Please Don’t Wait Too Long to Ask


A word of advice to small- and medium-sized nonprofits: don’t “rest” your donors for too long after year-end.

I was taught – via stories and data – that the single biggest predictor of whether a donor would give a gift is how recently the donor had given a gift.

Put slightly differently – the more recently a donor has given a gift, the more likely that donor is to give you another gift. This is the “Recency” in classic RFM “Recency Frequency Motivation” modeling.

We had a client who didn’t believe this was possible. So we tested it.

We sent out an appeal in late January. (I should mention that they didn’t want to do this because they thought it would “bombard” their donors who had just been asked a lot at year-end. But everything we’d been doing for them was working great. So they trusted us enough to try it.)

The appeal did GREAT. Response rate and net revenue were huge wins.

Then we analyzed who gave to the appeal. Specifically, we looked at how recently each donor had given a gift.

  • The single largest group of people who gave were the people who had given the previous month (December).
  • The second largest group of people who gave were the people who had given two months prior (November).
  • The third largest group of people who gave were the people who had given three months prior (October).
  • The fourth-largest group of people who gave were the people who had given four months prior (September).
  • The fifth-largest group of people who gave were the people who had given five months prior (August).


The test showed the organization that what I’d been saying was true.

Now, should you ask a Major Donor to give another gift the month after she gave a substantial gift? Nope. How about a Foundation who just gave you a grant? Also nope. And of course, there are additional and more sophisticated segmentation analyses.

But here’s what should happen for donor communications that you send to everyone…

Your Takeaways

What should you and your organization do with this information? I suggest three important takeaways:

  1. Realize (and share internally) what a big role recency plays in who gives to your fundraising. You’ll become a smarter organization immediately. Because will you mail all your appeals to donors who haven’t given a gift in 36 months? Nope. That means money saved.
  2. Don’t wait too long to ask your donors after they’ve given a gift. Every month you wait reduces the chance they will give.
  3. Ask more often. I love this part – when a woman at the organization reviewed the results of the test, she said something brilliant. She looked at me and said, “We should be giving our donors more chances to help, shouldn’t we? Because every time we’ve been ‘resting’ our donors, we’ve accidentally been lowering how much money we raise, right?” Exactly right. It was a joy to watch “the light go on” for her, and then to watch that organization raise more money that year as they started communicating with their donors more.

As I write this, It’s early January. And it’s important to Thank your donors in a meaningful way in January. But don’t wait too long to Ask your donors for support again. We Fundraisers should constantly be learning from the past by letting tests like the one above show you how to raise more money!

Should You Mention Your Goal Amount?

Goal Amount.

Here’s a great question from a smart Fundraiser (and Free Review Friday watcher) named Jeff:

“I had a quick question: Is there an advantage to mentioning the overall goal in an Appeal? Yes, our offer may be $25 a week to help a kid in need, but what about telling our donors our overall appeal goal is $50,000? Have you found an advantage in telling this larger goal, or can it actually decrease giving from some donors?”

And here’s my answer:

Yes, I think it’s a good idea to mention the goal in the appeal.

However, what’s more important is to include multiple other reasons for the donor to give a gift today.

For instance, if you have five kids who are coming into your program next week, I’d mention that before I’d mention the goal.

Here’s why…

Your goal has far more meaning to internal audiences than it does to external audiences.

Insiders and stakeholders love mentioning goals because they know exactly what the goal means. They know the context, they know the scale of the amount, and they know how important it is.

But I’d wager that more than 95% of your donors don’t know if a particular amount is a lot or a little for your organization.

Note: there are times where a massive goal can get your donors’ attention and help motivate them to give. But those situations are outliers, in my experience.

Most of the time, your goal – by itself – is just not much of a motivator for your donors.

Give Your Goal Meaning

When mentioning a goal, I try to give it a meaning that a donor would value.

Here’s an example I gave Jeff: “We need to raise $50,000” is a LOT less impactful than “I need to raise $50,000 so that every child who comes to us can be welcomed, witnessed to, and see the love of Christ in action.”

In that example, I’ve turned a number with little meaning into a number that has a lot of meaning for Jeff’s donors.

The Context is More Important than the Amount

Here’s a data-driven finding that brings this whole idea home…

When an organization has a shortfall, the fact that they have a shortfall is more effective at getting donors to respond than the size of the shortfall.

That tells you something important: the context around an amount is more important than the amount itself.

So next time you have a goal, mention it!

  • A goal can be helpful, but you sure don’t need one (or need to mention one) to be successful.
  • What’s more important is to include multiple reasons to give today that have meaning to your donors.

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!

TOP 10 list of design mistakes I see in direct response over and over again

John Lepp is a fundraiser you should pay attention to. And he has a blog you should subscribe to.

His bio says he’s a long-time marketer, designer, and ranter. All those things are true.

John gets righteously fired up about the design of your fundraising. And here’s a fantastic guest post from him on the design mistakes we all make (I’m guilty of #3).

I’m proud to point out that I’ve been a student of direct response and direct marketing for more than 20 years. That’s a lot of ideas, testing, concepts, tactics, tricks, tips, nerd knowledge, and history packed into this tiny brain of mine.

As a designer and communicator, I understand my job is to make sure something gets:
– seen
– understood
– acted upon
– results

My job isn’t to make something pretty. My job is to make sure something works. That’s what a designer does.

I go through my mother-in-law’s (your donor) mail quite regularly and see the same “design” errors over and over again. And knowing how much we all love a SOLID TOP 10 list, here’s my TOP 10 list of design mistakes I see in direct response over and over again.

1. Too much clutter in pursuit of “interesting” design
Through the years, I’ve heard that my design solution is too boring, too plain, or too simple. I’ve been told to make it more interesting, to SEXIFY it, to add, you know, something to make it “STAND OUT” – mostly uttered by people who have no idea what good and effective design is.

I see a lot of mail that is WAY over-designed.

In testing, I’ve seen over and over that, a simple, larger envelope with just a logo and return address will beat almost ANYTHING else.

A letter that looks like a personal letter from you to me is far more effective and gets better results.

At the end of the day, THE BEST, THE MOST EFFECTIVE direct response looks like a personal piece of communication from you to me.

Leave the Starbursts to the candy manufacturer.

2. A total lack of understanding of what makes an effective tagline or image on your outer envelope
A great and effective tagline can be one or maybe a couple of different things. It should provoke the donor to take action (hopefully by opening the envelope, obviously). It can ask a provocative question, it can make the pack seem mysterious, it can be the phrase from a commonly known song, or it can tell the donor that there’s something unique inside just for them.

Tagline writing is an art form. Even the absolute best direct response folks know at the end of the day it had better be perfect, or you might be better off sending an envelope without one altogether (to my point above).

Using a perfect image can instantly stop your donor in their tracks and get them to consider and open your pack. Images with great eye contact and large enough to be seen from a distance are a great starting point.

Abstract images or photos with a hundred people in them printed at 1.5”x 1.5” are not great starting points.

3. Using a white #10 envelope
As I’ve already covered, in testing, almost ANYTHING other than a white #10 envelope will win in testing. Why? Because 75-90% of the mail your donor gets arrives in a white #10 envelope. No rocket science needed here, folks. Just the knowledge that there are visual things you can do to stand out from the crowd.

4. Direct response that looks too design-y or computer manufactured
The best design tool I ever held in my hand was an HP Pencil. Sharpened and ready for action. The pencil, like my hand, are imperfect. The smudges, the changes in character size, the squiggles, the changes in density all tell you that a human wrote or created this thing.

When you go to your mailbox at the end of the day – what do you look at first?

Everything in our world is perfect. Everything lines up, everything looks good, and everything is glossy. These days, the more your work isn’t that, the more noticeable it is.

Designers who don’t know what they’re doing go out of their way to make everything look perfect, but that doesn’t equate into effective.

5. Using tiny, left-justified, sans serif type
In your letters, newsletters, magazines, and brochures!

But hey! At least it adheres to your soul-destroying graphic standards produced by a commercial design study that wouldn’t know a donor even if they walked up and asked to give you some money to make it all go away.

Look around. Almost everyone over the age of 40 has some type of visual impairment. There is a reason why there’s a large print version of Readers Digest.

Not a single direct mail letter we send out is printed at anything less than a 14-point indented serif font. Our donors thank us by reading it and responding to it.

Ask your designer what their favorite typeface is. If they respond: COURIER – hire them. They likely know what they’re doing. (If you don’t know why this is the correct answer, just ask me.)

6. Reversed out type
Sure it looks pretty. But as you’ve figured out by now, a lot of donors find reversed out type extremely difficult to read. JUST DON’T DO IT. All type should be 100% black on 100% white, which will result in 100% readability.

7. A total lack of understanding on how donors are reading your letter
Ask your designer who Siegfried Vögele is. I’ll wait…

Ok, there’s this book called the Handbook of Direct Mail (I’ll make you a deal on my copy), written by a fellow named Siegfried Vögele back in 1984. In German. But there are English versions! I haven’t read it cover to cover, but I’ve read enough to understand the concept of eye movement.

The Coles Notes version of this is, your donor looks at their name and address at the top, their eye falls down and to the right as they scan the letter, turn it over, and read the P.S.

Some donors, right then, decide to give or not to give.

So let your ‘P.S.’ hating Executive Director know why you need one that clearly states what you’re asking your donor for.

Then, you have the skimmers.

They look at their name and address, and as their eyes fall down and to the right, they linger on things that arrest the eyes. Emphasis of any kind. Bolding, underlining, hand-drawn stars, larger type, etc.

I always ensure that if this is all that the donor reads, they will know what I’m asking them for and that I recognize them for being someone who does good things (in other words, anywhere the magical “YOU” is utilized.).

The first rule of design is: READ THE LETTER FIRST! Everything should be designed around that.

8. Using those crappy little boxes on the donor reply form for credit card numbers
When you consider that close to 40% of people have arthritis, (higher the older you go up), forcing donors to somehow squiggle their handwriting into those tiny little boxes on their reply is almost downright cruelty.

You’re literally hurting your donors.

And a lot just won’t bother. So you won’t get the gift.

Those little boxes sure look neat and tidy, but they are a visual and physical hell to certain donors.

Hey, the more you know…

So – nicely tell your designers – just a simple line with about 0.5” space at least above it will be great, thanks.

9. A total lack of understanding of good typography principles and practices
When I first started, I worked with this amazing English art director named Richard. With a cigarette dangling out of his mouth, he would snatch the loupe out of my hand and implore and show me how I needed to get right up close to the type to UNDERSTAND IT! Look at the characteristics, the nuances, the swoops, and empty spaces. Is it angry or hopeful? Is it showing off and chest-thumping or understated and shy? Female or male or something else altogether? How much leading (no, not ‘letting’) does it properly need? How and why do you baseline type? What types of face go together? What makes a font a classic?

I see appeals that use six different sorts of typefaces, even on the outer envelope. I see random bolding, underlining, or switches in face that make absolutely zero sense.

What I see are designers who are eagerly trying to “design” but obviously have no idea (back to point 5) why “Courier,” to most really good direct response designers, is easily the MOST beautiful font in the world. (Again, if you’re still scratching your head, just holler.)
And lastly,

10. Random formatting, placement of design elements, boxes, circles, swooshes, and blobs
Yes, I know who you are.

And yes, I know why you’re doing it.

I think we overcomplicate things when we actually don’t really know what we are doing. This doesn’t go just for design – I see it over and over again in our sector.

The more we over-design (or overcomplicate) something, it only does one thing – it decreases the likelihood of someone taking the action you want them to take because it’s just too much.

Every single design element you or your designer add to something must be very carefully considered. Will adding it increase the response rate or decrease it?

If the answer is “I don’t know” – then either test it or leave it.

And if your designer really knows their stuff, they will know. Or just ask me.

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!

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?”