out for this new feature and if you have a story of turning adversity to advantage, particularly during the current crisis, send a summary to today.

Summary / objectives

To raise CA$10,100 to purchase 18 laptops with software for every woman and school-age child living at Armagh, so they can be individually connected online while sheltering-in-place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Background: Sonya's story

On the evening of Friday, March 27, 2020, I got a call from a long-time client. The organisation, Armagh, provides transitional housing to women and their children who have escaped domestic violence. It's a very small shop, with the executive director, Lynn Ward, also wearing the fundraising hat.

During our conversation, Lynn mentioned she needed to write an emergency e-appeal. I asked what it was for. She told me that all of Armagh’s common areas had to be shut down because of the coronavirus, including its multi-station computer room. This was a huge problem, especially for the women who were studying online, and those with children who were set to go back to school online on April 6th, as none of them had their own computer equipment.

Lynn had arranged for Armagh’s internet provider to get a Wi-Fi connection in each woman’s apartment the next day (and at no charge – wow!). So I said to her, ‘While you’re dealing with that, why don’t I write your e-appeal for you?’ She replied, ‘But that’s not why I called you!’ I said, ‘I know. But let me do this for you – on the house.’ She reluctantly but gratefully agreed.

That Saturday afternoon, I knocked out the draft e-blast in about 90 minutes, and spent another 90 minutes or so finessing the text. Lynn and I reviewed it, we made a few final tweaks, then she set it up, we tested it, and she scheduled it for deployment.

The subject line was simple: COVID-19 Emergency Appeal. The ask was clear with a specific goal: to raise CA$10,100 to buy 18 laptops (CA$500 each) – one for every woman and school-age child at Armagh – plus the software needed (CA$61 per laptop from a charity tech supplier). Any money raised above the goal would be used to buy basic necessities for residents, including food, toiletries, and cleaning supplies.

The e-appeal was sent out about 2:00pm on Sunday, March 29, 2020 to less than 1,000 supporters. By the end of the day, 50 per cent of the goal had been raised online. By the end of Tuesday, March 31st – just two days later – more than 100 per cent of the goal had been reached. The laptops and software were ordered, the delivery arrived on April 6th, and the kids at Armagh were connected online for school on April 7th (missing just the first day back).

As of April 17th, the campaign has raised CA$23,039 and counting (there are still cheques coming in through the mail for it). One donor called in response to the e-appeal and asked, ‘What else do you need money for?’, and made a gift of CA$5,000 to provide online learning programmes for women residents.

This story is a fantastic example of what IS possible in very short order, especially during this terrible time of upheaval. We can’t change everyone’s life, but we can always help someone. In this case, it was making a difference for 18 women and children who had fled abuse, and who are now virtually connected to the outside world once again.

Influence / impact

With laptops of their own, residents of Armagh could be connected online to the outside world while sheltering-in-place during the COVID-19 pandemic – critical for employment searches, schooling, counselling, and socialising.


Deployed at about 2:00pm Sunday, March 29, 2020, the campaign raised CA$5,123 by the end of the day (50.72 per cent of the goal). Monday, March 30, 2020: CA$3,280 raised (83.20 per cent of the goal). Tuesday, March 31, 2020: CA$1,761 raised (taking the total to 100.63 per cent of the goal). As of April 17, 2020, CA$23,039 has been raised, plus an additional CA$5,000 major gift to support online learning programmes for women residents. The email open rate is 56.3 per cent.

This is a fantastic small shop fundraising success story during an unprecedented global crisis. With an email list of less than 1,000 supporters and a specific, time-sensitive ask, Armagh met its fundraising goal just two days after the e-appeal was launched, and has since raised more than double the campaign’s goal. Further, the production turnaround time of 24 hours to create and finalise the e-blast for deployment (and on a weekend to boot!) speaks to what’s possible quickly, especially with clear, concise direction; a positive, trusting client-consultant relationship; and the flexibility and commitment to ‘just get it done’.

Other relevant information

The cost of each laptop, estimated at CA$500, plus another CA$61 per laptop for software, was detailed in the ask. There were three donors who each gave CA$561 – i.e., the full amount needed to equip one resident (times three!).

About Sonya

A veteran of the Canadian fundraising scene, Sonya Swiridjuk, CFRE heads her own consultancy to help causes connect with their supporters to create change. Sonya’s clients benefit from her extensive charity-side and agency experience, as well as her savvy writing and wordsmithing. She also serves the sector as a long-time and passionate volunteer with the AFP Greater Toronto Chapter, The Resource Alliance, and CFRE International.

View original image
Click on the image to see the emergency appeal letter in a larger file.
Unlike a first stage or crisis shelter, which responds to short-term emergencies, Armagh is a second-stage housing programme. They offer secure and affordable housing to abused women, with or without children, for up to one year.