Increase Charitable Donations With These 5 Words

how to increase donations

Little details can make a big difference. This is especially true when it comes to optimizing your nonprofit’s online donation process.

If you have engaging impact stories, clearly visible calls-to-actions and a short, simple donation form, you are already setting yourself up for success. But there are a few subtle changes that could lead more donors to complete the process.

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In this blog, we’ll cover five words that tend to increase conversions, why these words work, and how to incorporate them into your fundraising appeals.

1. Small

Which sounds better to you?

“a $5 fee”


“a small $5 fee”

Intellectually, we know the fee is the same but when I hear the second phrase, it makes the fee sound not just reasonable, but negligible. And I’m not alone in perceiving it this way.

A study by Carnegie Mellon University found that simply adding the word “small” when referring to the shipping fee for a trial DVD increased the response rate by 20 percent. Nonprofits can use this strategy in their appeals to help people see donation as a minor gift as opposed to a major sacrifice.


“A small $10 donation will feed a child for seven days.”

“Will you make a small $5 gift today?”

*A word of caution: make sure that the donation you refer to could reasonably be considered small by your audience. $25 may be small to one donor, but large to another.

2. Instantly/Immediately

When you go into a store and buy a book, you get to walk away holding that object in your hands. The gratification is instant. When you donate to a charitable cause, the return is less immediate and concrete. This is just one way that donating is different from purchasing, but understanding people’s eCommerce behavior can help nonprofits begin to bridge this gratification gap.

Using the words “instantly” or “immediately” is one way digital marketers have found to increase conversions. In his online resource “10 Ways to Convert More Customers Using Psychology,” Gregory Ciotti writes, “our mid-brain lights up when we think about receiving something right away (and that’s the one [part of the brain] we want to fire up!).”

In other words, thinking of getting something right now makes us feel good, makes us feel satisfied.

Emphasize that donors can take action right now. Make sure to follow through on the need for instant gratification by delivering, at the least, a thank you for the donation as well as evidence of the impact the donation will make. The donor not only gets a special message or story, but they also get the assurance that their gift will be an immediate help.


“You can help now by giving to our campaign! When you make a gift, you will instantly receive a profile of one of the families whose lives are being transformed by our programs.”

“Immediately show your support by giving her and we will instantly send you a video message from our staff in the field.”

3. Expert

Expert witnesses are frequently used by trial lawyers to convince a judge or jury. People trust and seek out experts in order to make a more informed decision. Unfortunately, research has shown that nonprofits can be perceived as less competent than for-profit organizations.

If a potential donor doesn’t see you as an authority within your cause, they may be less inclined to convert into a supporter. Nonprofits can fight against this impression by highlighting the experts and specialists that run their programs.

For-profits have a long history of calling on trusted professionals to endorse and promote a product, a tradition that continues today. For instance, an example by Unbounce highlight that a skin care company called Kaya increased leads and sales by simply changing their call-to-action to include the word “expert.”


It may not be the right fit for every organization, but if your programs involve specially trained people (doctors, scientists, engineers etc.), consider referencing their expertise in your CTA.


“Make a donation to support our expert oncologists’ research.”

“Help us send experts in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to the disaster site to counsel survivors.”

4. You

It’s easy to ignore someone when you know they’re not really talking to you. We do it all the time, in coffee shops, on the bus, and just walking down the street. But your ears perk up when you hear your own name.

The problem is, as a blog from KISSmetrics points out, that it can feel creepy when businesses use our name in their communications. The author, Bnonn Tennant, points out that using the word “you” is a way to make a call-to-action more personal without sounding fake or automated.

Emphasizing the word “you” is an easy way to let the reader know that you are speaking directly to them.


“You can donate by clicking here.”

“We need your help.”

“You can make a difference by creating a fundraising page.”

5. Because

If you want someone to do something for you, it helps to offer them a reason – even if it’s not a very good reason.

That’s what researcher Ellen Langer found when she ran an experiment asking people waiting for a Xerox machine if they would allow the researcher to go first. In the control experiment, the researcher simply said, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” When not given a reason, 60 percent of people complied.

The researchers then rephrased the question by asking, “May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?” With this phrasing, 94 percent of subjects complied.

Finally, the researcher tried the question “May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?” Not much of a reason.

But it didn’t matter. 93% complied when asked that final phrasing of the question. Just by saying the word “because” and giving some sort of justification, more people were willing to meet the researcher’s request.

Fortunately, you already have a good reason for the request you’re making and can use it in your call-to-action. Try to incorporate the word “because” and a reason to give into your appeal. This reminds the audience that their donation serves a purpose.


“Donate to our early education programs because learning can’t wait.”

“Protect wildlife because their survival is in our hands.”



Ultimately, you will need to incorporate these power words in ways that complement the appeal. You can’t just cram all these words into one sentence and expect it to make sense (let alone increase conversions). But keeping these simple, yet effective, words in mind when writing your next call-to-action might help you engage more supporters and yield more donations.

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