message for fundraisingIf you’re trying to raise money but all you’re hearing is crickets, you may need to work on your message for fundraising.

When it comes to convincing people to give, your message is everything.

It’s how you explain to a potential donor who your organization helps, what problem you are working to solve, and how your organization is changing lives.

And you have to explain it all in a way that inspires people to give.

It can be hard, especially if you’re new to fundraising or don’t like to write.

But the more you work on your message, the better you will get at talking about your work in a way that leads people to give.

I recommend that you have both a longer message of five or six sentences and a short elevator speech of just one sentence. This gives you options depending on the situation and how much time you have.

Once you have your message and your elevator pitch honed and ready to go, you’ll feel confident that you have the tools to convince people to give.

Here’s more about that…

Why Your Message for Fundraising Is Important

Years ago, when I first started fundraising, messaging was simpler.

You could say something like “Give to support our nonprofit’s good work” and people would give.

Today, donors are MUCH more savvy and they want to know exactly HOW their money will be used. They’re not interested in “black hole” giving where they have no clue how their donation will make a difference.

So, your message must paint a clear picture so the donor easily understands the impact their gift will make.

Your message should also be short.

You see, when you aren’t clear about your nonprofit’s message, you tend to ramble. You focus on the wrong things. You focus inwardly on the nonprofit.

You say “We’re a 501c3 and we have 16 programs in 22 counties, blah, blah, blah…”

When you do this, the person you’re talking to may not understand what you’re talking about. They are thinking: “Why are they telling me this? Why should I care? What does this have to do with me?”

When you lead with a strong message, you get a better reaction. You get understanding, connection, and a desire to contribute.

You get donors who are engaged and excited to contribute and be part of something that matters.

In short, a strong message for fundraising gets you donations. 

What Makes a Strong Message for Fundraising? 

When you’re raising money, any old message won’t work.

Messages get the job done when they are:

  • Simple
  • Easy to understand
  • Concise
  • Free of jargon

Choose each word carefully to get the result you want: donations. Make sure your fundraising message:

  • Resonates. It lands in the heart and mind of the listener or reader and just makes sense. When your message resonates, people nod their head in agreement. That is a beautiful sight.
  • Motivates. It moves people to want to give. They understand the significance of the work your organization does and they want to support the work.
  • Harmonizes. The right message gets people singing from the same sheet of music as you. You, your donors, and your volunteers all work together in harmony to deliver your nonprofit’s services to those who need it.

What does a bad message do? It may leave people confused but more often it just leaves people bored.

When people are bored, they tune out and stop donating, leaving your nonprofit in the dust.

That’s not what you want!

Examples of Good Fundraising Messaging 

message for fundraisingGood fundraising messages focus on the donor and what they can gain from supporting your organization: satisfaction, the good feeling that comes from making a difference, and peace of mind in knowing their money went to a good cause.

Donor-centric messages are juicier and more compelling than conventional, inwardly focused or ego-centric nonprofit messages.

That’s because they are crafted with the person on the receiving end—the listener— in mind.

Here are some examples:

Ego-centric Donor-centric
For the last 20 years, we’ve been saving dogs and cats in our community. For the past 20 years, we’ve partnered with folks just like you to make sure the many abandoned animals in our community get the care they need to live happy, healthy lives.
Through our six programs, we provide service to over 500 dogs and cats each month. Your support helps provide loving care to over 500 dogs and cats each month.
Our service area includes 10 counties in our region. Your support means that animals in 10 counties have a chance to find loving homes.
We’re the only certified doberman rescue in our area. Our goal is making sure all our wonderful dobermans, including Rex, who I’ll admit is my favorite, find a loving, forever home. (Have a picture of Rex ready to share on your phone!)
We’re a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Your tax-deductible gift will be used as efficiently as possible to save more animals.

Here are some more examples of effective messages for fundraising that are a little longer and would be ideal for social media posts, newsletters, thank-you letters, and even appeals:

Example 1: 

The pandemic exposed a major problem with food insecurity in our community, and for the past two years wonderful people like you have volunteered and donated to make sure our neighbors have enough food. 

Because of that community support, we are able to provide 125 families each month with the food they need to feed themselves and their children. 

These families live right here within a two mile radius of our pantry. They are our neighbors – ordinary people trying to make ends meet. 

When a family tells us they are less stressed about food and able to enjoy relaxing meals together, that is when we know we did what we set out to do. 

Example 2: 

Today’s teens get the message that they need to go to college, but so many don’t know how to get to college, how to pay for college, or what they should do while they are at college. 

They have so much potential, but they are lost. Their parents didn’t have the opportunity to go to college, and they don’t know how to help their kids navigate the complex admissions process.

Thanks to support from people like you, we are able to walk this exciting path with our students, teaching them how to make their college and career dreams come true and helping them create a map so they won’t feel lost. 

We are in our fifth year of supporting students in Green County, and this year we will help more than 350 high school juniors and seniors achieve their college dreams. 

The original seven students we started with are now in the workforce. We have two engineers, a teacher, a communications professional, and three alums working in corporate roles. We could not be more proud! These students would not be where they are without the donors who believe in them. 

Check to make sure your message has these components:

  • A few specifics: You don’t want to bog your audience down in statistics, but you need to share enough specifics to make your organization feel real. It might be appropriate to note how long your organization has been providing services and the general area where you work, depending on how you’ll use the message. Share the number of people or animals you serve in a typical month or year for context.
  • The problem you are working to solve: Do you provide food, mentoring, enrichment, or short-term housing? Do you help families, single mothers, abandoned pets, or teens with big dreams? What’s the problem they face and why does it need to be addressed now?
  • Outcomes: So, you are providing services to change lives. Why? What situation are you hoping to change? What are the outcomes you’re shooting for?
  • The donor’s role: Emphasize the donor’s role in changing lives. Without donors, the work does not happen. They’re the hero, so make it clear!
  • message for fundraisingThe Why: Don’t weigh your message down in the details of how you get the job done, but focus on the why: to change lives, to give people opportunities, to ensure kids a brighter future, to make sure people have enough food, to eliminate euthanasia of animals, and so on.Unfortunately, nonprofits often get wrapped up in the boring details of how they go about their work. It’s what they know well, so it’s what they talk about in their message. Prospective donors are not interested in this level of detail. Talk about why you do what you do.The WHY is the good stuff. It’s what we care about and what donors can get excited about. It’s what motivates people to give.

After you hammer out a message, try it out with friends and family members. Watch their body language and facial expressions to gauge their engagement. When you get some nodding heads and follow-up questions, you’ll know you have it just right.

Your Elevator Speech

An elevator speech is a short version of your message that’s meant to be delivered in the few seconds you have between when someone steps onto an elevator with you and when they get off on their floor.

It should be short and to the point, with no jargon.

You need an elevator speech, because there will be lots of times when you need something quick and interesting to say about your nonprofit.

Now, I’m from a small town with no buildings tall enough to need an elevator, so I call it the check-out line speech. You see, the grocery store is the social hub of the community and I guarantee you that you’ll see someone you know every time you go. I usually run into a friend and have the chance to tell them about whatever great organization I am involved with when they ask what I’m up to. The time I have is just those moments while we’re in the check-out line, so it has to be short and it has to be good!

My goal is for them to be just intrigued enough to ask me a question. If we can get in a conversation, we’re golden!

So now, let’s boil down your response to “What have you been up to?” to just one POWERFUL sentence. I call it “Who-How-Story.”

Share WHO your nonprofit serves. Mention HOW you change their lives. Then tell a STORY.

Here are some examples:

I’m excited to be working with Paw Parade, a wonderful organization that matches abandoned dogs and cats in our community with loving, forever homes. 

I’m staying busy working with Alyssa’s Pantry, making sure people who are struggling to make ends meet don’t have to worry about what to feed their kids tonight. 

I’m still involved with College Connection, working with amazing, ambitious teens so they can get into their dream colleges. 

Hopefully, the person responds with a question, and you can have a conversation about the organization. You’ll get great results if you have a chance to tell a story about one life your organization has changed.

Choose a heart-warming story, one that you can tell quickly. Use a before-and-after format to talk about what their life was like when they arrived at your organization and what it’s like now that they have received services.

Practice your elevator speech so it rolls off your tongue easily. You don’t want to stumble over your words. Instead, speak with confidence and enthusiasm. When you just have a few seconds to make your pitch, you need to make them count.

Where to Use Your Message for Fundraising 

After you have drafted and polished your message in a longer form and as a one-sentence elevator pitch, it’s time to use these messages in your fundraising, marketing, and communications.

By sharing your message far and wide, you will build support through consistency and clarity in what you’re all about.

Here are some places and ways to share your message for fundraising:

  • Your website: Be sure your messages are woven into your website. Keep the words on your website as sparse as possible. You don’t have to share every detail about your organization’s work. Just focus on your message!
  • Your social media channels: Look for ways to emphasize your message in every post. Create graphics and content that impart pieces of your message along with fresh photos, stories, and updates. Shorter is definitely better here!
  • Your email marketing: Make sure every email newsletter you send out contains your messaging for fundraising in some form. Your newsletter should provide updates to the donor about your work and your message will either fit as a thank-you or a reminder of what you do.
  • message for fundraisingYour print collateral: Everything you create, everything you send out the door, should have this messaging. No exceptions! Pull bits and blurbs from your messaging for fliers, invitations, banners, and snail mail appeals. You won’t always be able to use full sentences. But the core messaging should be there.
  • Your speaking engagements: Once you have your messaging for fundraising, you need to get out there and speak. Seek opportunities at Rotary Clubs, garden clubs, Bible studies, and anywhere you think you might find people interested in your organization’s work. If you have a couple of minutes, you can use your message. If you have a little longer, add a personal story or two. If you have even longer, you can delve into the immensity of the problem. Then, stop talking and open up for questions.
  • At events: As you plan your signature event, make time to share your message with the audience. This can be a tempting time to go overboard into ego-centric language. How the organization was founded, your strategic goals, and on and on. Don’t do it! Stick to your message for fundraising!
  • In grant applications: Don’t get so engrossed in the questions the grant application asks that you neglect to weave your message throughout your grant application. Yes, you have to follow the template provided. But you can take every opportunity to talk up your organization using the language and messaging you know will resonate.
  • In elevators and check-out lines! You can and should tell people about your work while riding in the elevator and standing in the check-out line! Or at the soccer game or cocktail party. Or the Fourth of July parade. Or while standing in line at the post office or waiting to vote. Chat with people, even if it isn’t your nature. When you see an acquaintance, ask what they have been up to. When they ask you, share your elevator speech.

Don’t worry about overusing key sentences and phrases. Exposing people to consistent messaging is how you hook them! This is Fundraising 101!

The Bottom Line

Creating a strong message for fundraising will pay dividends when you seek new donors and seek additional donations from current donors. You will feel more confident and you will get better results. Fundraising will be easier!

Your message is your mission molded into language that donors will respond to. Getting the message just right will save you from feeling nervous about asking for money, rambling when you talk about your organization’s work, and boring your audience.

With the right message and the right avenues to spread your message, you will be positioned for success. More donors means more donations, and that means more programming and the opportunity to change more lives. And that’s what it’s all about!