Your words matter when you’re asking people to donate.
If you inspire people, you’ll get a gift.
If you bore people or confuse them, you won’t.
It’s pretty simple.
This means you can’t just slap anything on a page, send it to a donor, and expect great results. (Maybe you’ve experienced this with a fundraising letter that performed so poorly you didn’t really want to try it again.)
Having words that matter means that your emails and social media posts and in-person requests must have some thought behind them. They need a strategy.
It means you have to PLAN what you’ll say and who you’re saying it to, not just hurry through the task of writing so you can mark it off your “to do” list.
You need to slow down, think, and find the right words.
So, what ARE the right words?
How do you inspire people to take action so you’ll get the results you’re looking for?
Let’s start by looking at the psychology of words.
Psychology of words
In fact, they’re critical when you’re trying to motivate someone to do something (like support your cause!).Your request for support should connect with the passion your donor or prospect already has for the work your nonprofit does. Click To Tweet
It’s not about convincing people that your mission matters or that your nonprofit is worthwhile.
It’s about telling your story in an authentic way that moves people to get involved.
You see, giving is an emotional act. People make the decision to donate with their heart then justify it with their head.
This is why stories are so important. Good fundraising stories are full of emotion and draw people in. They paint the picture of the problem and show how your nonprofit is addressing that problem. They give hope, which triggers action.
When you ask for support in a way that’s concise, full of emotion, and clearly shows the reader/listener how they can help, you’re much more likely to get a donation.
Ok, now that you understand that, let’s look at some specific words that are powerful in motivating people to take action.
5 powerful words that strengthen your Ask
There’s been a lot of research done about particular words and how they impact action.
Gregory Ciotti wrote about the 5 most persuasive words in the English language and how “certain power words hold more sway over our decision making process than others.”
It’s true that certain words pull us more than others. Words can paint a picture, make us feel a variety of emotions, and spur us to form opinions.
In fundraising, words move people to feel compassion, sympathy, and concern, which often leads to a donation.
After nearly 20 years of writing and speaking to raise money, here are the 5 words that I believe are the most powerful for fundraising:
- Their name. Using a prospect’s name is like music to their ears. It creates a personal connection and shows the reader/listener that you’re talking to them individually and not the hundreds of people you’re sending the letter to (even if you are). It’s a way to help them feel important and that they’re more than just a record in your database.
- You. After a person’s name, “you” is the sweetest word ever heard. Used correctly, it creates a 1-1 conversation, even in writing. In an ask, use “you” to show the donor what’s possible – “You can help change a life.” And that’s much more compelling than “Give so we can meet our goal.”
- Together. The word “Together” is all about relatedness and belonging, which we all crave. When you show a prospect how they can partner with you to make a difference, it shows them how their donation plays a part. They can envision their role and how they’ll help change a life. Most people WANT to make a difference in the world, but they either don’t know how or don’t have time. By working together with your nonprofit, they can fulfill their personal desires to help others.
- Because. This transition word helps you explain things. It’s a connector that shows reasons, which are important in fundraising. For example “Please give today, because children are waiting for help learning to read” shows WHY they should give today. Using “because” can help you get into the detail of why your work matters, which will connect your reader/listener emotionally.
- Now. People give when there’s a sense of urgency. Using the word “now” shows people that immediate help is needed. If your need isn’t a priority for the prospect, they won’t give. Create a sense of urgency by explaining why their support is needed now and what could happen if they don’t give.
Common mistakes in wording the Ask
The biggest enemy of good messaging in fundraising is time.
Most people in small nonprofits are strapped for time and are so focused on wading through their “to do” list that they don’t carve out enough time to really think through what they want to say and how it will impact their reader or listener.
The simplest thing you can do if you want to raise more money is to give yourself a moment to think through your words.
Be thoughtful about your message and your request. No matter who it is going to or how it will go out (letter, email, social media, in person, etc.), think about why it matters to them.
Here are some other common mistakes in asking for support:
Asking people to support your goal. People don’t care about your goal, they want to make a difference. So, don’t ask them to give to your annual fund (they don’t know what that is) or ask them to give so you can reach your holiday goal of $40,000 (there’s nothing inspiring about that to a donor). Instead, ask them to give to change a life.
Not focusing on those you serve. Tell your prospect WHO needs their help (and that your ask isn’t so you can make payroll). Talk about the lives you’re trying to change and how they will go without or suffer if they can’t access your programs.
No instructions for giving. Don’t make people guess what you want them to do. When you ask, tell them how to respond (“Click here to give”). I know it seems kind of simple, but it’s important to provide a clear path forward.
No outright ask. If you’re nervous about asking and decide it’s more polite not to do it, you’re going to be disappointed in the results you get. Even if you hint strongly that you’d like people to make a donation, if you don’t come right out and ask, people may not get it. Remember, people are busy and are probably not reading every word of everything you send. Keep it easy for them to quickly grasp what you want so they can make a quick decision about giving to you.
The Bottom Line
If you want to reach your fundraising goals and engage your donors in giving, your words matter.
Don’t rush through an Ask just so you can mark if off your list. Take the time to think about what you’re asking and who you’re approaching, then plan what you want to say using powerful words.
That’s how you’ll get the donation you’re looking for.
Claire Axelrad has a couple of really good articles on her blog about words that work in fundraising. https://clairification.com/2018/12/02/7-magic-words-increase-charitable-donations/
Belinda Weaver has “64 power words that add rocket fuel to your copywriting” https://copywritematters.com/copywriter-words-that-sell/
Elizabeth Chung from Classy shared “9 words that tap into the psychology of giving” https://www.classy.org/blog/9-words-that-tap-into-the-psychology-of-giving/