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  • Grant Cobb

Centering Donors in Your Fundraising Outreach Materials

Many nonprofits depend on fundraising efforts to bankroll their programming and daily operations. Whether you’re a nonprofit fundraising or marketing coordinator, a big part of your job is getting your donors excited about upcoming engagement opportunities.

To make the most of your organization’s limited time and resources, it’s important to take a strategic fundraising approach that will maximize your ROI (return on investment). As you draft your donation appeals, keep in mind that taking a donor-centered approach is the best way to go. But how can you do that?

In this guide, we’ll explain what it means to take a donor-centered approach, why it's important, and some tried-and-true best practices for doing so effectively. Ready to get started? Let’s dive in!

Why is it important to keep the focus on your donors?

Centering donors in your outreach is critical for building long-term relationships with supporters that go deeper than simple financial transactions.

Whether you’re sending a direct donation request as part of a fundraising campaign or a marketing message to raise awareness for an upcoming virtual event, ensure the recipient feels like the communication was written just for them. After all, it’s harder for a recipient to ignore an appeal that is addressed directly to them.

Additionally, donor-centric communication is more likely to better communicate the impact of a potential gift. You want to set your donor up as the hero in your nonprofit’s story and position them as the only person who has the power to solve your organization's issue at hand.

Keeping your donor at the center of your overall fundraising strategies also sets you up for more long-term support, rather than a single one-time donation. Donor-focused messaging allows you to craft more personal relationships that often lend themselves to continuous giving over time.

Best Practices for Donor-Centric Fundraising Appeals

Now you understand why donor-centric fundraising is important. But how can you bring these ideas to life and make the most of your donor relationship-building efforts? We’ll share four of our tried-and-true best practices here to help you raise more and build better long-term partnerships.

The best part? Our tips work well regardless of the channel you use to send your appeals. Thus, be sure to apply these best practices to your email marketing and direct mail campaigns alike.

1. Provide examples of concrete impact.

When you ask a prospective donor for money, it’s important that they understand exactly where their hard-earned dollars will go. To do so effectively, it’s a good idea to communicate impact within your outreach materials.

Compare these two questions posed to a prospective donor as part of a fundraising appeal:

  • Would you give $200 to help support our nonprofit organization?

  • Would you give $200 to feed an income-challenged family of four for one month?

The first appeal comes across as vague and uninformative, like you don’t have a plan in place to use the funding you collect. It may also cause the prospect to consider whether their dollars would be going directly into the executive director’s pocket.

The second appeal, on the other hand, states that the donation will go directly toward low-income families. It exemplifies who the beneficiary will be and what they will receive as well, which allows the prospective supporter to better visualize the need.

2. Use more “you” than “I” or “we” language.

According to our GivingMail guide on how to ask for donations, one of the most important fundraising appeal strategies is to focus on the donor rather than the cause. By centering the donor or prospect as the hero in your nonprofit’s story, they can better visualize the tangible impact that a donation has and see themselves as the only person who can make that happen.

So, what’s one of the easiest ways to do that? By replacing any “I” or “we” language with “you.” This simple tweak can make a huge difference in results!

Take these two examples of donation appeals:

  • Our organization feeds children in need through a free, community food pantry.

  • You feed children in need through your generous donations that fund our free community food pantry.

The first appeal places the focus on your organization. Sure, donors understand that they’re helping your team make a difference by giving. But when you word your appeals like this first example, it places the recipient at the periphery of your story—or even removes them altogether.

The second example places the donor at the center by ensuring that they are the one completing the action. Not only is this phrasing more likely to grab and hold their attention, it also increases a sense of personal responsibility as they visualize their role in fulfilling your vision.

Because we always recommend taking a donor-centered approach, be sure to emulate the second example.

3. Segment your audience of supporters.

For nonprofits, audience segmentation is the act of separating your overall network of supporters into distinct categories by shared attributes. This is critical for optimizing your fundraising outreach because it allows you to better tailor your messaging to target specific groups.

This donor segmentation cheat sheet from Doubleknot suggests creating subgroups of like-minded individuals based on the following characteristics:

  • Demographics (What is their age, gender, marital/parental status, or location?)

  • Giving preferences (Would they rather submit their gift online, in person, over text, or via direct mail?) and method (Do they tend to give via cash, check, or credit/debit card?)

  • Communication preferences (Do they respond best to text, email, phone call, direct mail, or social media?)

  • Engagement history (Have they attended events, made previous donations, or served as a volunteer?)

  • Lifestyle (What are their hobbies, interests, or careers? Do they work for top matching gift companies?)

Segmenting your audience by these characteristics and more allows you to get a better understanding of each individual and how they relate to your organization. Doing so equips you to build stronger donor relationships and ensure your communications focus on the recipient at hand.

Consider the following examples of fundraising appeals:

  • If you have given to our nonprofit in the past year, we thank you! If not, we request that you donate now to support our mission.

  • Thank you for your generous donation to our organization. From our records, we see that your gift may be eligible for a corporate match from your employer.

The first example is broad enough that it could be sent to every contact you have stored in your CRM—but it won’t be effective. You’ve essentially told the recipient that you don’t know (or care) who they are, you don’t keep detailed records, and you’re really only after their money. The second appeal, on the other hand, demonstrates to the donor that you appreciate their support and see them as a person rather than an ATM.

But how can you keep track of so many details about each of your donors and have the time to adjust each appeal accordingly? The right donor database will collect, store, and organize your supporter information, making it easy to categorize groups based on likeness. Then, you can tweak your fundraising appeals to target each of the segments and send your messaging to the intended groups automatically.

4. Personalizing each piece of outreach.

Personalization is one of the simplest and most powerful ways to get your donors’ attention. As opposed to segmentation (which targets donors based on behind-the-scenes characteristics), you can implement personalization directly into your supporter-facing communications.

One of the most common ways to personalize your fundraising outreach is by referring to the donor by their preferred name. For example, consider the difference between these two donation asks:

  • Dear donor. We would like to request your assistance in helping us fund our mission.

  • Dear Brenda. As a long-term supporter and key partner of our organization, we would like to request your assistance in helping us fund our mission.

Addressing your donors by name in your fundraising appeals is important—but it’s also the bare minimum that you should do. To take it a step further, consider implementing personalized donation requests based on previous giving history.

Take a look at the following examples:

  • Would you consider making a donation of $25 to our nonprofit?

  • We thank you for your previous gift of

$1,000. Would you consider making an additional donation of $500 to our nonprofit?

The first appeal asks for a specific donation, but taking this approach is likely to leave a lot of money on the table.

Imagine the fictional donor in question. From your donation records, you know that they’ve given several thousand dollars in the past, and their most recent gift was for one thousand dollars. They’re likely to say yes to your $25 request, but would have given even more if you’d asked.

In the second example, you reference their previous

generosity and ask for a more substantial gift. Even if they’re unable to give the $500 at the time of asking, they might do $250 instead—which is still ten times more than you’d get from the first ask!

Keeping donors at the center of your fundraising is a critical tactic to keep in mind at every crossroad. Doing so will allow you to build better relationships with your supporters and raise more revenue for your cause.

Be sure to communicate donation impact to contributors, tweak your language to appeal to the specific reader, and target various audience segments. Good luck and happy fundraising!


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