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When fundraising, the thing that matters most is to ask for donations, right?
Well… yes and no.
Making the ask is indeed incredibly important. After all, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Yet, depending on how the fundraising ask is formulated, fundraising results can be dramatically different.
In fundraising, words matter. And they matter a lot. A decision to give is mostly an emotional act. Therefore, all fundraising appeals need to elicit an emotional response in order to be successful.
People give to nonprofits for all kinds of reasons: generosity, duty, reciprocity, self-affirmation, to name just a few.
To get you moving toward your fundraising goals, we've highlighted 7 words that have been shown to increase charitable donations. Simply put, these words “nudge” donors, influencing which organizations they choose to support and how much they choose to give.
Essentially, in this article, we tap into the field of behavioral economics and use it to help your organization do more good.
7 Words to Help Boost Nonprofit Donations
Possibly the most important word on this list, “you” is a word that helps donors feel that their gift matters, like what they’re doing has a tangible impact.
In your fundraising copy, as much as possible, use “you” or “your” instead of “we” and “our”.
When you use the word “you”, donors can see themselves as an indispensable part of the solution. It’s important to make your donors the heroes of the story. In the end, without them, your organization wouldn’t be able to do the amazing work that you do.
Look at your current fundraising appeals. Circle or highlight all the “you” and “your” and then do the same with “we” and “our” using another color. Then, replace as many “we” with “you” as sounds natural.
For your fundraising success, it’s key that your donors feel valued and appreciated. This way, they are more likely to donate and also more likely to give again in the future.
“Because of you, a teenager girl called Sophia from Aleppo is receiving one-on-one trauma support with the best trauma professionals.”
“Your gift will help save three elephants from a circus in Thailand and provide them with a safe shelter.”
Pro tip: When wording your fundraising appeal, make sure it sounds optimistic and confident. Avoid using words like “we hope to” or “we long to” as these portray a lack of confidence.
Using the word “easy” mostly appeals to impulse donors, although ease incites even the most deliberate of donors.
Impulsive donors (as defined by Dean Karlan, Piyush Tantia & Sarah Welch) are usually reacting to a specific appeal rather than considering the long-term impact of their donation or the nonprofit’s work.
For donors who act on impulses, the intention to give emerges suddenly, therefore it’s very important that there’s least friction possible between the moment the intention arises and the moment they donate. This is why it’s key to emphasize the ease of the donation process. To do this, you can the word “easy” when sharing your donation appeal. Alternatively, you can use other words such as “simple”, “smooth”, or “hassle-free” to let donors know that the donation process has been made easy.
Things like filling out a long donation form, needing to mail a check, or having to search for a way to donate, can all prevent donors to complete the action of giving (especially impulse donors).
Of course, you also have to actually make the donation process easy, not just say that it is. The Internet has already helped make donating easier, but using an online donation platform will take this ease to the next level.
At GiveForms, we have created beautiful donation forms that make the donation process very easy for donors. Our donation forms are simple, appealing, and clutter-free. Create a free account today and increase the chances of donors completing the action of giving.
As human beings, we like things that return an immediate, emotional, and positive response. Receiving fast and easy emotional satisfaction from giving is actually why many people choose to give.
Use the words “immediately”, “straight away”, “instantly”, or even just “fast” or “quick” to appeal to this human desire. Tell your donors they will be able to immediately see the effect of their gift. This will strengthen the emotional reward of giving.
Essentially, you’re trying to reduce the time between the donation and the positive feelings it produces.
In fact, except for maybe the word “free”, this may be one of the most persuasive words you can implement into your fundraising copy.
Of course, you need to deliver on this promise too. Do what you can to vividly show the donors some of the impact of their gift as soon as they donate in order to augment the good feelings. For example, you could share with donors photos of the people benefitting from their gift, a live video of the sanctuary they’re helping fund, or a video with a beneficiary saying thank you (always with permission). You could also include an infographic featuring the impact tied to the donation, e.g. “this donation helped save X birds”, “helped protect X acres of land”, or even estimate the tax dollars saved.
In general, highlighting the impact that a donation or gift has on its recipient tends to increase the emotional rewards associated with generosity.
Example: “When you donate you’ll instantly receive a video featuring of one of the children in Ecuador whose life has been changed by your support.”
Pro tip: Use the words “inspiring” or “rewarding” to help frame the situation in a positive light. This research showed that while we sometimes stigmatize specific populations of beneficiaries because we anticipate emotional exhaustion, this can be avoided by nonprofits reframing the situation. While writing your fundraising appeals, stay mindful of the overall tone. This will help the donors foster a sense of connection with the person in need and minimize the chance of emotional tiredness.
Giving is contagious. Seeing others give encourages us to give too.
As humans, we’re very influenced by our perception of what others are doing, especially our peers and those we in some way admire.
This is a human behavior that nonprofits can capitalize on to receive more donations for their cause.
When promoting your appeals, imply that many others are already giving to your cause. This is one of the reasons why fundraising thermometers are so popular and why crowdfunding campaigns feature live donation feeds.
Nonprofits around the world are already making use of this human quirk by spotlighting social norms in a variety of ways. From creating t-shirts and bracelets to doing viral nomination challenges, there are plenty of ways in which we signal to others what we’re doing.
Researchers found that when JustGiving donors see that the donor before them has made a large donation, they make a larger donation themselves.
Pro tip: In addition to giving because others give, humans also give to affirm their self-identity. Research suggests that tying generosity to a person’s identity may increase their generous intentions. In other words, if we are seen and addressed by others as “generous” or as “helpers”, we will want to affirm this image of ourselves by acting generous or by helping.
5. “*Insert name here*”
This is not a specific magic word, but only because we don’t know the names of your beneficiaries.
Yet, personal names are truly the magical words in the fundraising world.
Countless research has demonstrated the “identifiable victim effect”, the inclination humans have to give to a specific individual rather than a nameless group of people.
People are typically much more likely to donate significantly more money to a single named person than to even just two named people.
So, when writing your fundraising copy, make an effort to highlight how a potential donor could make a difference for a specific person. Mention this person’s name (with their permission), and use their photograph.
A study conducted by Deborah Small, a Wharton marketing professor, and two of her colleagues, found that if people are presented with a personal case of an identifiable victim along with statistical data about similar victims caught up in a larger pattern of illness, hunger or neglect, overall donations actually decline.
Therefore, it’s best to share a picture or a story, something that purely engages emotions. While we may assume appealing to both emotions and reason is more effective, this is actually not the case.
Additionally, for most donors, it’s much more compelling to think their gift is directly going to the beneficiaries than your organization’s general fund. It’s also essential to give specifics about how your donor’s money will be used.
When it comes to giving, people want to know why you’re asking them to give, why there’s a need for donations, and how their donations will make an impact.
Use the word “because” to increase donations. This word triggers the familiarity framework as our brains subconsciously ask why whenever we’re told something.
Using this word gives donors an explicit reason to do something. While this principle sounds overly simple, it actually works.
“Give today because Amelie and other children like her will go to bed hungry tonight” gives a reason as to why donors should give today. There’s a consequence to not giving. There’s an explanation to why one should “give today”, and it’s much more effective than if the appeal was simply to “give today”.
While there’s some debate about using words such as “small”, “little”, and phrases like “every penny counts”, there’s evidence to show that setting a minimal parameter helps increase donations.
Researchers tested the effect of the slight variation in wording:
“Would you be willing to help by giving a donation?”
“Would you be willing to help by giving a donation? Every penny will help.”
Subtle difference, right?
The wording may be subtle, but the resulting effect was drastic: People who were asked the second variation were almost twice as likely to donate.
(Research by Dr. Robert Cialdini, Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University, examined the donation process of the American Cancer Society as reported in www.helpscout.com)
Furthermore, a study done by Carnegie Mellon University reveals the impact of a single word on conversion rates.
Researchers changed the description of an overnight shipping charge on a free DVD trial offer from “a $5 fee” to “a small $5 fee” and increased the response rate by 20 percent.
Of course, this works better with some donors than others, likely those who are more reluctant to spend their money. This is why it’s essential to know your donor base. Different words and different approaches will work differently with different donor segments.
Example: "A small gift of $5 will provide Nara transportation to dialysis today."
Pro tip: When creating a donation appeal, clearly identify a minimum you’re asking for in order to help people break through the “decision paralysis.”
Bonus Word to Increase Donations
And let’s not forget about “thank you”! Saying “thank you” can go a really long way in nurturing a healthy relationship with your donors.
Beyond good manners, saying thank you immediately makes your donors feel good and shows them the impact of their giving. If you’re addressing donors that have given before, make sure you mention their past gift if you’re sending them an email or calling them.
You can thank your donors even if they haven’t donated yet! For example:
"Thank you for considering joining us in the movement to end violence against women at our campus.”
Play With Words to Raise More Funds
Whether you are crafting a fundraising email, a social media post, an event invitation, or your donation page, words matter.
Avoid using industry jargon, buzzwords, or overly stuffy words. The key is to use simple but effective language. Capture the emotions of your donors and make them feel joy at the act of giving.
Of course, many other factors impact giving. But words are undoubtedly important. Use these tips to fuel your choice of words and watch your donations come in.
GiveForms can take over at this stage and help you raise funds by letting you seamlessly accept these donations online. Your supporters can donate using a credit card, PayPal, Google Pay, or bank transfers. With a focus on intuitive, human-centered design, GiveForms goal is to help you increase your online donations.
When you use GiveForms, you gain access to a plethora of nonprofit-specific benefits:
A customizable donation page optimized for mobile
Embeddable donation forms directly on your website
Donor dashboard to help you search, view and export your donations