Your Donor Communications Should Be Simple & Direct

Your Donor Communications Should Be Simple & Direct.

On Tuesday, I wrote about The Curse of Knowledge. To summarize: most nonprofits are experts in their cause or niche, and so they communicate to donors at the organization’s level of expertise and understanding.

Because the organization’s level of expertise and understanding are higher than most donors, this results in donor communications that appear to donors as disconnected and even irrelevant.


Listen, most donors are thinking, “I care about your cause / the people you help; what can my gift do to help them?” That’s why your donor is reading your letter.

But most nonprofits don’t answer that question! Nonprofits describe how the organization does its work instead of what the donor’s gift will do to help.

“But Donors Will Never Give to That!”

The fundraising that tends to work the best – in test after test – feels overly simple to experts.

  • “We have 19 programs that provide a holistic approach to care” will raise less money than “$1.92 will feed a hungry person.”
  • “End generational homelessness” will raise less money than “$33 provides a night of safe shelter for a homeless mom and her kids.”
  • “Experience the Arts” will raise less money than “You can provide drama classes for junior high school students.”

In each of the above cases, the Expert will say, “But donors will never give to that. That’s only part of what we do. And it’s not even the most important part!”

But remember – your donors aren’t experts. They don’t even want to become experts. They just want to help somebody or support the cause.

The Cure for the Curse

The cure for the curse is pretty simple. Talk to your donors at their level of understanding. Theirs, not yours.

(And remember how the conversation is happening: a letter or an email where you have the donor’s attention for several seconds. You do not have time for complex arguments, or to bring her to an Expert’s level of understanding.)

You Can Be Direct & Simple

Here’s what this means for your mass donor fundraising (the fundraising you send to everybody – your letters, your emails, your newsletters):

  1. You can keep it pretty simple. Talk about one part of what you do, or one program, instead of everything you do.
  2. Make sure it’s compelling. Think drama, think emotion. Remember, you only have your donor’s attention for a few seconds. Her attention is precious; you have to earn it, and you have to keep it.
  3. You can be direct. Tell her the problem your beneficiaries or cause is facing, then ask her to give a gift to solve that problem.
  4. Present a problem that she can solve with a gift.

a. Don’t talk to her about poverty in Pittsburgh and then ask her to “end poverty in Pittsburgh” – is that a problem she can solve? No. Talk to her about what it’s like not to have food at the end of every month, then ask her to feed a family for a month.

b. Don’t talk to her about how the Arts are dying in Arizona and then ask her to “save the Arts in Arizona” – she can’t solve that problem. Talk to her about your program to provide art supplies to middle school kids, then ask her to provide art supplies for one student, or maybe for one classroom.

As I mentioned earlier this week, your internal Experts won’t like fundraising that’s simple and direct.

But your donors will. And your Experts will like the additional revenue that starts coming in when you have the discipline to tune your fundraising to your donors’ level of understanding (and amount of attention) instead of that of your Experts.