Fundraising appeals are incredibly important to a nonprofit organization.
And they have a lot on their plate…
They are tasked with championing a cause to potential donors, explaining why the cause matters. They need to convince the readers that their money is best given to your nonprofit organization. And why that should happen now rather than later.
Now… Take a step back from your role as a fundraiser for a brief moment.
You are potentially donating to other causes besides your own, or at the very least, you care about other causes besides your own.
Try and think from that perspective.
What motivates you to give away your hard-earned money to an organization? Or what stops you from donating? Why are you delaying your donation? How did you choose between hundreds or thousands of worthwhile causes and organizations?
Whatever your answer and whether you see it or nor, much of it likely boils down to fundraising appeals.
The urgency in fundraising appeals is a very potent driving force. Now, you might be thinking… ‘But there isn’t a real urgency in my nonprofit at this moment. Sure, we need to meet our monthly expenses but I can’t exactly use THAT to motivate my donors to give.’
However, creating a sense of urgency in your fundraising appeals is not only a useful optional ‘trick’ or ‘tip’ to raise more money. It could very well be the deciding factor between a donor giving to you or to another organization that they feel needs the money more urgently. This is why urgency matters.
In this blog post, we will share insights gained through research on marketing, persuasion, and language, as well as what we learned by working with thousands of organizations to help you produce effective fundraising appeals.
Don’t beat around the bush when asking for donations. While it’s important to provide context to your prospective donors, it’s also important to be clear about what it is that you’re asking for.
‘Donate today’ will be more effective and genuine than ‘your support would be appreciated’.
If you want donors to make a one-off donation, ask for a one-off donation. If you want donors to sign up for a monthly donation, ask them to do that.
Be straightforward, but use a friendly and conversational tone. You want to create a sense of togetherness with your donors.
Have a specific call to action for your readers at the end of your appeal. Usually, what you’re asking for is money. Other times, you may want them to sign up for email updates, an event, or your volunteering program. Whatever the call to action, offer clear instructions.
Use clear and simple language and try to avoid using industry jargon that might confuse the reader. It turns out that throughout 18 years, the average human attention span has reduced from 12 seconds to 8 seconds. You can’t afford a reader starting to read your fundraising appeal, only for their eyes to glaze over in boredom or distraction.
In the example below, World Food Programme appealed to the readers using urgent language (e.g. “today”, “acute”, “starvation”. Their call to action is clear (i.e. “donate today”) and their fundraising appeal simple, yet they manage to explain why it’s important to give now.
‘Because we need your donation’ isn’t a good enough answer if you want donors to part with their philanthropic dollars.
Show people that your organization is a good steward of funds and that you will use your money efficiently.
Clearly show which programs are being helped by a donation or what good is going to come as a result.
Make the donors understand what they will miss out on experiencing by not giving.
Take a look at what is the target audience for your specific fundraising appeal and identify why they might be giving to your cause. For example, your major donors likely give for different reasons than your general donors.
Whatever motivates your particular donor segment, you need to know it and then you need to include it in your fundraising appeal.
Be vocal about the consequences of donors not giving. Try to answer this question in your fundraising appeal: If the donors don’t give right now, what happens?
In our blog post 9 Magic Words that Increase Donations for Nonprofits, we tackled some tried-and-tested tips for successfully soliciting donations – all by using specific words that evoke emotion and incite giving.
One of those nine words is ‘today’. Words like ‘today’ and ‘now’ convey a sense of urgency, which can help motivate your donors not to delay their donation.
Some words are more persuasive than others, so don’t miss out on the chance to make language work in your favor. Other words you can use are: quick, instant, hurry, fast, today, tonight, immediate, deadline, etc.
In the example below, PETA successfully uses the word “now” to increase the sense of urgency. Their email also contains several other best practices. For example, “that you’re on the front line with us” helps create a sense of togetherness between PETA and the readers of the email. Furthermore, consistent with their branding and work, they use strong and graphic language that clearly demonstrates why their cause matters, and why it matters now.
Most of us know this through our personal experience: nothing focuses the mind like an imminent deadline.
People are far more likely to give or take action as the deadline approaches.
So, make sure to place your deadline on landing pages, donation forms, and fundraising appeals.
In a for-profit business, salespeople usually use FOMO (the fear of missing out) to incite buyers to purchase. They create a sense of urgency by, for example, emphasizing that the product is on sale or available for a limited time.
As a nonprofit, you can create a sense of urgency in a different way. For example, you can run matching gifts campaigns that urge donors to give today because someone is matching their donations during a specific time period. So, if they give $25 now, their gift will actually result in $50 given to the cause. This motivates donors to give now rather than later.
If you’re not running a matching gifts campaign, try to create a sense of urgency by reminding donors of consequences of them not giving. Be careful not to slip into the guilt-tripping territory though.
Pro tip: Never be dishonest about your deadline. Setting a second deadline for the same project will make your donors and potential donors question the credibility and legitimacy of your nonprofit. When you’re dishonest about a deadline, you risk losing donors in the long run, as well as damaging your reputation.
Whenever you’re writing your fundraising appeal, don’t forget about using emotion. Emotion is what sets the scene, leads the reader through a story, and helps them empathize. And empathy is what motivates philanthropic action.
Emotion is the fuel of your fundraising appeal. If your readers are not emotionally engaged in your story, your fundraising appeal is much less likely to be successful. Your appeal must appeal, it must make your reader feel something. Emotion, not logic, is what moves.
Choose what emotional elements you will incorporate into your appeal? Love? Joy? Empathy?
Pro tip: Don’t underestimate the power of surprise as an emotion. Think about how you can grab your audience’s attention by making them wonder and want to find out more. Try portraying your cause in an unexpected context or reveal an unexpected consequence.
A fundraising thermometer measures progress towards a fundraising goal. In most cases, a fundraising thermometer looks like a real-life thermometer. As donations increase, the “temperature” of the thermometer increases accordingly.
With a thermometer, your donors will be able to see the impact their donations are making in real-time.
Goals are more likely to be achieved if donors can clearly see the fundraising progress and they can easily visualize their impact. Furthermore, most people in the world respond positively to visuals (images and videos). Seeing the donation thermometer rise also gives donors a rush of instant gratification, making them more likely to give again.
Finally, fundraising thermometers are incredibly effective if you’re close to achieving your goal. When people sense you’re close to the finish line of a goal, they are more inclined to help you cross it. If you’re close to your goal, show people how they can easily help you reach it.
Pro tip: If your cause is in the news, jump on the free publicity. This is also known as ‘newsjacking’, and it works because it doesn’t require creating awareness about the issues and supporters are more primed.
When using the sense of urgency to motivate your donors to give, don’t jump straight into it.
It’s important to craft the donor’s journey in a way that draws them in and builds up the feelings of urgency before you make the ask.
Storytelling is one of your most powerful allies. Share the story of a chosen protagonist. Share about your beneficiary and how your nonprofit transformed their lives with the help of donors just like them.
Use the story to help convey urgency.
The age-old saying might hold true for books and people, but it doesn’t when it comes to fundraising appeals.
In the age of the visual, great design reigns.
Strategically use white space to make your fundraising appeal stand out. Less is definitely more when it comes to fundraising appeals
Bold key points. Use appealing high-quality photos. Use a serif font. It’s more readable and bumps up the size of your font (12 points or 14 minimum).
Write as you speak. Jeff Brooks, in The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications, suggests you should write in the 4th – 6th-grade range. Short sentences. Short words.
Try to avoid overused words.
Increase your chances of your fundraising appeal being successful by tying donation levels to specific outcomes. To accomplish this, add a sentence to your fundraising appeal about what the donation will “buy/provide/supply/enable.”
Five families with shelter? A month’s worth of school supplies for one child? Medications for five shelter animals for a week?
Doing this makes gifts more tangible and meaningful to the donor. It can also encourage the donor to give more as they can clearly see the impact their dollars will have.
These need to be honest representations of a donation’s value to your organization’s overall mission and long-term impact goals.
If you don’t want to do this in the main body of text of your fundraising appeal, you can set these up in your donation form.
It’s easy not to do something when we perceive it as difficult or complicated. Make your call to action clear, quick, and easy, and people will be more likely to act now.
In addition to that, make your donation process as simple as possible.
Simplifying and improving your donation page and form is probably the single biggest bang-for-buck improvement you can make to your website and the most effective way to boost your fundraising efforts.
Here’s a way to test how easy it is to donate if your fundraising appeal is an email: Send the email to yourself, then open it. How many clicks does it take to get you to the donation form? If it’s more than one or two, that’s too many.
Repeat your call to action a few times. Repetition builds urgency in the reader’s mind. And readers don’t read word for word all of the texts they read. They skip around. This is why it’s important to repeat the ask. It increases the chance the appeal will grab their eyes somewhere in the copy.
It’s all about simplicity and clarity.
Fundraising is indeed both art and science. A lot goes into creating a rock-solid giving case.
These tips and insights are all very well, but all good fundraisers know that there are exceptions to every rule. Different circumstances can impact results in unexpected ways and that different audiences respond differently to different fundraising propositions.
That’s why it’s important to appreciate that nothing is finite and to test, as much as your budget allows, and learn what works for your specific nonprofit and your audience.
At Donorbox, we prioritize solutions that help our nonprofits increase their donations. We know that your fundraising appeals have to lead your donors somewhere. And we know that effective donation forms are a vital part of nonprofit sustainability, so we built a solution responding to that need.
We also made it simple and affordable, ensuring a no-hassle process for everyone involved!
And check out our Nonprofit Blog for more free resources.