Why ‘Having Access’ Isn’t a Compelling Reason to Give


There’s a phrase I see used in direct response fundraising that always has me scratching my head.

Having access.

For example: Your gift will make sure a child has access to healthy meals.

Or your gift will help a cancer patient have access to treatment. Or your donation will make sure a student has access to education.

I’m not sure why this language is so enticing to organizations, but “having access” doesn’t provide a compelling reason for a donor to give. And it’s just not language that regular people use in their everyday life.

If you put on your donor hat, here’s something to puzzle over:

Would you rather give $30 so a child has healthy meals to eat, or give $30 so a child has ACCESS to healthy meals?

Would you rather give $100 to help a cancer patient get treatment, or give $100 to help a cancer patient have ACCESS to treatment?

Would you rather give $75 to help a student get a great education, or give $75 to help a student have ACCESS to a great education?

When we start to think like a donor, giving to provide access to something… just doesn’t measure up to providing the thing itself.

So when you’re writing your next appeal or e-appeal, try writing without using the idea of “having access” to something. Your writing will be stronger, your appeal will be easier to understand, and your donors will have a more compelling reason to give.

The One Exception

Be the exception.

Last week I wrote about “Ask Culture versus Guess Culture” in major gifts fundraising, and how Ask Culture results in raising more money and keeping more of your donors.

But after hitting publish I remembered something…

I know of one major gifts program that never asks donors to give but raises tons of money and has a high major donor retention rate.

Here’s how that program does it:

  • Every single conversation and communication contains a clear reminder of “the need” that the organization exists to serve.
    • The only exception is when a donor is being Thanked for a gift they just made.  Those calls / handwritten notes / receipt letters are full of thankfulness. 
  • The organization absolutely “reports back” to donors on successes…
  • And they always mention what they think is needed next: from “serve the people who will need help next month” to “serve the people they haven’t reached yet” or “expand the successful program” or “start a new program.”

In a nutshell, the organization is so focused on “the situation” they exist to serve that they can’t help but mention that situation and the people they haven’t been able to help yet.

The consequence is the following three things are always being reinforced:

  1. The need exists right now, today
  2. What the organization would like to do about it next
  3. That funding for “what’s next” is needed

(By the way, notice the contrast between that approach and the standard approach that focuses almost entirely on people they’ve already helped / things they’ve already done, and how they are helping today.) 

To me, there’s something very pure about this organization’s approach to major donors.  They do the “relational” parts of fundraising very well: they thank donors with real gratitude, they report back on progress made.  They are personal and build strong relationships with donors…   

But the organization always makes sure their donors are aware of the need for their work.  They don’t make the foundational mistake of believing that making donors aware of their work will inspire significant giving.

This approach isn’t for everybody – in my experience it takes incredible emotional strength to be thinking about & sharing the need so constantly.

But this case shows that donors can handle it.  And that you can succeed in major gifts fundraising without asking often or directly.  But only if you have made the need abundantly clear and that funding is needed to meet it.

Make Your Fundraising Offers Accessible

Simple offer.

Finding an accessible offer for an annual giving donor can be one of the most difficult challenges in fundraising. 

Here’s why: Your annual giving donor doesn’t have all day to read about all your programs. She might have just $30 to contribute, AND she still wants to make a difference.

An accessible offer will show her the incredible difference she can make with just her $30 and a few minutes of her time. 

An accessible offer is:

  • Direct – It’s a clear solution to the problem presented.
  • Specific – It tells her exactly what her gift will do.
  • A Good Deal – It’s affordable, and the donor feels her gift will go a long way.
  • Urgent – It demonstrates why her gift is needed now.

Here are some examples:

  • $35 provides a night of safety and care
  • $7.50 provides a meal for a college student who can’t afford it
  • $55 provides a day of summer camp
  • $37 provides 1 art class for a middle-schooler

An accessible 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.

But offers that present ONE compelling part of what your organization does are more accessible to your $30 donor.  Offers like this will increase your appeal results, and your donors will feel amazing knowing the incredible difference they can make!

PS — You might be thinking, “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?”  Check out page 24 in this free Offers E-book to learn the answer!

Three Questions to Get the Best Newsletter Stories

Questions and stories.

Want to write newsletter stories that show your donors the incredible impact they have had on your beneficiaries?

It’s easy, and I’m going to show you how.  But first you need to know one thing…

Most donors give because they want to make change.  They want the world to be noticeably different and better because of their gift. 

The best way to show donors the change that their gift made is to clearly demonstrate what the beneficiary’s life was like before and after the donor’s gift (and your organization) helped them.

Here are three questions you can ask a beneficiary that will give you everything you need to write a story that will make your donors feel amazing:

  1. What was your life like before <your organization/program/staff> helped you?
  2. What is your life like now because of the help you received?
  3. If you could say anything to thank donors who gave to support <your organization>, what would you tell them?

Ask these three questions and you’ll have a story that shows the change the donor’s gift help make.

By telling stories like this when you “report back” to your donors, you’ll build trust because your donors will see that their gifts cause change.  And because of that, they’ll be more likely to say “yes” the next time you ask for support in an appeal.

Which story are you telling?


Better Fundraising recently decided to sponsor the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference this fall.  (You should go!)  So lately I’ve been thinking a lot about storytelling.

I’ve noticed that when most nonprofits are thinking about “storytelling” in their fundraising, they are thinking about one of two stories:

  1. The story of a beneficiary.  You’ve seen loads of appeals like this: they focus on the story of one beneficiary who has already been helped, then ask the donor to support the work of the organization.  The storytelling focus is on the beneficiary.  Or…
  2. The story of the organization.  You’ve seen fundraising materials like this, too; they focus on what services the organization provides, what year the organization was founded, and what the organization believes.  The storytelling focus is on the organization itself. 

At Better Fundraising, we advise our clients not to tell either of those stories.

Instead, we help our clients tell “the story of the difference the donor’s gift will make.”  The storytelling focus is on the change that will happen when a donor gives a gift.

At its simplest, it looks like this; “Right now things are X, but if you give a gift they will be Y.”  Doing this well helps your donors to see and (more importantly) feel the difference their gift will help make.

Telling the story of “the difference that the donor’s gift will make” is a fundamentally different story than most organizations tell.  It results in fundamentally different appeals.

And those appeals raise significantly more money.

Ask yourself if the storytelling in your appeals is mostly about your beneficiaries or your organization.  If you’d like to raise more with your appeals, try an appeal that focuses on the difference a donor can make if they send in a gift.

The Work of Your Organization vs. The Need for Your Organization’s Work

Mission impact.

Last week I wrote about how “generating attention” should be a bigger part of the nonprofit fundraising toolkit.

This is a quick post about how there’s a big difference between creating attention for the work of your organization versus the need for your organization’s work.

If you’re trying to get the attention of people who have expertise in what you do – think Foundations who focus on your cause, government agencies, partner organizations, and major donors who understand why your work is unique – then I would point people’s attention towards the work of your organization

Those people are already planning on giving gifts / working with organizations like yours.  They actively want to know how effective your programs are, why your work is unique and powerful, and hear stories about people you’ve already helped. 

However, if you’re trying to get the attention of people who do not have expertise in what you do – think “the general public” or your individual donors – then I would point people’s attention to the need for your organization’s work

Those people are not currently planning to give gifts to your organization.  People are not interested in how effective your programs are until they know there’s a need for your programs. 

So draw attention to the need for your work.  Once they understand and feel the need, then they’ll be more interested in learning how their gift (and your programs) will help meet that need. 

As you work to make an impact and get attention this year, know which kind of people you’re trying to get the attention of, and what you should be pointing their attention towards. 

Fundraising to Individual Donors at Its Simplest

Keep it simple.

In our experience, effective fundraising to individual donors comes down to two things:

#1 — Sharing why the work of your organization is needed.  What is it that’s going on in the world today that needs to be fixed?  Who is hurting that needs help?  What could we be doing better if only there were more support?

Share this and donors remember why your work is so important.

#2 — Sharing with donors the impact of their previous giving.  What change did the donor help make?  What’s better now because of their giving?

Do this and donors feel like their gift to your organization made a difference.

When an E.D. wonders why the fundraising isn’t working so well, the first thing to do is look to see whether the fundraising comms are effectively communicating these two ideas.

When a fundraising plan or fundraising communications are not working well, it’s usually because these two ideas have been crowded out by information about the organization itself.

But if you build your communications plan to share these ideas, multiple times per year, you’ll raise more money than you would ever expect.

The success of the simplicity will astound you.

‘Pre-Existing Condition’


Your donors have what’s called a “pre-existing condition”…

They cared about your beneficiaries or cause before your organization came into their life.

Three examples:

  • Say your organization is a library.  Your donors cared about books, literacy and your community before they had even heard of your library.
  • Say your organization helps a tiny village in Ethiopia.  Your donors cared about kids, and people having enough food & an education before they had even heard of your organization or the village.
  • Say your organization provides access to activities for people with disabilities in the Tri-state area.  Your donors cared about people with disabilities, and about everyone being able to participate, before they heard about your organization.

Knowing this, what should your fundraising to individual donors primarily be about?

Should it primarily be about your organization?  Should it focus on your programs?  Should it be about what the organization has accomplished in the past? 

No!  Your fundraising should focus on the values and interests that caused your individual donors to pay attention to your organization in the first place.  (Note that I’m not talking about your comms to Foundations and other donors for whom your programs and your effectiveness are core necessities for them to donate.)

If you look at your appeals and e-appeals and find that they talk primarily about your organization… for instance, if you’re sharing the names of your programs and how they work… you could be raising more money from individual donors.

When we help organizations see their donors’ pre-existing conditions – and then change the organization’s fundraising to talk about what the donors cared about before they met the organization – the organization raises more money.

When you create your fundraising, don’t think, “We need to inspire our donors to give to our organization.”

Instead, think, “Let’s talk about what our donors already care about, and the difference their gift will make.”

The Regular Kind, or ‘How to Break Through the Noise’

There’s a “regular” kind of fundraising.

You’ve seen it before:

  1. Letters and emails that begin with a thank you, then tell a story of something good that the organization has already done, then a request for support that’s not particularly strong.
  2. The details of what the donor’s gift will help accomplish are often hidden behind abstractions like “you’ll deliver hope” or “please help their dreams come true.”

This “regular” kind of fundraising works OK when there are a lot of people are interested in your cause. Think top-ten subjects like hospitals, cancer, feeding children, higher education, you get it.

But if fewer people are interested in or affected by your cause, “regular” fundraising just doesn’t work that well.

In that situation, if you want to break through, your fundraising must be better. Sharper. Bolder. Clearer.

You’re going to have to make fundraising that leads, fundraising that’s different from the “regular way.”

Here are two pieces of advice to help you create fundraising that breaks through the noise and makes people care more about what you do.

#1 – Figure Out What It Is About Your Cause That Makes People Emotional

Notice I said your cause, not the specifics of your work. What is it about the underlying need for the work you do that makes people emotional? Talk about that when you’re asking for support.

To illustrate, I know of a Men’s Choir that figured this out. They used to do their fundraising the “regular way.” They highlighted how good their singers were, how technical their arrangements were, how impressive they sounded.

They raised a regular amount of money.

But their fundraising took off when they started talking to their donors’ emotions about the music. Turned out that many donors got emotional about preserving and sharing old songs. Other donors got emotional because the music reminded them of their parents.

Can you feel the difference between “Your gift will make the choir’s impressive sound possible” and “Your gift will preserve your musical heritage, and you’ll hear music that will take you right back to listening to it with your parents”?

#2 – Talk About the Consequences of Your Work

What’s the change your work causes that makes people emotional?

When you’re Reporting back to donors on what their gift accomplished, talk about that change. Not about your organization itself, or about what your organization does to make the change.

Your donors care more about the change than they care about how you make it.

When you Report back to donors and share stories that illustrate the change they’ve helped make, your donors will be thrilled they gave and more likely to give again.


The “regular way” doesn’t work very well for small nonprofits.

If few people care about your cause or issue, does it make sense to spend your fundraising talking about the details of your programs? (Think about it – do you want to hear the details about a subject you’re not interested in?)

Instead, find out what makes your current donors emotional about your issue or cause. Get good at talking about that, and you’ll raise more money.

And you’ll have the added benefit of being more attractive to potential donors. Why? Because many of your potential donors have those same emotions that you’ll be talking about. This enables your conversations with potential donors to start on common ground. And that’s a much more inviting place for a donor than having to hear about the details of your programs.

It’s the difference between a potential donor receiving your fundraising and thinking, “I don’t really care about that” and them thinking, “huh, that’s more powerful than I realized.”