Increase Charitable Donations With These 5 Words

4 min
how to increase donations
profile photo of Classy blog contributor Meredith Kavanagh
Meredith Kavanagh

Picture this: you walk into a five-star hotel and step off the plush carpet and lay down on an overstuffed comforter when you see a handwritten note thanking you by name for choosing this hotel. Within the first minute of your stay, you feel at home and welcomed. 

What made the biggest impact on your first impression of that hotel? You expect high-quality bedding and a beautiful room, but knowing that someone took the time to welcome you personally—that makes a lasting impact. 

The same attention to details and personalized approach should be taken when optimizing your nonprofit’s online donation process. There are many best practices that can set up your nonprofit for success, but within your engaging impact stories, simplified donation form, and thorough communication plan, there are a few subtle changes that could encourage more donors to make a donation.

In this post, we’ll cover five words that can increase donations, why these words work, and how to incorporate them into your nonprofit marketing, direct appeals, website, and donation form.

Download: Email Templates to Engage Donors Year-Round

1. Small

Nonprofits can use this word when optimizing their marketing in two ways: 

1. To help people see their donation as a minor gift as opposed to a major sacrifice. 

Which sounds like a more manageable ask: “a $5 fee” or “a small $5 fee”? Intellectually, we know the fee is the same amount of money, but the second phrase makes the fee sound even more reasonable. In fact, 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

2. To demonstrate that even a small amount makes a difference.

Nonprofit professionals know that every penny counts when it comes to charitable donations, but the average donor may think that they can’t make an impact with just a few bucks. Make sure that potential donors know how much your organization values every donation—no matter the amount.

Examples:

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

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

Pro Tip: Make sure that the donation amount you refer to would be considered small by your target audience. A $25 donation may be small to one donor, but large to another.

2. Instantly/Immediately

Using the words “instantly” or “immediately” is one way marketers have found to increase conversions. However, when you go into a store and make a purchase, you immediately walk away holding that object in your hands, so 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. In his online resource “10 Ways to Convert More Customers Using Psychology,” Gregory Ciotti writes: 

“Our brains love instant gratification and we become more prone to buy when we’re reminded that we can solve our problems quickly. When consumers know they will be rewarded immediately, they will be anxious to buy your products.” 

And while nonprofits aren’t selling a product, they are selling that same feeling of satisfaction someone feels when completing a purchase. In fact, a series of studies from the University of Oregon found that neurons in the portion of the brain associated with a feeling of reward and satisfaction start firing when a person chose to make a donation. 

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. That way the donor not only gets a special message, but they also get the assurance that their gift will be an immediate help to your cause.

Examples:

“When you make a gift, you will instantly receive an email with a profile of a family whose lives are being transformed by our programs.”

“Upon making a gift, we will immediately send you a video message from our staff in the field so you can see the impact of your donation.”

3. Expert

Since the 1930s-1950s when doctors endorsed brands of cigarettes to today, where you’d be hard-pressed to find a toothpaste ad that didn’t include a dentist recommendation, for-profit advertisements have a long history of calling on trusted professionals to promote a product. This tradition still lives on today, albeit with a little more subtlety. 

The expert endorsement has stood the test of time is because no matter the product being promoted, when a potential buyer sees an authority figure give their support, they are inherently more trusting. 

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 call-to-action (CTA).

Example:

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

“Our team includes several experts in post-traumatic stress disorder who are always on-site to counsel survivors.” 

Gaining a donor’s trust is the first step in securing a relationship rather than a one-off donation, so why not start at the first interaction? Even if your nonprofit doesn’t work with experts in the traditional sense, like doctors or lawyers,  you can highlight the specialists that run your programs to lend credibility to the work that you do. 

Another simple way to earn trust is by having a seamless online donation experience. A recent Classy survey, Why America Gives, found that more than half of millennial and Gen Z respondents (54% for each) said if they can’t easily donate to a nonprofit online or via a mobile device, then they will have less trust in how that nonprofit uses their funds. To learn more about donor behavior and motivations, download the full report below:

Free Download: Why America Gives

4. You

Remember the example we talked about earlier? Imagine how less impactful a note would be if it read, “Dear valued customer, thanks for staying at our hotel!” You immediately know that every customer receives this message, and it wasn’t written for you. However, when called out by name, it’s a personalized touch that you’ll remember. Similarly, it’s easy to ignore a message that isn’t directed at you personally.

The problem is that it can feel creepy when businesses use our name in their communications. You immediately know someone is trying to market to you—and you file the message as spam. To make a CTA feel more personal without sounding fake or automated, use the word “you” instead.

Examples:

“You can donate by clicking here.”

“We need your help.”

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

water 4 you can help

5. Because

If you want someone to do something for you, it helps to offer them a reason—even if it’s an obvious reason. 

In 1978, researcher Ellen Langer ran an experiment asking people waiting for a copy 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% 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% 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 CTA. Try to incorporate the word “because” along with a simplified reason into your appeal to remind your audience that their donation serves a great purpose. 

Examples:

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

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

Make Your Appeals Natural

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 engagement or conversions. Keep these simple, yet effective, words in mind when writing your next CTA and you might engage more supporters and earn more donations.

Free Download: Quick-Start Guide to Data-Driven Fundraising


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