Unhelpful questions

Bad questions

I get asked questions about appeals ALL THE TIME.

And I believe that all questions are good questions. But not all of the questions are helpful questions.

There are some questions that are signs that a fundraiser or organization is heading down the wrong path.

Think of it this way. Say someone asked you…

“When I’m making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, when do I add the roast beef?”

You’d know that there’s something they don’t quite understand. “There’s nothing wrong with roast beef,” you’d say, “but it’s not a good idea to put it on a PB&J.”

I call questions like that…

Wrong Path Questions

Here’s a small handful of questions where organizations are asking about “when to put the roast beef on their PB&J.”

My reason for doing this is not to poke fun at the silly things nonprofits do (though that’s fun and, let’s admit, there’s a lot of material). My hope is to help Fundraisers like you know how to answer the questions that will invariably come your way from people in your organization who aren’t trained in all this stuff.

“How can we convince people we are effective?”

In a nutshell, you don’t even want to try to convince people that you’re effective in a letter or email. In my experience, doing so will cause your letter or email to raise less money. Donors do care about whether you’re effective, but in your mass donor communications your effectiveness is NOT one of the top reasons they give or don’t give. And in a letter or email, you only have time to talk about the top reasons.

“How can I make this sound like my Executive Director (or ‘our voice’)?”

Making direct mail or email sound like a particular person or “voice” is almost always a mistake. A more helpful goal is to learn the best practices for direct mail and email, then make your materials sound like those best practices. That means short sentences and paragraphs, it means being direct and repetitive. Those approaches are tested and proven to work the best. If “sounding like your voice” means your letter doesn’t sound like effective direct response fundraising, then your voice is hurting your fundraising, not helping.

Marginally effective: direct mail written in your voice.
Effective: direct mail that follows best practices, featuring small elements of your voice

“How can I use emotion without being emotionally manipulative?”

The idea that any of us fundraisers can emotionally manipulate donors is ridiculous. Donors are adults. They can make their own decisions. What you’re trying to do in fundraising is tap into emotions the donor already has.

“We don’t like to share any bad news or Need; how can I Ask effectively?”

You can’t Ask effectively if you don’t share Need. If you don’t like to share bad news or a need, you’ve just removed one of (if not the) most effective tools you have to motivate donors to give. Most donors, most of the time, are motivated to help people (or a cause) in need. Or to avoid the loss of something. If you don’t want to share need, you’ve placed an artificial ceiling on the amount of money you can raise for your beneficiaries or cause.

“We aren’t simple like those big organizations. How can we describe everything we do?”

Those big organizations aren’t simple. They are more complex than you know. But they are incredibly disciplined with their fundraising. They only talk about the parts of their organization that raise the most money. Your job is to find out the parts of your work that donors respond most to, then be disciplined and only talk about those parts. You’ll raise more money that way.

“I don’t like the way fundraising letters look; what else can I use that’s effective?”

Professional fundraising letters look the way they look because that “look” has been proven to work best. They key here is to set aside personal preferences and trust the testing that’s been done over the last 70 years of sending mail to people and analyzing the results.

The Challenge

The challenge for smaller-shop fundraisers is to make sure the “wrong path” questions don’t take your fundraising further down the wrong path.

That’s hard work. Because at small shops there are often multiple people with no direct response fundraising training, and they’re asking questions based on their opinions, not on the science of fundraising.

I hope this helps you face your challenges – at least with these particular questions!

Good questions

Man with questions.

I get asked questions about appeals ALL THE TIME.

The questions tend to fall into three buckets:

  1. Tactical questions
  2. Right Path questions
  3. Wrong Path questions

The tactical questions are good ones. They’re a sign of people and organizations trying to figure out the best practices for fundraising in appeals and e-appeals.

These are things like, “How long should my letter be?” and “Who should sign it?” (I should mention that I answer a number of these every week during Free Review Fridays.)

Right Path Questions

There’s a set of questions that I think are signs that a Fundraiser or organization is “heading down the right path” toward creating successful appeals and e-appeals.

Another way to put this: they are questions that people are asking about the things that really matter in the success or failure of appeals.

Because working on the things that matter will help you be more successful, faster.

My hope is at least one of them sparks a conversation about your appeals that leads you to the next level.

So here are just a few questions that I love getting, because they’re a sign that an organization is moving their donor communications forward…

  • What am I actually trying to make happen with an appeal?
  • Do we want our donors to “like” our appeal?
  • What should not be in an appeal?
  • What’s my offer?
  • Does the headline on the reply device make perfect sense after reading the letter?
  • Is the letter repetitive enough?
  • How many times should I ask?
  • Should I use “I” or “we”?
  • How do I create custom gift ask amounts?
  • Who should I send this to?
  • What should and shouldn’t go on a reply card?
  • What types of teasers work best?
  • What information should be a “headline” and what should be a “copy point”?
  • What should I leave out of the letter?
  • Should I do a different version for major donors?
  • Is my first sentence super easy to read?
  • What’s the real purpose of underlining and/or bolding?
  • How long before a deadline should I mail a letter?
  • Should I send a follow-up mailing?
  • What kinds of offers work best?
  • How can I use email to increase response to my appeal letter?

Each of these questions – to me – is a good question. It shows that the organization is wrestling with an issue that will help them better connect with their donors and raise more money.

Next Post…

Then there’s a set of questions I call Wrong Path Questions. They are questions that are usually a sign of an organization that is already on its way down a path towards raising less money.

It’s like a flock of birds arguing whether they should fly East or West for the winter when, really, they should be flying South.

Stay tuned for those in my next post.

Beliefs that Cause Small Organizations to Raise Less Money, Ranked

Person with no beliefs

Here’s a quick list of the beliefs that – according to me – keep smaller nonprofits from raising more money.

Please note that I’m specifically focusing on when you’re talking to everybody – your “mass donor communications.” This is your direct mail, your email, your website, your social media, etc. I’m not talking about your grant application, or your major donor who is also a Board Member.

Here’s the list, and it’s ranked by things that do the most damage to fundraising effectiveness:

  1. Believing that you have to list or explain everything that your organization does
  2. Believing it’s wrong to share the needs of your beneficiaries
  3. Believing that your donors are unique
  4. Believing that your donors give because your organization is good at what it does
  5. Believing that what makes you feel good about your organization is what will make donors give

If your organization has any of those beliefs, you’ll see them in your mass donor communications. So go look for them. And if you find them, replace them with an approach that’s been proven to work better!

Summarizing and Closing This Chapter on Fundraising Offers

Summary.

Why write eleven blog posts on fundraising offers? More posts on one subject than we’ve ever done before?

Because your offer is that important.

In every piece of fundraising you send out, what you say will happen when a donor gives a gift matters a LOT. (Our clients’ success is directly related to our focus on helping them develop and deliver great offers.)

Here are the five most important ideas from this series:

  1. An “offer” is the main thing a fundraising piece says will happen when the donor gives a gift.
  2. Some offers work better than others. Your job is to figure out which one(s) works best for your organization.
  3. You’ll raise more if you ask your donor to help someone/something that needs help now. Another way to say the same thing: an offer will work best when there is a current need for the thing that your offer promises. This is radically different from the standard approach of, “Here’s a story about someone we’ve already helped, please support our work.”
  4. You’ll tend to raise more if you help donors understand what size gift is needed to make a meaningful difference.
  5. One of the reasons offers work well is because they cause your fundraising to be less about your organization, and more about your cause or beneficiaries.

“Offers” are complex. But when you understand what they are – and understand how to make good ones – you’ll start raising more money immediately.

A good offer serves donors (and potential donors) by helping them understand, quickly, the powerful difference they can make with a gift. That’s far more important than most organizations realize – and can be the key to your success.

Read the entire series:

  1. How to Create a Great Fundraising Offer: What’s an Offer?
  2. Why a Good Fundraising Offer Works So Well
  3. The Ingredients in Successful Offers
  4. How to Describe the “Solution” Your Organization Provides
  5. How to Raise More Money by Asking for the Right Amount
  6. How and Why to Give Your Donors a Reason to Give Today
  7. What About Internal Experts Who Don’t Like Fundraising Offers?
  8. How to Make Sure a Low-Priced Offer Does NOT Produce Small Gifts
  9. Half As Important
  10. Offers for Major Donors

Half As Important

Good Lord. Why in the world have we written nine blog posts on fundraising offers?

Here’s why:

  • Donor-centric writing is half as important as your fundraising offer
  • Organizational-centricity is half as important as your fundraising offer
  • Your organization’s or ED’s “voice” is half as important as your fundraising offer
  • How effective your organization is – that’s half as important as your fundraising offer
  • Your visual brand is half as important as your fundraising offer
  • How well-written (or not) the piece is – that’s half as important as your fundraising offer

In other words, in your mass donor fundraising, how you deliver your fundraising offer is half as important as what your fundraising offer is.

(Offers are also important for your major donor fundraising, which we’ll talk about in the next post.)

How do we know that those things are about half as important? Here’s how…

The 40 / 40 / 20 Rule

I learned this rule in 1993, and I find it just as true today:

  • 40% of the success of any fundraising is who you are talking to.
    • For instance, if you’re talking to major donors, you can expect to raise more money than if you’re talking to non-donors.
  • 40% of the success of any fundraising is the Offer.
    • As this blog series has shown, the “offer” of any fundraising piece (letter, email, newsletter, etc.) is what you promise will happen when a donor gives a gift. The better your offer, the more money you’ll raise.
  • 20% of the success of any fundraising is the “creative” – how you deliver your offer.
    • This is the writing style, whether you’re donor-centric or not, the typeface you use, the header on your email, etc.

Note that in the list I started off with, all of those things are in the 20%.

All of those things at the top are half as important as whatever offer you’re using.

Here’s What You Should Do

Any time you’re creating a fundraising piece that’s going to all your donors, be more concerned with what your offer is than with how the piece delivers the offer.

In other words, spend more time thinking about how you’re going to describe what will happen when a donor gives a gift. Spend less time trying to sound like your Executive Director, or with getting your grammar just right.

Because most organizations spend most of their time on how they write. On “getting their voice right.” Or on using brand colors. And those things matter half as much as what you promise will happen when your donor gives a gift.

Spend more time on the portion of your communications that makes the most difference. Spend less time on the portion of your communications that makes the least difference.

Read the entire series:

  1. How to Create a Great Fundraising Offer: What’s an Offer?
  2. Why a Good Fundraising Offer Works So Well
  3. The Ingredients in Successful Offers
  4. How to Describe the “Solution” Your Organization Provides
  5. How to Raise More Money by Asking for the Right Amount
  6. How and Why to Give Your Donors a Reason to Give Today
  7. What About Internal Experts Who Don’t Like Fundraising Offers?
  8. How to Make Sure a Low-Priced Offer Does NOT Produce Small Gifts
  9. Half As Important
  10. Offers for Major Donors
  11. Summarizing and Closing This Chapter on Fundraising Offers

How to Make Sure a Low-Priced Offer Does NOT Produce Small Gifts

Plate of money.

Here’s a question I get every time an organization is thinking about using a good fundraising offer with a low price point:

“OK, so our offer is $7. Are we going to get a ton of $7 gifts? Aren’t we going to raise less money this way because our donors are going to give less?”

The short answer is:

Not if your Ask Amounts for each donor are at or above what that donor gave last time.

Let me explain…

Offer Amount vs. Ask Amount

There’s a difference between your Offer Amount and your Ask Amounts.

Your Offer Amount is the cost of your offer – the cost to do the thing you promise will happen if a donor gives a gift. (We’ve talked about how those amounts should usually be less than $50.)

Your Ask Amounts are the amounts you list for your donor to give on your reply card. They often look something like this:

[ ] $50
[ ] $100
[ ] $150
[ ] $_______

Those are your Ask Amounts. (This is also often called “gift ask string” or “gift ask array” but we’re going to refer to them as Ask Amounts for clarity’s sake.)

Think of it this way:

  • Your Offer Amount is how much it costs for the donor to do one meaningful thing.
  • Your Ask Amounts are how much you’d like the donor to give today.

Make sense? Still with me?

How Smart Organizations Raise More Money

This is simple to explain, but it takes a bit of work to do. But here’s what the smart organizations do:

  • They customize the Ask Amounts for each and every donor.
  • The customized Ask Amounts for each donor are in increments of the Offer Amount.

Here’s what that looks like. Say I had recently given a donation of $100 to an organization. And they were writing me with an offer of “$35 will train one volunteer to advocate for our cause.” My Ask Amounts would look something like:

[ ] $105 to train 3 advocates
[ ] $140 to train 4 advocates
[ ] $210 to train 6 advocates
[ ] $______ to train as many advocates as possible

There’s a lot going on in that example that’s helpful.

First, the Ask Amounts are all in $35 increments – increments of the Offer Amount. Because remember, your whole letter (or email, or newsletter, or event) should be about the Offer. So it will make more sense to your donor if your reply card has amounts that are based on the offer you are writing them about.

Second, the beginning Ask Amount is at or above how much I gave last time. This is key to helping donors give how much they gave last time… or more!

Third, the description text (“…to train 3 advocates”) describes how many of the outcomes my gift will fund. This helps donors know exactly how much good their gift will do. It’s a proven tactic.

To do this, most smaller organizations use Excel to calculate the Ask Amounts and Outcome Amounts (“3 advocates”) for each donor. Then they merge in those amounts onto the reply card. Get in touch if you’d like a sample Excel file that shows how that’s done.

This takes real work. It’s worth it.

The Benefits to You

When your Offer Amount is low, and your Ask Amounts are at or above how much your donor gave last time, two positive things happen:

  • More people respond because your barrier of entry is so low. In other words, more people respond because it costs so little for them to make a meaningful difference.
  • You’ll raise more money because donor’s gifts will usually be at or above what they gave last time.

Increasing the number of people who respond + keeping their gifts at the same size or larger = more money for your cause!

Read the entire series:

  1. How to Create a Great Fundraising Offer: What’s an Offer?
  2. Why a Good Fundraising Offer Works So Well
  3. The Ingredients in Successful Offers
  4. How to Describe the “Solution” Your Organization Provides
  5. How to Raise More Money by Asking for the Right Amount
  6. How and Why to Give Your Donors a Reason to Give Today
  7. What About Internal Experts Who Don’t Like Fundraising Offers?
  8. How to Make Sure a Low-Priced Offer Does NOT Produce Small Gifts
  9. Half As Important
  10. Offers for Major Donors
  11. Summarizing and Closing This Chapter on Fundraising Offers

What About Internal Experts Who Don’t Like Fundraising Offers?

Man pushing back.

There are people at your organization who will not like a good fundraising offer (even though a good offer will raise your more money).

Let’s talk about why – and what to do about it.

‘That’s not the whole picture’

A good offer presents only a part of what your organization does. It purposefully does not present the whole picture.

This will feel “wrong” or “not true” to internal experts.

But a better word would be “incomplete.” And remember, we’re being incomplete on purpose.

So here’s what I say to internal experts all the time:

“You know more than our donors do. You understand the depth and breadth of what we do and why we do it. But donors don’t understand the whole picture. And they shouldn’t need to in order to donate! When we only have a few moments of a donor’s attention – in the mail or email or a brochure – we don’t have time to give them the whole picture. And organizations like this one have found that they raise more money when they talk about just one compelling part of what they do. Fundraising done that way feels incomplete to experts like you. But to most donors it feels just right.”

‘But if our donors knew more about what we do, they would give more’

There’s a common feeling at nonprofits (you’ve probably heard it said around your office) that, “If our donors knew more about what we do, they would give more!”

In some cases that’s true, like at an event where you have a donor’s attention for a longer period of time. But it’s basically never true in direct mail, email, or in social media.

In your mail and email, if you try to tell donors “more about what you do,” you’ll raise less money. Trust me, I’ve tried. A lot. And failed. A lot.

And here’s what I say to internal folks who believe this myth:

“I know it feels to you like ‘if our donors knew more about what we do, they would give more.’ That can be true in cases where we have a lot of time with donors. But in the case of mail and email, donors are deciding what to read, delete and recycle really fast. We find that telling donors a lot about one thing your organization does works better than telling them about all the things that your organization does.”

‘This is Too Emotional’

As we’ve talked about, a good fundraising offer is best delivered with a lot of emotion. And because a good offer keeps things simple, you have more time/space in your letter or email to talk about emotions.

Internal audiences often find this approach “too emotional.” They also often say that they don’t want to “emotionally manipulate donors.”

Two rejoinders for you.

First, the emotion is not manipulating anybody. It feels overly emotional to internal experts because they are experts! Experts are professionals. They know their stuff. They have removed most of the emotion. They think in terms of inputs and outputs, systems and outcomes.

But your donors are not experts. And for the VAST majority of donors, giving is an emotional experience.

For those donors, hearing an organization talk about what it does (in the way an expert would talk about it) feels dry, full of jargon, and a bit like a lecture.

And I’m here to tell you that, in test after test after test, “dry, full of jargon and a bit like a lecture” does not work very well in the mail or email.

Second, if brain science has taught us anything about giving in the last 70 years, it’s that people give for emotional reasons. Sure, foundations give for more rational reasons. And some major donors give for rational reasons.

But the vast majority of donors, the vast majority of the time, are giving because their emotions have been touched. So you want to include emotions. You’ll be more effective when you do.

The best recent example of donors giving “irrationally” is Notre Dame. Repairing a centuries-old building seems to pale in comparison to curing cancer, right? (For more on this, read Jeff Brooks’ blog post, or this tweet from Angela Cluff.)

So here’s what I say to internal people who think a certain type of fundraising is too emotional:

“You know everything we do and why we do it. You’re an expert. But our donors aren’t experts. They think about our cause / beneficiaries because their emotions have been touched at some point, not because they’re experts in our field. So if we tap into their emotions – which are the reasons they became our donors in the first place – we have a better chance of getting a gift. What may seem overly emotional to you doesn’t feel that way to a donor. To a donor, it reminds them why they care. And that’s why they donated before, and will donate again.”

‘But we need to tell donors how effective we are!’

The final piece of pushback we receive goes something like this, “But we need to tell donors how effective we are!”

No, you don’t.

I’ve created thousands of very effective fundraising offers that never mention whether the organization is effective or not.

And when a mailing or email spends much time talking about how effective an organization is, that mailing or email tends to raise less money.

Why? Because your organization’s efficacy is not one of the main reasons people give in response to letters or emails.

Here’s a simple way to put it: your organization’s efficacy matters, but it’s something like the 7th most important thing that matters. And you’ll raise more money if you make sure you do a great job talking about thing #1, and thing #2, etc. Then – if you have time/space left – mention how effective you are.

Just know that it’s not the most important thing to donors, and treat it accordingly.

Here’s what I say to internal people who want to include an organization’s effectiveness:

“Your effectiveness makes you great at what you do, and sharing it with foundations, government organizations and certain major donors is exactly what you should do. But in a letter or an email, most donors are taking just a few seconds to decide whether they care about what we’re doing. That’s the big hurdle we’re trying to jump. So we spend our time talking to them about what they care about, not about how effective we are.”

Good Luck!

I hope these ideas will be helpful as you respond to people at your organization who don’t prefer fundraising that uses an offer.

It’s a rare person who can immediately change their mind, so you should expect resistance to this new way of communicating to your donors.

All of these ideas are meant to help people who are experts in your field realize that there are people who are experts in fundraising. It’s a profession that’s done countless tests to determine what works best in the mail and in email.

These ideas are meant to help people who are experts realize that they are different from their donors. And that’s the first (and possibly biggest) step to unleashing your organization’s fundraising potential!

Read the entire series:

  1. How to Create a Great Fundraising Offer: What’s an Offer?
  2. Why a Good Fundraising Offer Works So Well
  3. The Ingredients in Successful Offers
  4. How to Describe the “Solution” Your Organization Provides
  5. How to Raise More Money by Asking for the Right Amount
  6. How and Why to Give Your Donors a Reason to Give Today
  7. What About Internal Experts Who Don’t Like Fundraising Offers?
  8. How to Make Sure a Low-Priced Offer Does NOT Produce Small Gifts
  9. Half As Important
  10. Offers for Major Donors
  11. Summarizing and Closing This Chapter on Fundraising Offers

How and Why to Give Your Donors a Reason to Give Today

Brain and Heart.

This is the sixth post in a series designed to help you create powerful fundraising offers.

And for a refresher, here’s my definition of an offer: the main thing that you say will happen when the person gives a gift.

The Four Main Ingredients

The most successful fundraising offers tend to have 4 elements:

  1. A solvable problem that’s easy to understand
  2. A solution to that problem that’s easy to understand
  3. The cost of the solution seems like a good deal
  4. There’s urgency to solve the problem NOW

Today, we’re going to break down element #4, “there’s urgency to solve the problem NOW.”

There’s Urgency to Solve the Problem NOW

There are two main ideas here…

There’s urgency

I cannot emphasize this enough: the more urgently your donor’s gift is needed, the more likely you are to receive a gift.

And let’s take care of an objection to this right off the bat. Immediately upon reading the previous paragraph, some people will say that using urgency too often will wear out donors, cause donor fatigue, and your donors will stop giving to you.

They will not test this approach. They will simply “know” that always using urgency will drive donors away.

This is not true.

Remember, your donors do not open every piece of mail. They open 3 out of 10 emails (if you’re good). So a pattern that seems to you like never-ending urgency can seem to donors like you’re asking for an appropriate amount of help – help that is needed for the important cause you’re working on.

The success of my career is due largely to knowing that mass-donor fundraising can be more urgent, more often than people think. And it will have almost zero negative consequences. (Because of course you’ll get a complaint or two – but when you compare those one or two complaints against the hundreds of gifts you receive, the complaints feel like a small hurdle.)

So let’s agree that urgency works. Here’s what you want to do…

Solve the Problem NOW

Here’s what you want to do: every email, letter, newsletter and event should give people multiple reasons to give a gift today.

You want to create urgency in any fundraising piece by highlighting reasons your donor should give a gift today. Here’s a brief list of reasons you can use in your own fundraising:

  1. A deadline. This can be a real deadline (“Our fiscal year ends June 30th”) or an artificial deadline (“Please send your gift by the first day of school”) – they both work like crazy.
  2. What will happen if your organization doesn’t do its work. This is making clear what will happen to your beneficiaries or cause if your organization is not able to help; “If we don’t help the middle-schooler learn to read, she’ll enter high-school at a massive disadvantage” and “If we don’t cure this person in time, they will lose their eyesight” and “If this program is not funded, children in our town will have nowhere to learn about the Arts.”

    a. Many organizations don’t like to share this information. But it’s a fact! It’s the reason your organization exists! In my view, those organizations are hiding the truth from their donors. They aren’t treating their donors like adults. Trust me; your donors can handle it. And sharing what could happen if your organization doesn’t help reminds donors what’s at stake – it reminds donors why they gave a gift in the first place.

  3. Social Proof. If you can show donors that “people like them are making donations like this” you will raise more money. Here’s a phrase that has helped our smaller clients have a lot of success: “[DonorName], compassionate people all over [LocalArea] are pitching in to help [Beneficiaries/Cause] – please do your part today by sending in a gift!”

Remember: LOTS of charities are asking your donors for gifts. Most of them are using the, “Hey, we’re helping a lot of people, would you partner with us?” approach. And that will cause some gifts to come in. But if you really want to stand out in your donors’ mailbox and inbox, you need to give her reasons to give a gift to you today.

You do that well, and you’ll get more gifts.

Next Up…

The next post will show you why some people in your organization won’t like a strong fundraising offer (something I suspect you already know is going to happen).

And I’ll show you how I convince people to try an offer for the first time. Because after they try it – and don’t see the massive number of complaints and donor exodus they fear – you’re on your way to using offers and raising more money!

Read the entire series:

  1. How to Create a Great Fundraising Offer: What’s an Offer?
  2. Why a Good Fundraising Offer Works So Well
  3. The Ingredients in Successful Offers
  4. How to Describe the “Solution” Your Organization Provides
  5. How to Raise More Money by Asking for the Right Amount
  6. How and Why to Give Your Donors a Reason to Give Today
  7. What About Internal Experts Who Don’t Like Fundraising Offers?
  8. How to Make Sure a Low-Priced Offer Does NOT Produce Small Gifts
  9. Half As Important
  10. Offers for Major Donors
  11. Summarizing and Closing This Chapter on Fundraising Offers

How to Raise More Money by Asking for the Right Amount

Man holding a calculator.

This is the fifth post in a series designed to help you create powerful fundraising offers.

And for a refresher, here’s my definition of an offer: the main thing that you say will happen when the person gives a gift.

Quick Refresher

The most successful fundraising offers tend to have 4 elements:

  1. A solvable problem that’s easy to understand
  2. A solution to that problem that’s easy to understand
  3. The cost of the solution seems like a good deal
  4. There’s urgency to solve the problem NOW

Today, we’re going to break down element #3, ‘the cost of the solution.’

The Cost of the Solution Seems Like a Good Deal

There are a three main ideas here…

The Cost

When you’re able to tell donors exactly how much it costs for them to make a meaningful difference, donors are more likely to give.

Most nonprofits don’t do this. They say, “Here’s a bunch of stuff we do, please help us today with a gift.”

But in my experience (and the experience of all my mentors), you’ll raise more money if you find/come up with something specific to promise a donor that she’ll help do, and if that something specific has a price.

(Of course, the price for that thing has to be the right size for the donor. But we’ll talk about that below.)

Why is so helpful for donors when you promise that a specific thing will happen if a donor gives a specific amount? Because it shows them how much they need to give for their gift to make a meaningful difference.

To be clear, there are some donors out there who will give just because you work on a cause or people group that they care about. And when you remind them that you’re doing all of that work, some of those donors will give gifts.

But we’ve helped hundreds of organizations start raising more immediately when we help them identify a specific, meaningful part of their process that they can ask their donors to fund.

And then those organizations raise even more money when that specific, meaningful thing has a specific cost.

Because donors love to know what their impact will be. So by being specific about what their impact will be, and how much it will cost, you help your donors be more likely to donate to your organization.

Of The Solution

This might seem obvious, but let’s cover it just in case. The cost that you mention above needs to be for the exact solution in your offer.

  • If you’re talking about feeding a person, the cost needs to be for a meal.
  • If you’re talking about advocating, the cost needs to be for some meaningful part of advocating.

This often goes sideways when organizations follow this tactic almost to the very end… but not quite. For instance, an advocacy group will talk about how “$50 trains 50 volunteers to advocate effectively for the cause.” That’s a great offer. But then the letter will end with, “Please donate $50 to help us do all the things that we do.”

No. Stay on target. End the letter with, “Please donate $50 to train 50 volunteers today!” Then the reply card should say something like, “Here’s my gift to train volunteers.”

Seems Like a Good Deal

Donors are generous, compassionate, value-conscious humans.

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 are 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. For instance, matching funds increase both the average number of people who respond AND the size of their average gift!

Other Helpful Advice

Here’s a handful of helpful tips we’ve picked up over the years:

  • The offer amount may be different than how much you ask a donor to give. For instance, it may cost $12 to do something meaningful. Your letter or email would repeat the $12 figure often and talk about how powerful it is. Then you’d ask the donor to give you $36 to help 3 people, or $72 to help 6 people, etc.
  • In your mass donor fundraising, the cost of the offer will be more successful if it is less than $50. I’ve gone as low as 44 cents. What you’re looking for is a cost/amount that any of your donors can easily say, “Yes, I can do that.”
  • Don’t worry if your offer amount is low. People tend to give at the amounts they give at. In other words, if you have a donor who usually gives you about $50, when presented with an offer of $10 she’ll either give you $50 or $60. But she won’t give you $10.
  • For major donors, you can create higher-cost offers. For instance, your mass donor offer might be “$50 trains 50 volunteers” while your major donor offer for the same program might be, “$5,000 pays for our volunteer center for the year” Same program, different offer and different price point.

These Funds Can Be Undesignated!

Finally, you might be wondering how you can get specific on the cost of doing one part of what you do AND have the funds be undesignated so that you can use them anywhere you. Go here to download our whitepaper on this very thing!

Next Up…

The next post will show you the final of the four elements: how giving donors reasons to give NOW will dramatically increase the number of gifts you receive.

And remember: if all of this were easy, you and everybody else would be raising piles of money. It takes a lot of thought to create and refine a good offer.

But the payoff is huge – for your organization, your beneficiaries, and for you!

Read the entire series:

  1. How to Create a Great Fundraising Offer: What’s an Offer?
  2. Why a Good Fundraising Offer Works So Well
  3. The Ingredients in Successful Offers
  4. How to Describe the “Solution” Your Organization Provides
  5. How to Raise More Money by Asking for the Right Amount
  6. How and Why to Give Your Donors a Reason to Give Today
  7. What About Internal Experts Who Don’t Like Fundraising Offers?
  8. How to Make Sure a Low-Priced Offer Does NOT Produce Small Gifts
  9. Half As Important
  10. Offers for Major Donors
  11. Summarizing and Closing This Chapter on Fundraising Offers