If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re preparing for a fundraising campaign or attempting to craft the perfect copy for your donation page – and you got stuck.
Fundraising is tough.
Whether you’re organizing a big fundraising event, going in on a major donor, or writing an e-newsletter – each fundraising strategy comes with its own challenges.
Why People Give
Whilst online fundraising certainly differs from fundraising in person (e.g. fundraising in meetings or on the streets), the essence of why people give remains the same: people give to people.
People don’t donate to faceless organizations or buildings. They give to change lives and save lives, and because someone asked them to. People are the basis of every fundraising campaign.
This is why great fundraisers are human-centric. They are also great storytellers – telling stories in a way in which their audience can relate to. Great fundraisers know their donor base (who they are, how much they can give, why they give). They are sincere and empathetic, and they build relationships.
All of this can be tough to accomplish online, albeit not impossible. Effective fundraising and great donation pages take time to polish.
While there are no universal rules, and what might work for one organization might not work for another, there are some tried-and-tested tips for successfully asking for donations online.
Use these magic fundraising words on your website or your donation page to increase your chances of success.
Here are the 9 magic words that increase donations for nonprofits:
If you observe carefully, you’ll notice that a lot of nonprofits spend a lot of time talking about themselves. “We” succeeded in this. Animals in danger can count on “us”.
This can make donors feel excluded and unappreciated. If you have a website and a donation page already, critically assess your messaging. Are you focusing on your donors or on you?
If you’re focused on yourself, rewrite. Try to replace as many of the “we” and “us” with “you”.
- You allowed us to employ 1000 homeless people last year.
- Your generosity is astonishing.
- Thank you for your leadership and support.
- With your help, we’ve funded 10,000 school supplies projects.
- Your commitment made this happen.
Your donors want to know that they make a difference when they give.
Not only does using the word “you” make your donors feel valued, but it removes the walls between your donors and your organization. And donors that feel appreciated are more likely to give again.
Further, increase your chances of success by using your donors’ first names where possible.
Pro tip: There are two types of “we” – the one that excludes and the one that includes. You can still use the word “we”, but make it inclusive (e.g. “Together, we were able to get clean water access to 10,000 people in remote areas of Ghana.”)
In a study covered in Harvard Magazine on how people respond to language, psychologists Langer, Chanowitz, and Blank found that adding a reason to your request can almost double your success rate.
This is because the human brain is wired to react when it hears the word “because”. Research shows this word is an automatic trigger for compliance, and in many cases, a person stops paying attention to what comes after they hear “because”.
For example, in the late 1970s, the researchers organized an experiment to test different variations of framing a request to make photocopies (see the image below).
When asked without giving a reason, they got successful at cutting line in 60% of times. When added a reason – it jumped to over 90%.
To capitalize on this peculiarity of the human brain, use the magic word “because” to trigger your donors to react. When writing the copy for your donation page, make sure to use the word “because” in your fundraising ask. Making it clear why you’re asking for donations (and specifically using the word “because” when explaining why) will increase your donations.
- “Today we are sharing Umu’s story with you because she’s in danger and we need to act fast.”
- “We are asking for your help because we need to secure more forest surrounding our protected area if we’re to save the orangutan from extinction.”
- “We need your help because millions are at risk of starvation in Yemen. Families have been struggling to survive without enough food.”
In today’s busy world, reminding your donors to donate “today” is essential to increasing your conversion rates and reaching your fundraising goals.
Using the word “today” conveys a sense of urgency, which can help motivate your donors to give and not delay their donation.
When using the sense of urgency to get your donors to give, don’t jump straight into it.
Even if both you and the donor know where you’re going with your copy (i.e. the ask), it’s important to craft that journey in a way that draws them in and builds up the feelings of urgency before your end goal.
- “Donate today to get children like Aya their supplies in time for the school year starting.”
- “Make a donation today to help those sleeping rough in Manchester. Bitterly cold wind chills can increase the risk of developing hypothermia and frostbite – homeless people have died from sleeping rough in freezing cold weather.”
- “We need your help today to supply medicine to families in Syria. Medicines and medical supplies are increasingly scarce, and only half of the health facilities are fully functioning.”
4. “Thank You”
“Thank you” is often one of the first things our parents teach us to say, but is it really a magic fundraising word that increases donations?
Turns out it is. In their paper, Learning to Say Thank You: The Role of Donor Acknowledgements, Jen Shang, Adrian Sargeant, Kathryn Carpenter and Harriet Day shed light on the science behind saying “thank you”.
Among other things, their research showed that donors who received an extra thank-you letter gave 60% larger gifts than those who did not.
Always thank your donors, whatever amount they contributed. And make sure you say thank you regularly, not only when you’re about to make an ask.
Saying “thank you” also reminds your donors that they have given before and reinforces their positive self-image. We tend to repeat our decisions in order to stay congruent with our idea of self.
- “Thanks to you, Michael and his sister, Janet, celebrated Michael’s 9th birthday with cake and balloons in a safe and loving place. They are no longer scared and love having their own rooms.”
- “Thank you for your thoughtful donation of $250 to the Wildthorne County Agency on Aging. Your donation will make sure that older people in our county, such as Tom and Francis, thrive.” (www.thebalancesmb.com)
“Small” (or “few”, or “little”, or “just”) is a fundraising magic word.
Additionally, in his classic book Influence, Dr. Robert Cialdini found that adding a minimal parameter to the gift solicitation delivered drastically different results.
In a door-to-door solicitation, one group of prospective donors were asked:
“Would you be willing to help by giving a donation?”
Another group were asked:
“Would you be willing to help by giving a donation? Every penny will help.”
People who were asked the second variation were almost twice as likely to donate!
In this case, the phrase “every penny will help” acted as a synonym for “small”. It helped motivate people who might not have otherwise given.
Dr. Cialdini talked about how consistency (one of the 6 principles that motivate human behavior) can be activated by looking for, and asking for, small initial commitments. These small commitments can later turn into much bigger commitments. This tactic will work best on “tightwads” (people who spend less than they would ideally like to spend). Suggesting tightwads donors join a monthly recurring program is also a good alternative. $10 per month for a year sounds much better to them (and almost everyone else) than $120, even if the amount of money is the same.
Implying that a small action is a good start will make people more amenable to making a move and help people break through “action paralysis.”
- “Feed a child for as little as $0.50 a day.”
- “Making a donation is a way of reaching out a helping hand. By providing even a small donation, you can be part of an effort to provide medical assistance, supply food and shelter, and help families rebuild their lives and communities.”
- “We always welcome large contributions, but because we serve children, families and seniors facing hunger in our community, even the smallest year-end contribution goes a long way.”
Our brains love instant gratification. Several magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies have shown that our frontal cortex is highly active when we think about waiting for something and our mid-brain lights up when we think about receiving something right away.
Words like “instant,” “immediately,” or even just “fast” are known to flip the switch on the mid-brain activity that makes us so prone to act.
While you cannot often use the word “instantly” when describing nonprofit services, using the words “quickly” or “immediately” can easily be incorporated into your web copies.
We are more prone to buy when we’re reminded that results will happen fast or we will receive an immediate award.
The word “quick” can also be used to reassure donors that the donation process won’t take too much of their time (and if you’re saying the donation process is quick, make sure it is!).
- “Your gift will be put to work immediately.”
- “Upon your donation, you will instantly receive a video from our team on the ground.”
- “Our donation process is simple and quick. In just 30 seconds, your donation will be on its way to support Australia’s most vulnerable children.”
Unfortunately, an all-too-common approach to increasing donations is to tell prospects how few people are currently supporting the organization.
For example, in a recent fundraising email, Wikipedia wrote: “Millions of people across the world read Wikipedia, but only 1% of readers give.”
While it’s possible that Wikipedia tested other methods and this one worked best, this goes against the principle of social proof. People are more likely to engage in a behavior when they think other people are doing the same thing.
Especially when they are uncertain, people will look to the actions and behaviors of others to determine their own.
Humans are social animals, and science is telling us that, to persuade others, we can point to what many others are already doing.
This goes for suggested giving amounts as well. On your donation page, provide several suggested amounts (linking each to a specific outcome) and highlight one donation amount.
A study showed that there was a 12% increase in average donation amounts when donors were subject to “social information conditions”. Essentially, suggested giving levels helped tell donors what amount is “appropriate” to give.
- “Join over 10,000 donors from Canada!”
- “95% of New York-area donors made $200 or larger contributions! Join them.”
- “Please join 65% of your work colleagues in helping people in your community by making a charitable contribution.”
Donating feels good. If it doesn’t, it won’t happen. Donors are increasingly averse to the idea of overhead costs. Somewhere along the road, an idea was formed that some charities are massive, bureaucratic machines that spend a lot of money on overhead and administrative costs. And no one wants their $100 to go towards the CEO’s salary.
“Despite the understanding that CEOs of nonprofits need to be paid, if given the choice of where their money would go, most people donating money wouldn’t choose to contribute to the salary of the organization’s CEO,” says Elizabeth A. Keenan, an assistant professor in the Marketing unit at Harvard Business School.
And simply reducing your overhead costs and bringing it to the minimum can harm your nonprofit. Low salaries coupled with heavy workload can lead to nonprofit burnout. Instead, adopt the idea of overhead-free donations. Have professional philanthropists or major donors cover overhead costs so that the vast majority of smaller donations can go directly towards your programs.
If you’re able to use the “100% of your money will help feed the hungry”, you can potentially triple your donations.
- “100% of your donation will fund development of powerful immunotherapies for all types of cancers—funding more breakthroughs and saving more lives.”
- “100% of your money brings clean water to people in need.” – charity:water
Just like we’re wired to do what others do, we’re wired to follow the lead of experts. People respond positively to credibility and authority.
You can build authority in many ways: using testimonials, showcasing logos of brands supporting you, sharing links to credible research or writing you’ve done. All of these are symbols of authority and can increase your influence.
And ultimately, trust is the most important element of any relationship. This also applies to the relationship between a nonprofit organization and its donors.
Embed the magic word “expert” into your calls to action and on your donation page and watch your donations increase over time.
- “Support our team of experts in rehabilitating the Indonesian elephants.”
- “Support local experts and changemakers already bringing transformation in the lives of the vulnerable in their communities.”
- “Your gift will help fund our experts’ cutting-edge research, drive change through advocacy, and facilitate professional education.”
For added success, consider using the following words too:
Support: Using the word “support” instead of “donate” has increased donations for several nonprofits.
Easy: Just like with the word “quick”, you want to assure your donors that the donation process is easy.
Difference: Donors want to feel like they’re making a positive impact, so consider using the phrase “make a difference” in your copies.
Hurry: Evoking a sense of urgency, this works best when there’s a real-time issue at hand (e.g. “Hurry, in 2 days the Grove Park will be demolished!”
Hassle-Free: No one wants someone to harass them with e-mails and calls every week. Letting your donors know that won’t happen can increase their chances of giving.
Alternatives to the word “Donate” (Wordings that can be used while asking for donations):
“Donate” is perhaps the single most widely used call to action used by nonprofits for online fundraising. In order to stand out and draw better attention to the donation button or the “donate” call to action, there are numerous, more effective phrases that you can add. You can select a word or phrase which suits better to your nonprofit’s work and impact.
Here is a wordings that can be used while asking for donations:
- Make a donation
- Join the fight!
- Give to <nonprofit/cause>
- Impact the lives of <blank> today
- Take action!
- Help educate a child! / Help <blank> today!
- Stop Injustice
- Fight now!
- Help <your mission> in need!
- Save the <blank> now!
- Support <blank> now!
- Transform lives today!
- Complete your gift
- Advocate for our cause
- Make a difference in <year>
Using these magic fundraising words can help you increase donations and take your fundraising to the next level.
When writing your website or donation page copy, 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.
Finally, don’t forget to customize your ask and do a lot of testing with your audience. These might be magic fundraising words, but each nonprofit’s audience is different. Donors are more likely to give when contributing is personally meaningful to them, so customize your language. For example, a study showed that when fundraising appeals use adjectives like “kind and compassionate,” women increased their giving on average by 10 percent. On the other hand, male donors are prompted to give more when solicitations use adjectives like “strong,” “responsible,” and “loyal.” You want to have a different fundraising approach for each donor type.