More Good Reasons to Give Now = More Donations

Give Now.

I’m calling this a “quick tip.”

But in truth it’s a massive, foundational idea for fundraising success:

The more good reasons you can give your donor to give a gift TODAY, the more likely she is to give a gift.

I’ve included a list of “good reasons” below.

But in a nutshell:

“Your help is needed today and here’s why”

Will raise more than…

“Our programs are making a difference – please give to help continue this good work.”

I know it might feel weird. But it works.

And remember, I’m talking about direct response fundraising here. That’s your letters, your newsletters, your emails. I’m not talking about grant proposals or conversations with Foundations. This idea can be helpful in those contexts, too, but it’s not as necessary for success.

Good Reasons to Give Now

Here’s a list of “reasons” that are proven to increase the chances that your donor will respond to your direct response fundraising:

  • Any “multiplier” (like a matching grant)
  • Any beneficiary that faces a need right now (this can be starting to be helped by your organization, or the next step in their process with you)
  • A deadline
  • A budget shortfall
  • Any acute need like “14 new people will enter our shelter this month” or “There are 35 people on our waiting list”
    It’s a learned behavior to begin to focus your fundraising on “reasons to give a gift today” instead of focusing your fundraising on your organization, your programs, your successes, etc.

To help you make the transition to this new way of thinking, here’s some evidence that this works from last week’s GivingTuesday.

I’ve been helping an organization add “reasons to give today” to all their fundraising. Here’s the report I received for how GivingTuesday went: “The team and I have really been trying to focus on the reasons to give NOW. Wonder where I learned that? We smashed through the goal, so I’m thrilled!”

For your next piece of fundraising – maybe your year-end emails?! – be sure to include reasons to give today. You’ll raise more money!

You Can Do Better Than “Donate Now”


I learned a long time ago that “donors fund outcomes.” They are more likely to give a donation if they think their gift is helping to create a specific outcome – as opposed to just “supporting your organization.”

Turns out the same principle works online, too.

Better Fundraising has had more success with online “donate” buttons that replace the word “donate” with an outcome that the organization produces.

The Lesson: replace the text on your “donate” button with text that reinforces the outcome of your donor’s gift

Here are a bunch of examples from our archives:

Provide Shelter
Feed 1 Person
Save The Parks
Provide an Ultrasound
Save A life
Provide Clean Water
Provide a Coat
Provide a Scholarship

You get the point.

The lesson for you: if you’re able, update any donate buttons you use in email, on your website, and in social media.

Instead of highlighting the action of giving (“donate” and “give now”), highlight the outcome the donor’s gift will help create

I should mention that we don’t have any head-to-head testing data that backs this recommendation up. But I’ve read results that back me up.

And the principle of “asking a donor to do a powerful thing” works better than “asking a donor to donate” has benefitted our clients too many times to count.

Good luck! And always remember that your donors are more likely to give this month than any other time of year. So don’t hesitate to Ask them to help your beneficiaries!

Do NOT Start Your E-Appeals with a Thank You

Thank donors.

We ran a test that you should know about.

We randomly divided a nonprofit’s email file into two groups. We sent both groups the same year-end email with just one difference: the first sentence of one group’s email thanked the donor for their previous support.

The version that began with the Thank You raised significantly less money.

The Lesson: don’t start your appeals or e-appeals by thanking your donor for their previous giving

It seems like the right thing to do – but it raises less money.

So we now have a policy: do not start appeals or e-appeals with a Thank You for the donor’s previous giving.

My Attempt to Explain the Results

Always remember that most donors don’t read the whole thing.

Remember the “heat map”? The eye-tracking studies that prove most donors jump around, don’t read things from top-to-bottom, and certainly don’t read the whole thing?

Here’s my explanation: a number of your donors will read the first line of your emails. And if that line is Thanking them for their previous giving, they appreciate being thanked and then delete your message because they think nothing is being asked of them.

Another thing to remember: at year-end, your donors are moving even faster than normal. They have parties to go to, presents to wrap, etc.

And if a significant amount of your donors stop reading after the first sentence, you are going to raise less money.

So for your December and year-end fundraising emails this year, don’t succumb to the temptation of Thanking your donors right off the bat. It feels like it’s the right thing to do. But you’ll raise less money!

How to Choose What to Underline and Why

I’m going to teach you to raise more money by showing you what to emphasize in your fundraising letters.

Because if you underline or bold the right things, you’ll raise more money.

NOTE: for brevity, I’m going to lump all forms of visual emphasis as “underlining.” You might use underlining, or bolding, or highlighting, doesn’t matter. All of those are different tactics. I’m talking about the strategy of visually emphasizing small portions of your letters and e-appeals.

First, let me tell you why your underlining is so important.

Underlining has two purposes in fundraising writing. Almost nobody knows the second – and more important – purpose.

  1. Bolding or underlining signals that a sentence is important. This is true of almost any writing.
  2. But underlining also serves a second, more important purpose. The most effective fundraisers use underlining to choose for your donor which things they are most likely to read.

Because remember, most of your donors won’t read your letter from top to bottom. They will scan your letter – briefly running their eyes down the page. And as they scan, when they see a sentence that has been emphasized, they are likely to stop scanning and read.

It’s this second, more valuable purpose that most organizations don’t know about. So they underline the wrong things.

My Rule of Thumb

Here’s what I try to do. This doesn’t apply to every letter, but I try this approach first on every single letter I review or write:

  • The first thing underlined should be a statement of need, or a statement describing the problem that the organization is working on.
  • The second thing is a brief explanation of how the donor’s gift will help meet the need or solve the problem mentioned in the first underlined section.
  • The third thing is a bold call-to-action for the donor to give a gift to meet the need / solve the problem today.

If you do that, I can basically guarantee that your letter will do well. A MASSIVE number of fundraising letters don’t even have those elements, let alone emphasize them. If you have them, and you emphasize them, here’s what happens:

  • Donors know immediately what you’re writing to them about
  • Donors know immediately what they can do to help
  • Donors know immediately that they are needed!

Because of those things your donors are more likely to read more. And more likely to donate more.

There Are Some Sub-Rules

  1. No pronouns. Remember that it’s very likely that a person reading the underlined sentence has not read the prior sentences. So if you underline a sentence like “They need it now!” the donor does not know who “they” are and what “it” is. The sentence is basically meaningless to the donor. Their time has been wasted.
  2. Not too many. You’ve seen this before; there are four sentences that are bolded, five that are underlined, and the result is a visual mess that only a Board member would read. Be disciplined. I try to emphasize only three things per page, sometimes four.
  3. Emphasize what donors care about, not what your Org cares about. If you find yourself emphasizing a sentence like, “Our programs are the most effective in the county!” … de-emphasize it. Though it matters a lot to you, no donor is scanning your letter looking to hear how good your organization is at its job. But donors are scanning for things they are interested in. So emphasize things like, “Because of matching funds, the impact of your gift doubles!” or “I know you care about unicorns, and the local herd is in real danger.”
  4. Drama is interesting. If your organization is in a dramatic situation, or the story in the letter has real drama, underline it. Here are a couple of examples from letters we’ve worked on recently: “It was at the moment she saw the ultrasound that life in her belly stopped being a problem and became a baby” and “The enclosed Emergency Funding Program card outlines the emergency fundraising plan I’ve come up with.”


And now, I have to share that I got the idea for this post when I saw this clip from the TV show “Friends”. It turns out that Joey has never known what using ‘air quotes’ means – and he’s using them wrong (to hilarious effect). I saw it and thought, “That’s like a lot of nonprofits trying to use underlining effectively.”

If you’re offended by that, please forgive me. I see hundreds of appeal letters and e-appeals a year. I developed a sense of humor as a defense mechanism. 🙂

The good news is that learning how to use underlining is as easy as learning to use air quotes!

You can do this. Just remember that most of your donors are moving fast. Underline only what they need to know. That’s an incredible gift to a compassionate, generous, busy donor!

And if you’d like to know how Better Fundraising can create your appeals and newsletters (with very effective underlining!) take a look here.

Your Fundraising Should Be More Vulnerable


Today’s post is all about vulnerability – a quality your organization needs to have if you want to be more successful when raising money.

I’m going to illustrate vulnerability using four quotes from Brene Brown. Brene is a research professor who’s done deep research on courage and vulnerability. (She probably doesn’t know it, but much of her work applies directly to fundraising!)

If you apply the principles she discovered to your fundraising, you’ll be better at engaging and keeping your donors.

“Through my research, I found that vulnerability is the glue that holds relationships together. It’s the magic sauce.”

Donor relationships are a lot like human relationships. Donors like to feel needed, and they like to feel appreciated.

Weirdly, most nonprofits in my experience are lousy at doing this. And it starts with an inability to be vulnerable.

For instance, they might ask their donors to “partner” with them, or ask for “support.” But most nonprofits rarely ask for help as if they really need it.

Go look at your fundraising materials. Just scan them. Do you get the impression that your organization or your beneficiaries really need help?

I’d like to suggest that if your nonprofit was more vulnerable to your donors you would engage your donors more deeply, keep them for longer, and raise more money.

In my experience, organizations raise a lot more money when they are vulnerable.

“Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.”

I think one of the reasons there’s a massive donor retention problem in Fundraising is that most donors feel so little connection with the organizations they donate to. And I blame that mostly on poor donor communications. Most nonprofits are constantly talking about themselves and taking credit for everything they’ve done. You can look at the materials of many organizations (especially their websites!) and never know they even have donors.

Think about your relationships with other humans. Do you feel connected to, and valued by, the people who are always talking about themselves? Nope.

If you want to experience connection with your donors, be vulnerable. Tell them that their gift (or their volunteer hours, or their Board service) are needed. Tell them that you’re doing as much as you can, but you need their help. Tell them that you’re not reaching everyone who needs help, but that you could reach more people if they donated.

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

It’s hard to ask for money. For most of us, it’s unnatural. And I think that’s why organizations tend to pussy-foot around it.

It takes real courage to ask boldly for money! Much of my work is with leaders of organizations helping them overcome fears about Asking. They don’t like it. Or they think it will reflect poorly on themselves or the organization. They come up with all kinds of crazy rationalizations for why they shouldn’t ask.

This week I heard a doozy from an ED: “I need to be the positive leader, but staff can encourage donors to give…”

I submit to you that’s not good leadership. Nor is it courage. It certainly isn’t vulnerability.

Here’s what that ends up looking like in appeals and e-appeals (as always, these are actual sentences from actual appeals):

  • “Will you help us do more of this good work?”
  • “Will you partner with us to help those in need?”
  • “Thank you for your determination to support our staff.”

Do you see any real need or vulnerability there? Neither do it. Neither do their donors.

When looked at through this lens, is it any wonder that an appeal that ends with…

  • “There are people right now who need help, but we don’t have the budget to reach them. Will you please send a gift today to help them?’

…will raise more than an appeal that ends like this?

  • “Will you help us do more of this good work?”

Ask courageously! The things you fear won’t come to pass. Or if they do, it will be in such small measure compared to the incredible generosity you see from your donors.

“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.”

As a nonprofit, here’s how to pay attention and practice gratitude: watch every gift come in with joy and amazement. Think of the incredible connections you just formed between your donors and your beneficiaries! Think of the incredible good you just did!

Because remember: your donors LOVE to give! They love to support you. They love to help your beneficiaries or cause.

I think there’s incredible joy to be had in courageously stating a need, asking for help, and then watching generosity pour in.

I know you get numb to it after a while. Unless you are careful, the amazing generosity of donors pretty quickly just gets thought of as “monthly revenue” – every single time a gift comes in to your organization.

If there’s a ‘spiritual practice’ that most nonprofits should be doing, it’s practicing gratitude.

Because if you practice gratitude regularly, you become more grateful. And when you’re truly grateful for your donors, you will be comfortable being vulnerable with them. Vulnerability is where connection and relationship happens. You do that, and you’ll build a tribe of donors and an organization that can change the world.

What Is a Fundraising “Offer”? [INFOGRAPHIC]


A fundraising “offer” is the least-understood, most-powerful tool in fundraising.

It’s the secret key to Asking effectively.

Here’s what an “offer” is: a super-simple description of what your donor’s gift will accomplish.

Many nonprofits don’t pay close attention to how they describe what a donor’s gift will do. I can’t say this strongly enough: you should pay very close attention to the words and ideas you use to describe what your donor’s gift will do today.

I recently spent some time with Brady Josephson talking about what makes a successful offer. The blog post he wrote after our chat, 4 Components of a Great Fundraising Offer, has a ton of helpful thoughts for you, including a podcast we recorded.

Today, I want to share my super-simple formula for creating a successful offer. Brady created the excellent infographic at the right (click to enlarge).

You can read more about each of the 4 elements in Brady’s post. For now, let me leave you with an idea that shows you how important I think offers are.

As I look back over the nonprofits I’ve worked with, the biggest jumps in revenue tend to come from two causes:

  1. A spike or long-term increase of media attention on the people, place or cause a nonprofit is working on. For instance, raising money to help refugees used to be an uphill slog in the mud. But because of the increased media attention on refugees in recent years (Syria, Iraq, Uganda, Myanmar) it’s become much easier. Response rates are up. Average gifts are up. But for the most part, a change like this is completely outside the control of your organization.
  2. What you can control is your offer. The best example of this is World Vision. They were a tiny organization until they developed the “child sponsorship” offer – now they raise over $1.5 billion a year. It’s not that donors care more about kids now than they did 50 years ago. It’s that World Vision got really good at describing what a donor’s gift does.

Offers are so helpful to donors because they help donors quickly identify something good they can do today. A good offer doesn’t require your donors to understand your cause, your organization, or your methods. Put another way: a good offer makes it easier for a donor to say “yes!”

And when you make it easier for donors to say “yes!” you “open the door” to your organization a little bit wider. More donors will walk through, and they will bring donations!

PS — For more on creating successful offers, download our free e-Book, Fundraising Offers: What they are, how they work, and how to make a great one. Click here to download it!

Fundraising and Storytelling

Hey! I just made this short video for you because I was working late.  I’m preparing for the best fundraising conference out there – the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference next week in San Diego. Click here to watch the video – and I hope to see you at the conference!

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?”

Things an Old Fundraiser Knows

Things an Old Fundraiser Knows

This year I completed my 25th year-end fundraising campaign.

It made me think about the lessons I’ve learned over the years communicating to donors en masse. Not the ‘one major donor who likes this’ or ‘the foundation that likes that,’ but when nonprofits are communicating to everyone on their file.

So in hopes that this is helpful, here are a handful of big-picture things that this Fundraiser has come to realize are enduring truths…

It’s harder than ever to get and keep attention

Get great at getting your donor’s attention. And keeping it. This means more drama and less process. More National Enquirer and less National Geographic. This means louder, bolder, redder, and not that fricking shade of light blue that no older donor can see or read.

Mostly it means not assuming that your donor is going to read anything you send them, let alone the whole thing.

You have to earn their attention, my friend.

The way your organization does its work is rarely important

And I mean rarely.

Most organizations, most of the time, should be talking about the outcomes their work creates. They should not be talking about how the organization creates those outcomes.

So if you find yourself talking about your process, the names of your programs, the features of your programs … rethink what you’re talking to donors about.

The best-performing fundraising is usually about something the donor cares about, at the level at which they understand it, and about what their gift will do about it.

This is a hard truth. It saddens me to say that most small nonprofits never embrace this, and they stay small because of it.

Most small nonprofits have ‘untapped giving’ of 15% to 25% of their total revenue

This is based on applying best practices to a LOT of smaller nonprofits. They simply have a lot of donors who would like to give more money if they are Asked well and then cultivated correctly.

It’s a thrill to get to work with those organizations because the increase is real and immediate.

Most of the barriers to raising more money are self-imposed

The things that are holding back small- to medium-sized nonprofits are almost always fear-based barriers:

  • “We can’t talk to our donors more, we’ll wear them out”
  • “We have to share everything that we do, and that we are good at it”
  • “We can’t be so forward, we need to engage our donors/potential donors more before…”

If you’re willing to do things differently, an experienced fundraiser can help you start raising more money immediately.

Successful fundraising is a knowledge issue, not a talent issue

One of the biggest joys of my life is watching fundraisers become Fundraisers. And it almost always happens when they internalize an idea – like the ones I mention above – rather than learning a new tactic.

Donor generosity is amazing

Donors continue to surprise me, even after 25 years. Their generosity is astounding. They want to make the world a better place. They are looking for opportunities to do so.

And we get to tap into that. For a living.

Fundraisers have the best job in the world.