As a nonprofit leader, attracting new donors and keeping them engaged is essential to your success. But what makes donors tick? And what do they really want from you?

Based on our evaluation of hundreds of nonprofits, we’ve identified six keys to connecting with donors. Whether potential donors are conscious of them or not, these desires make the difference in whether or not they decide to donate. In our work over the past two decades, we’ve seen that the most successful nonprofits are those that take these desires seriously and put them into practice. I encourage you to use this list to evaluate your website, your communications and your fundraising practices.

 

#1  Your donors want clarity.

People are busy. They’re distracted. So regardless of how important your cause is, unfortunately people are not going to spend much time or effort trying to understand it. That’s why having a simple, clear message is absolutely vital.

The single most important factor for successful fundraising is your ability to articulate a clear, compelling message – and to implement it consistently across all your communications.

Is your message as simple and clear as it could be? Try this little exercise: Set your laptop in front of a 12-year-old, and pull up your organization’s website. After about 10 seconds, close the laptop. Then ask her these three questions:

  • “What do they do?”
  • “Why does it matter?”
  • “What do they want us to do?”

Obviously the average age of your donors is older, but if a 12-year-old can understand your message, so can someone who is 40, 50 or 60.

Most nonprofits overcomplicate their messaging and confuse potential donors. This confusion costs them donations and, ultimately, limits their impact.

A clear message is the foundation for all your marketing efforts. Make it your #1 priority.

 

#2  Your donors want to make a difference.

Whether they admit it or not, one of donors’ primary motivations for giving to charity is that they want to feel good about themselves. Doing something to make a positive difference in the world definitely feels good, especially if people understand the tangible impact they’re making.

The most successful nonprofits are masters at making their fundraising appeals personal and tangible. They don’t just ask people to give, they clearly explain the difference their gift will make.

Here are a few examples of impact messaging that’s good, and how it can be even better.

Example: A nonprofit that provides clean water to people in developing countries

Good: “Give clean water.”

Better: “$30 can give one person clean water.”

Example: A nonprofit that rescues girls from human trafficking

Good: “Donate to help stop human trafficking.”

Better: “$50 per month can help rescue one girl from sex trafficking each month.”

How clearly do you communicate the impact a donation can make? Could you make it more personal or tangible?

#3  Your donors want to be asked.

One of the complaints we often hear from nonprofit leaders usually goes something like this: “We’re doing such important work, and we’re doing a pretty good job of telling our story. So why don’t more people donate?”

Well, let’s start with the most obvious question. Are you asking them to give?

Many nonprofits are not getting the response they want because they are not clearly asking for a donation. This is especially true with potential major donors. Fundraisers work hard to build personal connections and expose the individual to the impact of the organization’s work, but they stop short of directly asking for a donation. Instead they just hope and pray that a donation comes in.

Here are a few important principles to keep in mind:

  • Most people will not give unless they are asked directly.
  • Most people prefer to be asked for a specific amount for a specific purpose.
  • Even if they do not give, most people feel honored to be asked, rather than annoyed.

You might need to reframe your mindset. Rather than thinking of it as “donor solicitation,” remember that you are actually offering this person a great opportunity. You are giving them the benefit of experiencing the joy of generosity. Giving to your organization will empower them to make a positive impact on their community or the world. So stop beating around the bush, and just ask!

 

#4  Your donors want to be heroes.

It’s the worst. You slide into your airplane seat, and the guy next to you immediately starts up a conversation. Except it’s not really a conversation, more like a monologue. You suddenly realize you’re going to be listening to this guy talk about himself for the next two hours. Ugh!

It’s no fun to be around people who only talk about themselves. On the contrary, it feels good to be seen, to be noticed and maybe even complimented.

And this is true not only for our interpersonal relationships; it also a applies to our relationships with brands and organizations as well.

Who is the hero in your story?

Try this simple exercise. Pull up your website, and read every word on your home page. Count how many times the word “we” appears versus how many times the word “you” appears. Now do the same with the last five emails you’ve sent out. And your last five social media posts. And your last direct mail piece.

One of the biggest mistakes nonprofits make is that they make themselves the hero of their own story. Donors don’t want to read about how great you are; they want to read about how great THEY are.

Instead of saying, “look what we did!”, you can say “look what YOU did!” The most successful nonprofits are those that make their donors feel like heroes. Celebrate them for the impact they are making, and you’re on your way to building a community of loyal supporters.

 

#5  Your donors want to feel a connection.

You’ve probably heard it said that people make purchase decisions primarily based on emotion rather than rational facts. We don’t necessarily buy the phone with the best technical specifications; we buy the one we connect with emotionally.

The same is true for charitable giving. Emotional connection is essential for getting people to take action and keeping them engaged as donors.

The most successful nonprofits we’ve worked with find creative ways to make donors feel a close connection not only with the organization itself, but also with the work and the people they are helping.

In other words, it’s important that your donors know you and have a personal connection with your organization. But it’s perhaps even more important that they feel emotionally connected to your constituents, the people (or animals) who benefit from your work.

For example, if your organization provides programs for adults with disabilities, find ways for your donors to feel an emotional connection with those constituents. Stories about individuals are a great way to do this, but what are some other creative ways you can cultivate connection? Here are a few ideas to get your wheels turning.

  • Have your constituents send donors a personal note.
  • Send a personal video to donors, showing your programs in action.
  • Create an app that provides donors with exclusive updates.
  • Invite your donors to visit and see your work first-hand.

Take some time to brainstorm around the idea of connection, and then make a plan to test some of your best ideas. It will be time and energy well spent!

 

#6  Your donors want honesty and transparency.

Perhaps the most significant trend affecting nonprofits over the last decade has been donors’ rising expectations for integrity and transparency. People want to know where their donations are going and whether they can trust you as a faithful steward.

Providing an annual report and audited financials are minimum requirements, but leading nonprofits are finding new and creative ways to provide deeper levels of transparency. They are acting as leaders by doing things like:

  • Providing real-time impact reporting on their website
  • Talking openly about their challenges and shortcomings
  • Holding open conference calls or Facebook Live broadcasts to provide updates, similar to a shareholders meeting for a publicly traded company

Honesty and transparency must begin inside your organization, as a core value that becomes manifested in your organizational culture. Start by taking an honest look inside, and then work on creative ways to provide public transparency. You’ll reap the benefits as you build trust and eliminate concern from donors’ minds.

At Leading Good, we help you clarify your message and maximize your marketing, so you can raise the money your cause deserves. If you need help growing your nonprofit, schedule a call with me at leadinggood.com.

 

Rod Arnold is the Strategy and Marketing Lead at Leading Good. As the former COO of charity: water, Rod helped lead the young organization through a period of tremendous growth. Now he helps other nonprofits grow by applying principles and strategies that are proven to work. Learn more at leadinggood.com.