Reminding vs. Informing

The most effective fundraising spends more time reminding donors of what they already know than it does sharing new information. 

Let’s say you’re fundraising in the education space, and you’re creating a fundraising message.

You’ll be tempted to say things like:

  • “Over half of our students received some form of financial assistance last semester”
  • “Our nursing program is one of the most effective in the country at producing graduates who are ready to work the day after graduation”
  • “The need for well-trained construction workers is higher right now than any time in the last 70 years”

Notice that all of those are new information to the reader.

There’s nothing wrong with any of them.  Any one of them could be part of a successful fundraising message.

But don’t give your reader too much new information – that increases the amount of work she has to do to understand your fundraising message.  And the more work she has to do, the less likely she is to finish reading your message. 

So savvy fundraisers decrease the reader’s cognitive load by filling their fundraising with statements that the donor already knows and believes, like:

  • “You know how important a child’s education is for their future success.”
  • “Some members of our community need help to attend, and you can give a student who needs financial help the same wonderful experience that you had.”
  • “You’ve seen all the construction around here – you know the Trades are having trouble finding trained workers.”

Notice how the donor already knows and believes all of those things?

Reminding a donor what she already knows is a surer path to success than giving your donor new information to convince her to make a gift.  It lowers the cognitive load for her to process your fundraising message.  It emphasizes that your organization “gets” her.

The Exceptions that Prove the Rule

There are some exceptions.  I’d absolutely give donors new information that:

  • The organization has a shortfall
  • There’s been a disaster of some kind
  • There’s a particularly tough or interesting story

Notice how these three examples are things the donor cares about.

She cares that there’s been a disaster, or that the organization has a shortfall because those things affect what she already knows and cares about.

Contrast that type of new information to something like, “our program has experienced 140% growth over the last four years.”

Any time you find yourself writing a sentence has new information for a donor, ask yourself two questions:

  1. Are most donors going to care about this piece of information?
  2. Instead of including this sentence, would it be more powerful to remind the donor of something I know she cares about?

The result of asking yourself those two questions will be fundraising that resonates more with your donors and brings in more gifts.


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

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