Is Your Fundraising Offer a Good Deal?


Donors are generous, compassionate, value-conscious people.

Donors love it when they feel like they are “getting a good deal” on their donation.

This is why matching grants work so well! To a donor, it feels like she gets to have twice the impact for what she normally gives. To her, it feels like her impact has gone on sale for 50% off.

Because of donors’ desire to get a good deal, offers tend to work better when the cost of the solution seems like a good deal. Let’s look at some offers we’ve had tremendous success with:

  • “$1.92 to feed a homeless person Thanksgiving dinner” seems like a good deal.
  • “$300 to cure a person of a major disease” seems like a good deal.
  • “$10,000 to send an underprivileged girl to an Ivy League college for a year” seems like a good deal.
  • “$50 to join my neighbors in the fight against cancer” seems like a good deal.
  • “Your impact will be DOUBLED by matching funds” seems like a good deal.

As you create your own offers, look for a couple of things to help show donors how they’re getting a good deal:

  • Small parts of big processes that make a big difference. Things like “the cost of airfare to help an adoptive family meet their new child” or “the cost of internet streaming services so that people around the world can watch our sermons.” See how those examples are small parts of big processes – but they seem to have an outsized impact?
  • Anything that has a multiplier. If you use volunteer hours or grants of any kind to help a process or part of a process, that means the cost of that process is lower than it would normally be. For one organization, we helped them see that they were providing over $200-worth of service to local families for just $50. So, now their main offer is, “Just $50 provides over $200 worth of help to a local family to stop domestic violence.”

And any time you can get matching funds, get them. You can use them far more than you think before your donors will tire of them. FAR more.

In a nutshell: any time you can convey to donors that “their gift goes farther/has more impact than normal,” you’ve increased your chances of getting a gift. And of getting a larger gift. Matching funds are proven to increase both the average number of people who respond AND the size of their average gift!

This post is excerpted from the Better Fundraising e-book “Fundraising Offers.” Download it for free, here.

Why Good Fundraising Offers Work

Why it Works

A good offer serves donors (and potential donors) by helping them understand, quickly, the difference they can make with a gift.

Always remember: the donors who are reading your appeal letters and emails are busy. They are sorting the mail or sorting email. Shoot, it’s even possible they are driving their car.

Your donor is scanning (not reading) your fundraising letter, wondering if your letter is about something she’d like to do today.

She doesn’t have time (or interest) for an organization that doesn’t describe what her gift will accomplish. Or worse, it describes what her gift will do in conceptual terms like “deliver hope” when she doesn’t know exactly what that means.

You know what donors like? Organizations that present understandable problems to her, in ways that are easy to understand. So that in just a few seconds, she can understand what the problem is and know how she can make a meaningful difference with a gift.

Reasons a Good Offer Works So Well

There are four main reasons a good offer works so well …

  1. A good offer is easier to communicate quickly. A good offer can usually be summarized in a sentence or two. That clarity and brevity allows donors to know right away if they should keep reading or not. Donors love that.
  2. A good offer requires the donor to understand less about your organization. Most nonprofits work under the incorrect assumption that a donor “must know all about all the things we do, and that we are good at it” before the donor can be asked to give a gift.
  3. A good offer is more emotionally powerful. Because your letter (or email or event or whatever) is not having to educate your donor about all the things you do, you can spend more time talking about the people or cause in need, the emotions of the beneficiaries, the emotion of the donor, etc.
  4. A good offer tends to be specific. Good offers have exact dollar amounts, so that all donors can see what it costs to make a meaningful difference. And they tend to include specific benefits or services that are provided for that amount. So rather than having to understand all of your programs and mission, the donor just needs to understand one small thing that makes a difference.

Notice how all of those things “lighten the load” on your donors? Notice how a good offer makes it easier for them to understand what their gift will do? And how you’ll be able to tap into their emotions – which are the drivers of all giving.

This post is excerpted from the Better Fundraising e-book “Fundraising Offers.” Download it for free, here.

What actually is a Fundraising Offer?


The fundraising offer is often the least understood, but most effective way nonprofits (especially smaller nonprofits) can start raising more money immediately.

A strong offer helps your organization:

  • Raise more money with each piece of fundraising
  • Be more memorable to your donors
  • Build stronger relationships with your donors

A fundraising offer is the main thing a fundraising piece says will happen when the person gives a gift.

Here are some examples of offers, and while you might notice that some are better than others, we’ll talk later about what makes an offer effective or not. For now, we’re just working on identifying offers and understanding what they are.

We’ve underlined the “main thing that will happen” that each letter / email / newsletter emphasized:

  • “Will you join us as we fight poverty”
  • “Will you help these overcoming women in their journey
  • $1.92 will provide a Thanksgiving meal
  • “Please partner with us as we end generational homelessness”
  • “For every $250 you donate, one child will attend camp this summer
  • “Your gifts support the Harmony Experience for all”
  • “Your gift supports the arts in our community”

As you can see, every piece of fundraising communication has an offer.

Some offers are more powerful than others.

Some offers work for almost all organizations (e.g., year-end). Some offers only work for some organizations at very specific times of the year (e.g., opening night at the opera). Some offers are so powerful they can create billion-dollar organizations (e.g., “child sponsorship”).

Your job as a fundraiser is to find the most effective offers for your organization.

This post is excerpted from the Better Fundraising e-book “Fundraising Offers: What they are, how they work, how to make a great one.” Download it for free, here.

Seven Tips for Writing Your Next Appeal


What follows is a short list of quick tips for writing your next appeal letter or e-appeal.

It’s a short list because exhaustive lists can be … exhausting.

But what happens if you’re just trying to get a little better each time you Ask? What if you don’t want to reinvent your fundraising, but just to do this e-appeal better than the last e-appeal?

Then this list is for you.

Think of these as the 20% of tips that get 80% of results. The next time you write, do as many of these as you can. More of your donors will get your main message – and you’ll raise more money!

  1. Be able to summarize the problem that you’re writing about, and what the donor’s gift will do to fight that problem, in no more than two jargon-free sentences.
    • Your letter could be about the problem your organization is facing right now (e.g., ‘School is out, low-income kids won’t get enough to eat this summer…’) or the bigger/long-term problem your organization was created to help solve (e.g., ‘Our Jewish culture is dying out in the Chicago area…’)
  2. Say why you’re writing to the donor in the first two or three paragraphs.
    • The phrase “I’m writing to you today because…” is magic. Use it!
  3. Directly ask your donor to send in a gift somewhere in the first three paragraphs, and somewhere in the last three paragraphs.
  4. This often works perfectly with the “I’m writing to you today because…” phrase. High-performing letters often have couplets like this at the beginning of the letter:
    • “I’m writing to you today because many low-income kids are about to spend summer at home without enough to eat. Will you please send in a gift today to provide supplemental food for at least one child this summer?”
  5. Remember that most donors aren’t reading your Ask; they are scanning it. Two of the places they are most likely to actually read are the beginning and the end. So put your main message in both places to increase the chance your main message will be seen.
  6. Avoid the dreaded Wall of Text – the long paragraphs and long sentences that make up long sections that all run together. Instead, write in short sentences and short paragraphs.
  7. Use the word “you” a lot. I mean a LOT. Your donor should feel like the letter is to her, about something she cares about, and about what she can do about it. There should be at least twice as many uses of “you” as there are mentions of the letter writer and the organization.

Now, go get ‘em! Make your next Ask a little better than the one before. If you do that a few times in a row, you’ll be amazed by how much money you raise and how many more donors you retain!

This post is excerpted from the Better Fundraising e-book “Asks that Make Your Donor Take Action.” Download it for free, here.

Don’t Accidentally Create a Barrier to Giving


I keep a list of the ideas that are most helpful to the small nonprofits we coach and consult. Here’s one of the most important:

Be comfortable focusing a fundraising impact (letter, newsletter, event, etc.) on only a small slice of what your organization does.

Here’s why…

Don’t Accidentally Create a Barrier

Smaller organizations (and even some big ones) often accidentally put a barrier between donors and their gift. The barrier: they try to make the donor understand all of the things that the organization does (and even how the organization does them) before asking the donor for a gift.

Focus on Easy-to-Understand and Powerful

Instead of trying to communicate about your whole organization, what you want to do is focus on some small slice of what you do that is a) easy to understand, and b) powerful.

Let me give you some examples of being specific:

  • Parent-Teacher-Student Associations that focus on how they pay the salary of the ‘math and reading specialist’ – and what a big impact that specialist makes – when they could be talking about the 20+ other ways the PTSA supports the school’s students.
  • The overseas adoption agency that does an appeal letter focused on the travel and legal fees needed to adopt a child from a place like China. Donors in this sector know that fees and travel costs are an incredible barrier for some families. “Fees and travel costs” are a small slice of a complex program – but an easy to understand problem.
  • Rescue missions that focus on meals. They may have multiple other programs, but they focus on the meal (cost: $1.92) which is often the beginning of their impact on a person’s life.

Side note: this is one of the reasons having a fundraising offer is so important and works so well.

  • Remember: learning about your organization is not what the donor is in it for. Donors are more interested in helping someone than they are interested in how your organization does the helping.

As always, there are exceptions. If you’re talking to a major donor who loves your organization and knows quite a bit about it, then by all means talk about the whole. If you’re talking to a foundation for a grant, then by all means share the whole.

But most of the time, to most of your donors, you only want to be sharing the most attractive, understandable part.

Try It!

If you have an email list, you have the cheapest way in the history of fundraising to test this approach. Here’s what to do: go identify some small powerful slice or part of how you help people. Then write an email to your list, share about how there is a real need right now for that slice of your organization, and ask them to fund that one thing. If the cost of that ‘slice’ is less than $100 I predict you will be surprised by how many people write in with gifts!

My guess: you’ll raise more money than a normal e-appeal. And if it works, then try it in the mail. And try it again in email.

For small- to medium-sized nonprofits, the concept of focusing your fundraising on an easy-to-understand and powerful slice of what the organization does is the surest path to raising more money immediately.

This post is excerpted from the Better Fundraising e-book “Asks that Make Your Donor Take Action.” Download it for free, here.

Donors Love Directness

Be More Direct

Fundraisers – and often the Executive Director – are afraid that boldly asking for a gift will “turn people off” or “make us look desperate” or “make us look like we don’t manage money well.”

Let me be blunt: those fears are unfounded. When organizations make bold Asks to send in a gift today, they raise more money and keep their donors for longer.

There’s a reason pro fundraisers write appeals that say things like, “Please, while you’re holding this letter, take out your checkbook and send in a gift today. You’ll love helping a person…” Pro fundraisers write that way because it works so much better.

Most donors are moving fast. While reading your appeal, they aren’t taking the time to think about whether your organization is well-run, or whether you manage money well or not.

Most of your donors are just wondering if someone or some thing they care about is in danger, and if their help is needed. And if your donor’s help is really needed, your donor assumes you’ll ask them directly and clearly.

Because if you say things like “please support our mission…” or “will you please partner with us today…” – does that sound like there’s an urgent need and that the donor’s gift will address it? No. It doesn’t. Sounds like things are probably going just fine. And when things sound like they are going fine, fewer donors give.

Donors Love Directness

Remember, most of your donors are looking at your fundraising appeals while they are doing other things: getting ready for dinner, processing their mail, etc. They are moving FAST, and they usually only give your letter or email a few seconds of attention.

Note: remember, we’re talking about communications to all your donors. Your emails, your letters, your website, etc. This can absolutely be different when you are talking to your Board, or some major donors who have deep relationships with your organization. But usually those people make up less than 5% of the people who will be reading your fundraising materials.

Ask any pro fundraiser who has a lot of experience with fundraising to tens and hundreds of thousands of people at a time: your ability to make it easy for your reader to know exactly what you want them to do, and know what their gift will do, is incredibly important.

You tend to get more of what you ask for. If you ask for ‘consideration,’ you’ll get more of it. If you ask for ‘support,’ you’ll get more of it (but who knows what their support will look like). And if you ask for a gift today, you’ll get more gifts today.

Don’t Accidentally Hide the Need

By not asking boldly and directly, many nonprofits accidentally hide the need from their donors.

Too many organizations only share stories of people who have already been helped. And they then don’t ask clearly for gifts. Over time, this gives donors the impression that most everyone is being helped, but that the organization kind of always needs money. That’s not the impression an organization wants its donors to have!

True story: after Better Fundraising starts working with organizations, many of them receive the following comment with the first big influx of gifts: “I had no idea so many people needed help, and that you could use more money. I’m happy to help!!” Their note is usually accompanied by a larger than normal gift.

Remember, there are other nonprofits currently asking your donors for gifts. It’s happening in their inbox and mailbox of your donors today. So I urge you to Ask with boldness and directness for your donors to send you gifts! You’ll raise more money, you’ll present a truer picture of the need your organization exists to meet, and your donors will love your clarity and directness!

This post is excerpted from the Better Fundraising e-book “Asks that Make Your Donor Take Action.” Download it for free, here.

Who to Mail Your Newsletter To

mail you letter

Your donors.  Mail your newsletter to your donors.

More specifically, here’s who to send your newsletter to:

  • If you send three or fewer newsletters per year, send your newsletters to all donors who have given a gift in the last 24 months
  • If you send 4 or more newsletters per year, send your newsletters to all donors who have given a gift in the last 18 months

Who Not to Mail Your Newsletter To

Here’s who not to send your newsletter to:

  • Non-donors
  • Volunteers
  • Local organizations and businesses who are not donors

Why?  Because every time we’ve analyzed the results of sending newsletters to that group we find the same thing: you lose money because it costs more to send the newsletter to that group than the revenue you’ll receive from mailing those groups.

Send Your Newsletter to Your Major Donors

Here’s a tactic we often use to increase the number of major donors who read (and donate to) your newsletter:

  • Instead of sending them a folded newsletter in a #10 envelope, send the newsletter unfolded in a 9”x12” envelope
  • Hand-write their address on the envelope
  • Add a cover letter that thanks the donor for their donation, and tells them that they’ll see how their donation made a difference when they read the newsletter.
  • Hand-sign the cover letter.  You can even write a personal note on it if you’d like.
  • Include a customized reply card and reply envelope

If you’d like to take this a step further, email the major donor on the day you send the newsletter to let them know to look for it.  If that email is sent by your Executive Director, your ED will receive replies from some majors thanking her for letting them know!  It’s a great opportunity to deepen the relationship with those donors.

What Postage to Use

For your Mass donors, send your newsletter using nonprofit postage. 

The only regular exception to that rule is if there’s a deadline to respond to your newsletter and you’re sending it out later than you planned.  For instance, say your newsletter has an offer (on the back page, of course) to write a note of encouragement to hospital patients who are stuck in the hospital for the holidays.  But you’re mailing just 3 weeks before the holidays begin.  Then, by all means, use first class postage.

For your Major donors, use first class postage.  Use a live stamp if you can.  And set the stamp at a slight angle so it’s obvious that a human put the stamp on the envelope, not a machine. (Thanks for that tip, John Lepp!)

This is a Great Beginning…

The recommendations above are a solid foundation for who to send your newsletter to, and how to send it out.

Over time, your system will get more complicated.  You’ll discover things like, “it’s worth it for us to send our newsletter to donors who gave between 24 and 36 months ago, who have given $1,000 or more, because we reactivate enough lapsed major donors to make up for the expense.”

Or you’ll discover things like, “When we have a newsletter with Offer X, it’s worth it to mail all donors who have given to Offer X in the last 36 months.” 

Great.  Love it.  And if you’re not there yet, start here! 

Read the series:

This post was originally published on July 30, 2020.

Before & After

Once Upon a Time

Here’s another fundraising “before & after” for your reading pleasure.

It’s the first sentence of an appeal, and it feels like a great example of all the thinking that goes into successful first sentences – and into successful direct response fundraising in general.

Here’s how it arrived on my desk:

  • I send this urgent letter to you because our organization-supported orphanages are overwhelmed, and in desperate need of help.

This is very strong fundraising.  It’s clearly urgent.  The word “you” is used.  It’s clear that there’s a specific problem that the donor can help with. 

But I thought it could be stronger.  Here’s how it looked when I was done with it:

  • You’re receiving this urgent letter because there’s an orphanage that’s overwhelmed and in desperate need of help.

Let me break down the changes and tell you why I made them…

You > I

Notice how the first word of the letter changed from “I” to “You.”

“I send this urgent letter to you…” changed to “You’re receiving this urgent letter…”

“I sent…” puts the focus and the action on the letter writer.  “You’re receiving…” immediately puts the focus and action on the recipient. 

Plus, we humans are trained to be more likely to read and respond to the word “you” … so I moved “you” to be the very first word of the appeal.

Our organization-supported

I deleted the phrase “our organization-supported” from before “orphanages.”

Mentioning that the orphanages are supported by the organization doesn’t help make the case that the donor should send in a gift today.

In fact, it weakens the case because it spends valuable time focusing on who has funded things in the past instead of focusing on what the need is today.

And finally, always remember how fast donors are moving.  Go back and read the first sentence again.  But quickly, like a donor.  Doesn’t it say that the orphanages are supported by the organization?  Wouldn’t it be reasonable for the quickly-scanning reader to think, “If the orphanages are supported by the organization, why do they need my help?”

“Orphanage” Is Better Than “Orphanages”

Note that “orphanages” became “orphanage” (singular). 

Why?  At the beginning of any direct response fundraising, I want to present the donor with a problem that is solvable.  If I tell her that a bunch of orphanages are overwhelmed, I’ve likely presented the donor with a problem that is too big for her to solve.

In our experience, when you focus fundraising on problems that are too big for the donor to meaningfully help with a gift, you get fewer gifts.

So rather than saying “orphanages are overwhelmed” (potentially a very big problem), I changed the sentence to read, “an orphanage is overwhelmed” (a smaller problem where a donor is more likely to feel like she can make a meaningful difference).

Many nonprofits believe that sharing the large size of a problem makes donors more likely to give a gift.  In direct response fundraising, it’s generally the opposite; if you present your donors with a smaller problem where they feel they can make a meaningful difference with a gift today, they’re more likely to make a gift today.

Remove the Comma!

My general rule is to make first sentences as simple and easy-to-understand as possible.

So “…overwhelmed, and in desperate need of help” became “…overwhelmed and in desperate need of help.”

It’s a tiny little change.  But you want to think of the first sentence as the onramp to your whole appeal.  If your onramp is easy to understand and keeps your reader moving forward, your reader is more likely to continue reading your letter or email.

If your onramp is a perfect, well-formed, multi-clause sentence that your high school English teacher would reward you for, and the comma-induced pauses add richness and complexity… well, it’s statistically less likely that people will continue to read your letter or email.

All That From One Sentence?

Yup.  It’s a curse of the trade.  When every word matters, and lives or livelihoods or real life consequences are on the line, you tend to obsess about each word.

Even as I’m writing this blog post I’ve thought of a way to make it better.  And I’m annoyed at myself for not noticing it on my initial pass.

But here’s the thing for you: just practice.  You’ll get better and better.  With email fundraising, the positive feedback loop is almost instantaneous.  You can get very good at this stuff, very quickly, if you’re willing to practice. 

Don’t treat each piece of fundraising as precious.  Write e-appeals, do the best you can, and send them out.

After all, for most smaller organizations it’s easy to make the argument that the volume of fundraising you send out is more important that the quality.  Just practice.

Most likely, you’re not communicating to your donors enough.

Go practice!  What can you write and email out this week to learn from?

A Generous Ego


If your organization wants to do more fundraising (which we obviously believe in) we’d recommend that you do so with what we call a “generous ego.”

You need to have enough ego to know that what you’re doing is important, that it matters, that your organization is making a difference.  You need to believe those so strongly that you want to share them with other people.

But you also need to be generous.  When you do your fundraising, you need to make the generous act of crossing the gap to your donors’ level of understanding. You need to make the generous act of asking more often than you think you can, on behalf of your beneficiaries.

When asking for support, make the generous act of focusing on your donor’s role, telling her how her gift that makes a difference.  When reporting back on previous giving, make the generous act of giving the credit to the donor, and directly telling her how her gift made a difference.

Too many nonprofits have a hard time being generous in their fundraising.  They make their fundraising all about themselves.  About their process.  About their programs.  About their staff.  About their volunteers.  About how they think about their issue.  They ask the donor to support their organization instead of asking the donor to help people.

Of course, what your organization does is important.  What your organization does makes the world a better place.  

Your organization should have a healthy ego.  Your ego should cause you to want to do more fundraising, because you know more good would be done if you raised more money. 

But be generous about it in your fundraising.  Be generous about it in your branding.

Generously focus on how your donors’ gifts will meet beneficiaries’ needs.  Do that, instead of raising money for your organization, and you’ll raise more money for your organization.