A Sentence that had Nothing to Do with the Organization

Birthday gift.

I was once part of a large-scale test where two versions of an appeal letter were sent to equal groups of donors:

  • One group was asked to sponsor a child
  • The other group was asked to sponsor a child whose birthday was the next month

The letters were exactly the same, apart from a sentence in the “birthday version” that said, “[Child Name]’s birthday is next month, and your sponsorship will be a life-changing gift.”

The “birthday version” was the clear winner of the test – significantly more donors responded to that version; it raised more money and resulted in more children being sponsored.

In fundraising, this type of thing happens all the time: donors are moved to action by content that has nothing to do with the organization, its programs, or the quality of its work.

Maybe better said, donors don’t give only because of what the organization does or the quality of their programs.

For instance, savvy fundraisers know that a donor is more likely to give if:

  • The beneficiary’s birthday is coming up (people like birthdays)
  • If matching funds will double their gift (people like to have more of an impact)
  • If donors know their gift is urgently needed (people feel great when they solve urgent problems)
  • If the donor knows a lot of people in their neighborhood are donating (people are more likely to donate if there’s “social proof” that people like them are donating)

I think of the bullet points above as things that a donor already likes to do.  Donors like getting their money doubled, they like knowing that other people are giving, etc.  They liked doing those things before they ever heard of your organization.  And when a piece of fundraising gives them the chance to do those things, they are more likely to donate.

So, organizations that want to raise more and increase their impact will intentionally fill their letters / emails / events / in-person asks with reasons to give a gift that tap in to what donors already like to do

As the “birthday version” showed, just one sentence that gives donors a reason to do what they already like to do can meaningfully increase how much money you raise.