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December 3, 2021
Powerful Messaging Remains the Core of Donor Appeals
By Robin Cabral

Robin Cabral 2020
Robin Cabral

Nonprofits always do well by crafting powerful messages that motivate donors to give, but the need to so has multiplied as pandemic-related government grants have ended, the current public health and economic crises continue, and competition increases from other nonprofits facing the same pressures.

Here are 10 tips to help ensure your nonprofit fundraising appeal inspires donors to give:

  • Provide your donors with a particular problem to solve. Providing hope is not a problem to solve. It isn’t even concrete. Donors want to solve problems. Showing them how great you are is not a problem that needs solved. Strong investment impact statements help donors see how their $25 donation will make a difference.

  • Provide a need, don’t celebrate who you are. Celebrating yourself can be a disincentive to give, because donors who only hear what you have accomplished may think you don’t need money. By saying “Look at all we have accomplished, we are great” you telegraph “We don’t need your contributions to do anything.”

  • Talk about how the pandemic is impacting your organization. Ordinarily, you should not talk about “you” or “your organization,” but this year, if you have a specific financial need, then yes, state it. We are all suffering the impact of the pandemic, and donors will understand your needs. Organizations are being hit hard as emergency government and foundation funding dries up, canceled events lead to fundraising budgets shortfalls, and economic uncertainty spawns donor hesitation or pullback. These are unprecedented times, and we are all in this together.

  • Recognize that your organization’s anniversary, and the like, are not things to fundraise around. What impact does a 25th anniversary make on anyone or anything? Truth is, little or none. You may mention it, but don’t make it the rallying message of your appeal.

  • Don’t make decisions for your donors in your messaging. Let them decide. Most appeals don’t get sent because misinformed nonprofit leaders make decisions for donors with thoughts like “We can only ask our donors once a year” or “We just asked them, we can’t possibly ask again for another donation.” Let the donor decide.

  • Eliminate jargon from your messaging. Avoid statements like “$100 pays for one Microsoft AXC.” If I knew what a Microsoft AXC was, I may be more inclined to give. If your donors don’t know what that is, and most probably don’t, this won’t motivate them to give.

  • Include recurring giving as an option. Especially this year, be sure to include an option for donors to make recurring gifts. Recurring gifts are more sustainable, provide consistent cash flow during down economic times, and boost donor retention. Most importantly, they help donors stabilize services for those in need and help them have a more significant impact through their giving.

  • Use impact statements. Outline for donors what their contribution will make possible. Be sure to demonstrate what a donor’s donation will provide, e.g., $15 per month provides one bale of hay for our animals. Be sure to wrap in both programming and overhead expenses into your impact statements.

  • Use case for support methodology. Craft a message that answers the questions donors will ask: Who are you? Why do you exist? Why should I support you? Why now? What is the urgency? What will compel me to give to you today rather than waiting? What can I do? How can I make a difference?

  • And, always remember, donors want to help. Your appeal needs to demonstrate to donors how their support satisfies their deeper desire to help.

Without doubt, the pandemic has reduced revenue for nonprofits, forcing many to cut services and staff, while, in many cases, facing increased demand for services. Honing appeal language that inspires donors to take concrete and immediate action has never been more important. Getting this right will also pay off in the longer term, as the need for philanthropic support will endure.

Robin Cabral, principal of Development Consulting Solutions, is a certified fundraising executive who works with mid-sized nonprofits to build capacity and improve fundraising results. Email her at or call 508-685-8899.

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