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Can You Convert a “Disaster-Only” Donor?

By Jared Matthews 

Strategy and Research Manager, BBS & Associates 


A hurricane blows through, destroying a small town. Donors give. 

A drought leads to children starving in Africa. Donors give. 

A global pandemic changes life as we know it, wreaking economic havoc in America’s inner cities. Donors give. 

But reach out to these donors again to fund your food distribution efforts? Raise money for ongoing aid? Generate dollars for inner-city ministry?  




This very specific group of donors is driven to give only in disaster situations. We call them “disaster-only” donors.  

And while you’re grateful for their heart of compassion in emergency situations, it sure would be great to add them to the file as regular givers. 

Can it really happen? Is there a way to convert these crisis-generated givers to make a second donation to your organization? And is there a way to retain them for the long haul?  

Historically, disaster-only donors convert at a very low rate. At BBS, we’ve seen it time and again with many of the ministries we serve.  

But we are not accepting this as the “final answer.” We are driven to come up with solutions, implement tests, and quantify results to overcome the issue.  

Here’s how we work to engage with disaster-only donors:  

  • Speak to disaster-only donors like disaster-only donors.   
  • Do not try to convert them using another aspect or initiative of your organization.   
  • If they first gave to your organization through a disaster response ask, keep putting disaster-response asks in front of them. 


  • Promote “smaller” disasters (in mail or email) that your organization is responding to — even if it’s not getting attention in the news. 
  • Follow mail/email appeals with “impact emails” throughout the year.   
    • No ask. 
    • Feature videos and stories to update donors on how their giving is making a difference.   
    • If your organization focuses on the long-term recovery in a community after a disaster, highlight those efforts. 

It is possible to convert your disaster-only donors … but only by making them long-term disaster-only donors who clearly see the impact of their emergency response. And then, yes, some will convert to broader support. 

Questions? Want more information? Have a strategy to cultivate disaster-only donors to share? Please contact Jared Matthews via or 330-665-5227.