Any development professional knows that the biggest reason most people give to charity is because they want to do good. But rarely do they consider why something is good.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to get too philosophical on you. What I mean is that there are underlying reasons we choose to support nonprofit organizations and tapping into those basic values is one way to convince donors to give.
Many people consider charity to be a moral decision, based on the values we hold. What we value informs the actions we take, including donating and volunteering. Nonprofits focus heavily on providing impact stories and tangible results, and for good reason, but they shouldn’t lose sight of the core beliefs and motivations driving donors.
In this blog, we’ll cover some of the marketing research and practices that show the role of values in decision-making. Then we’ll talk about how you can identify the values that bond your organization with donors and how to reframe your appeals to emphasize them.
Speaking to Your Audience’s Values
Just like product consumers, donors have a ton of choice when it comes to where they invest their money. In both cases, people are more likely to choose a brand that shares their values.
The 2013 Brand Engagement Survey by Gensler (a global design firm) found 87% of customers “choose brands that match their personal values” and 71% “avoid those that do not.” We can see this at work when consumers boycott or switch brands because some action by the company is in conflict with their values.
The Harvard Business Review reported that shared values are the leading driver of brand loyalty among the 7,000 customers they surveyed. We can see that values affect what brands consumers choose and whether they are loyal to that brand. Let’s look at a couple of examples of values marketing.
What is this commercial about?
The good news for nonprofits is that you probably have strong values built into your organization. All you have to do is think about why you do the work you do.
What Your Donors Value
So now that we know values are an important tool for marketers, you need to hone in on which ones apply to you and your donors. In some cases this may seem intuitive, but you also may uncover some themes you didn’t expect.
For example, if your nonprofit is a nature conservation organization, it would make sense to assume your donors value the environment and natural spaces. But some of your donors may have been using hiking trails you protect since they were children and want to share the experience with their own kids. Those donors may be giving because they value historic spaces or family tradition. Beautiful pictures of your protected spaces may not be very impactful if they don’t show families enjoying them.
Bring some staff or volunteers together and brainstorm all the reasons people have for giving. From there, think about the underlying motivations and values that drive them.
Surveys are also a great way to get a sense of your donors’ values. Try including a question like this in your next survey:
“Which choice best describes why you give to the Chicago Literacy Project*?
a) Reading and writing are vital and fulfilling skills.
b) Literacy can solve problems such as low graduation rates, unemployment, and poverty.
c) I have participated or benefitted from the Chicago Literacy Project’s work.
d) All children deserve to learn to read and write.
e) Other _________________________
*A fictional organization
All of these answers are plausible reasons for giving, but they emphasize different values. The first option shows that the donor values reading and writing in and of themselves. The second suggests that this person values the common good of society. The third suggests that the donor values reciprocity and giving back to those who have helped them. Finally, the fourth option shows that this person values children and their education.
If most of your donors identify with any one or two values on your survey, this is an important clue to how best engage your audience.
Framing the Appeal
Once you have identified the core values that your organization shares with its donors, all that’s left to do is incorporate them into your appeals. The direction you take will, of course, depends on your cause and the value with which you want to align yourself. Here are a few simple tips to help you formulate the best possible ask.
1. Use the Word “Because”
“Because” is already a powerful word to use in appeals, but is also a great way to link donation and values. “Give to the Chicago Literacy project because every child deserves an education.”
2. Don’t Just Use Words
Imagery is also important in crafting an effective appeal. If the Chicago Literacy Project wants to appeal to donors who value equal opportunity and public good, they can include images of a child learning to read, graduating from school, and then accepting a job offer.
3. Make it About the Donor
There’s a popular marketing quip – “people don’t buy products; they buy better versions of themselves.” It serves as a reminder that marketing should always come back to the audience. People don’t care about your product, they care about how it will improve their lives or themselves. This actually translates quite well to values marketing for nonprofits.
Making the donation that reflects their values, helps a donor see themselves as the people they want to be. If someone likes to think of themselves as valuing endangered animals, making a donation to an animal protection nonprofit brings their actions in line with their beliefs. Making a donation is walking the walk, putting your money where your mouth is.
Portray your fundraising appeal as a chance for the donor to express and live their values. Some examples of making the appeal about the donor are “show your support for equality” or “people like you are giving because they believe everyone has potential.”
Keeping in mind the underlying values that drive your donors can help you appeal to them on a very basic level. It reminds them why they would even consider giving. It can even help you stand out among similar organizations and strengthen your ties with donors. You still need individual stories and evidence of success, but sharing values is a powerful bond to build on.
Next time you are writing an appeal, take a moment to think of the core beliefs you are trying to connect with. Donors, and even fundraisers, sometimes need to be reminded why a cause matters to them.