Ask Donors to Do Something Easy

There’s a fundamental truth that savvy nonprofits use to raise more money.

They craft their fundraising to make it easier for donors to say “yes.” And because they’ve made it easier for the donor, these organizations raise more money.

Here’s how smart nonprofits do it and how you can raise more money with your very next appeal, e-appeal, or event…

They don’t ask donors to “support our mission.” That requires a donor to find or figure out what your mission is. Then the donor has to understand it – which is often difficult because so many organizational missions are filled with insider jargon. Then the donor actually has to want to support the whole thing. That’s a lot of work.

They don’t ask donors to understand the whole organization. That requires a list of your programs and often a description of how you do your work. That’s super helpful for a foundation that requires that information, but harder work for a donor who’s giving your letter only a few seconds of attention.

Instead, they ask the donor to do something small and meaningful, often just to support one part of one program. Look through your programs to find powerful moments – places where one small action creates an outsized impact. Then ask your donor to fund that small action.

They don’t ask donors to do something grand (or even impossible). This happens all the time when organizations ask donors to do things like “Help us end poverty” or “Send your gift to feed 47,000 people this fall!” Those are big, hard things to do. Asking donors to do them doesn’t work as well. *

Instead, they ask donors to achieve small, believable outcomes. They work hard to create compelling and believable fundraising offers – that are absolutely aligned with those grand goals – but are packaged into smaller, bite-sized chunkslike “End poverty for a family by sending a young mother to school for a year for $48” or “Feed one person this entire fall for just $58.”

Most smaller nonprofits raise less money than they could because they ask their donors to do things that are hard to do and hard to understand.

Make it easy for your donor to understand and say “yes” and you’ll raise more money.

Remember the Context

The thing to remember – and to remind your bosses of often – is that when you’re sending letters and emails to your donors, you’re doing direct response fundraising. You only have your donor’s attention for a few seconds.

When you only have a few seconds, you don’t have time for complicated, complex arguments. You have time for small, easy-to-understand Asks.

(This is why good fundraising offers work so well, by the way. They keep it simple.)

When you have time, say at a 1-to-1 coffee with a donor, then you can go deeper into your mission and how all of your programs work together.

Or when you’re talking to a potential grantor, who requires knowing everything about your organization before they’ll make a grant.

But when you’re doing direct response fundraising and you have only a few seconds, keep it simple. It’s a proven way to raise more money.

* In my experience, grand statements like “End poverty in our lifetime” or “Eliminate malaria from Uganda” can be great taglines and vision statements. Used as taglines or to set vision, they can help your fundraising. But they tend to reduce results when they’re used as the specific Ask. For instance, an Ask like “Will you help eliminate malaria from Uganda with a gift today?” will raise less money than “Will you help eliminate malaria from Uganda by providing a bed net for one family today?”


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

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