There Needs to Be a Need

If your organization has ever written the following sentences, this post is for you. These are all real sentences from real appeals and e-appeals.

  • “Will you please consider sending in a gift today?”
  • “Will you help us do more of this good work?”
  • “Please partner with us by…”
  • “Become a supporter and…”

Most nonprofits don’t realize they Ask this way

When I work with nonprofits who ask for donations using phrases like the ones above, I ask them about it. Specifically, I ask, “Why did you phrase it this way? Why did you not ask for a donation, but instead you asked for something else?”

They usually respond and say, “What do you mean? We asked for money!”

Then I walk them through their fundraising materials and say something like, “The words you used did not ask for money.” Using the four real-life examples above, the organizations asked their donors for:

  • Consideration
  • To help the organization
  • To partner with the organization
  • To support the organization

It’s astonishing how many appeal letters I review that don’t clearly ask the donor to send in a gift. (That’s doubly-astonishing when the one job of an appeal letter is to appeal for funds!)

Most Nonprofits write this way because they are scared about asking for money

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…” It’s because it works so much better.

More on this below, but most donors are moving fast. They aren’t taking the time to think about whether your organization is desperate, 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 the donor’s help is needed, they assume you’ll ask them directly.

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: 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 (whoops, I mean scanning) your fundraising materials. This is why you should either be a) writing to the 95% instead of to the 5%, or b) segmenting your mailings.

Ask any pro fundraiser who has a lot of experience with fundraising to thousands and millions 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.

Their donors continue to get letters and emails that never directly ask for money. After a while, the donors think that the organization must not need the money that much!

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 you needed more money and that more people needed help. I’m happy to help!!” Their note is usually accompanied by a larger than normal gift.

That’s because there’s some other nonprofit that’s currently asking your donors for gifts. It’s happening in the 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!