Archive for August, 2015

Find out why you shouldn’t like your donor message

The donor relationship equity built over the lifetime of an organization should not be taken lightly. Author Jeff Brooks encourages you to apply his proven strategies for raising more money and avoid jarring tactics that jeopardize donor relationships.

One of the passages we liked best in Brooks’ latest book, A Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications, was titled “Self-centric fundraising.”

Simply put, if you like your message, your donor won’t. Read on to find out why:

Self-centric fundraising

If you like your fundraising message, asserts Brooks, it will not appeal to your donors. Even if your donors say they like it, it will not compel them to give in real life. “Everyone’s conscious opinions about fundraising are automatically wrong. … Everyone hates the stuff that works best.” This happens because when you practice self-centric fundraising, or what appeals to you as the fundraiser, you lose the emotion because your initial emotional connection to the cause has become more sophisticated and educated as you have worked for the nonprofit.

For example, you may want to talk about global hunger as “food insecurity” after working in the field. A donor would not understand this term at all. In addition, you don’t focus on the donors because you are proud of your organization’s work and want to detail its merits.

Donors, however, want to be part of the equation. Finally, “your copy reads like inter-office memos.” Formal, professional, cold communication does not motivate donors to act. In this kind of copy, you focus on facts: “Please consider supporting the 124 children in our hospital,” instead of a compelling, emotional story about a 6-year-old girl talking about her good-luck bear in her fight against cancer.

In order to avoid these self-centric messages, turn off your personal likes and dislikes in favor of what has worked with donors before, either in your organization or others. Ask if it is emotional, clear and simple, rather than if you like it or not.

In our interview with Brooks, we asked more about what donors want to hear:

CausePlanet: What do you think is the best training fundraisers can receive? They need to be fluent, smooth writers but also need simplicity and an intuition about what donors want to hear.

Brooks: The best possible training is an experienced mentor–someone who knows fundraising inside and out and will go over your work in detail and show you what needs to be done. Read quality books about fundraising. There are a lot of them, and the folks at CausePlanet can help you find the right ones. Also, read a few of the blogs.  There are a lot of them, many of them superb sources of information. Find a blog you like, then add a few more from that blog’s blogroll. Finally, get to know other professionals and talk about stuff. Get involved in your local AFP, and/or go to one of the national conventions. Knowing and talking with other professionals really makes a positive difference.

CausePlanet: What in your research makes fundraisers lose money more than anything?

Brooks: Failing to engage with donors. Asking donors to “stand with us” rather than give them specific actions they can take. Writing in the language and about things that organizational insiders care about, rather than what motivates the donors. Using images that make insiders feel good instead of those that reach donors. Using abstractions and wordplay instead of clear, plain, powerful emotional messaging. Bragging about the organization and its programs instead of making it about the donors.

Read more about this book in our Page to Practice summary and other related titles:

The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications: Real-World Field-Tested Strategies for Raising More Money

The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand: Motivating Donors to Give, Give Happily, and Keep on Giving

Seeing Through A Donor’s Eyes

How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money

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Are you choosing the right approach for your ask?

“What really counts is what the people who actually write the checks think,” explains Tom Ralser, the author of Asking Rights. More specifically, how do donor motivations inform nonprofit fundraising behavior? Ralser would say, “It’s all about the outcomes.”

Tom Ralser asserts the rational appeal or the pursuit of earning the right to ask a donor for his investment is at the root of every successful request. Asking Rights is a book about how to successfully fund your nonprofit and do so with a greater focus on and understanding of the funder’s interests and motivations.

In our first installment that highlights the book, we take a closer look at the investor’s perspective and how to adjust your appeal to meet your goals and donor motivations.

The investor’s perspective and how to balance your approach

Ralser explains the difference between investors and donors in order to encourage nonprofits to not only appeal to the emotions of a donor, but also to the rational, outcomes-based side of an investor.


He defines a donor as “an individual or organization that typically provides low-level, often sporadic financial support that is not necessarily connected to the mission of the nonprofit.” An investor, on the other hand, he defines as one who “typically makes larger financial commitments that span several years.


An investor is most concerned with the long-term success of the nonprofit.” He differentiates an investor’s thinking in the following way: “If you can’t demonstrate results (outcomes), then you do not have the right to ask for money. If you can’t make your outcomes meaningful to me, then you do not have the right to ask me for money.”

Because higher-end investors are more interested in your results, which involve improving the lives of your customers and effecting real change over the long run, they need you and any organization into which they invest to communicate the impacts clearly to them. Therefore, they do not want only emotional appeals, despite the research that donors respond more to emotion than statistics.

Where emotional appeals are a fit

Emotional appeals serve a purpose in direct mail and other impersonal channels, but Ralser argues nonprofits that craft the most effective emotional appeals do not always raise the most money. Ultimately, higher-end investors want a return on their investment, instead of simply giving to a charity with no expectations. They don’t want the best ad campaign and have already been bombarded with marketing pitches. Investors are becoming wary of the emotional appeals that do not show any specific impact.

Ralser argues that many studies that seemingly prove the effectiveness of emotional appeals over factual ones are conducted in certain situations and do not necessarily apply to real-world giving situations, particularly not to long-term investors.

Rokia Study

For example, he references Save the Children’s Rokia study that found that providing donors with a photo of a 7-year-old hungry child with general information raised more money than giving the donors statistics. This study was conducted through impersonal channels and dealt with small amounts of money.

In contrast, in his real-world business helping organizations raise money, the rational appeal, focusing on ROI (social return) for higher-level investors, works when an organization is looking more toward sustainability, larger donations versus smaller donations, fundraising beyond direct mail or impersonal channels, and a focus on outcomes delivering value to investors.

Ralser’s overall point, then, is that organizations must adjust their appeals according to their goals and their audience’s motivations.

He provides a matrix with four quadrants to illustrate the options.

Heart (appeals to donors): When an organization is appealing to a donor who is giving lower sums of money and is not highly committed, the emotional appeals work well, e.g., a countertop collection for an animal shelter.

Acorn (appeals to donors): When a donor is going to give lower amounts of money but more of a rational appeal will work, the campaign can turn into more of a sustainable one. For example, “a membership drive for the operation of a local Chamber of Commerce, where membership dues are based on the size of the company and where membership carries with it certain privileges or benefits.”

Shooting star (appeals to investors): Emotional appeals that require high financial involvement and commitment are classified as shooting stars. They are usually highly visible appeals, such as a “one-time campaign for a hospital emergency room that needs refurbishing and updating, made obvious by a tragedy in which lives were lost due to lack of modern equipment.”

Blue chip (appeals to investors): This level requires more evidence of valuable results and a rational appeal to secure larger funding (higher financial involvement and commitment), such as “a capital campaign for an economic development program that will create jobs, increase capital investment, and produce positive, long-term economic ripple effects.”

Therefore, if an organization is relying only on emotional appeals and raising smaller sums of money, it can strive to create more rational appeals in order to move toward sustainability.

Also, different audiences may require different appeals. In the author’s hospital example, appealing to a grandparent with an emotional appeal may work better, whereas appealing to a major employer may require more evidence of impact and a more rational appeal.

An organization’s goal, considering all this information, is to develop ways to quantify and value its outcomes to achieve better results so investors will want to be involved with the organization over time. It has to communicate this value clearly to the investor in his terms, not through internal jargon. Then, it has the right to ask him to invest.

See this Page to Practice book summary and other related titles:

Asking Rights: Why Some Nonprofits Get Funded (and Some Don’t)

The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications: Real-World Field-Tested Strategies for Raising More Money

The Impact Investor: Lessons in Leadership and Strategy for Collaborative Capitalism

Image credits:,, Tom Ralser

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