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The 4 Components of a Persuasive Fundraising Email

By Elizabeth Chung

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

Any professional fundraiser will tell you: there’s a lot more that goes into fundraising than simply asking for donations. It requires strategy, persistence, and an understanding of your audience. Above all, it hinges on the mastery of one particular art form: persuasion.

To rally people around their cause, nonprofit organizations must be able to craft compelling appeals that make an impact on the reader. They need to articulate the cause in a way that inspires and, more importantly, triggers action. To help you do this in your own communications, we’ve assembled the four major components of a persuasive fundraising email.

1. The Promise of a Larger Community

Before buying something, I’ll usually go online and check out some reviews. If it has few to zero ratings, my inclination to buy usually drops. On the flip side, many glowing reviews will convince me I should probably purchase the item. This is the power of social proof at work – people are likelier to do something when others have done it first.

So what does this have to do with fundraising emails? Well, you can leverage social proof to strengthen trust and credibility with readers. In addition, highlighting other supporters or event participants can trigger people’s “fear of missing out.” This might motivate a prospective supporter to join in on the philanthropic fun!

Take this example from LiNK. Right before the call-to-action button, the organization indicates that hundreds of people have already started their own fundraising pages and have furthered the organization’s mission. To readers, this simple statement confirms that starting a campaign must be an action definitely worth taking.

LiNK Hundreds

Demonstrate that others have already taken action through sharing how many other supporters are participating in your campaign or cause, and then use words like “join” and “community” to invite readers into your movement!

2. The Sense of Urgency

Urgency is a key component of any persuasive appeal. Your email should compel people to respond right away; otherwise, they might never take action.

An easy way to foster urgency is to use deadlines. Announcing a time-sensitive matching campaign, for instance, can motivate supporters to act immediately in order to amplify the impact of their donation. Or, if you’re nearing the end of a fundraising campaign, you can urge people to lock in their last-minute donations and be an integral part of crossing the finish line.

Another more evergreen approach to creating urgency is to emphasize the importance of your organization’s work and the need it addresses. You want people to feel that what you have to say – and what you’re asking them to do – is extremely important, and thus, merits an immediate response.

Encourage supporters to act now by showing why your cause is pressing and impactful. It may sound simple, but using the word “because” can motivate people more than you might expect. In one experiment, social psychologist Ellen Langer found that using the word “because” boosted the effectiveness of her request to cut in line for a Xerox machine by around 34 percent. People want a reason why they should take immediate action, so use this trigger word to help drive that reason home.

“Donate today, because every child deserves an education.”

3. The Connection of Character

Supporters are more likely to give when making a contribution becomes personally meaningful to them. Draw a direct connection between the act of giving and the supporter’s core sense of self. Motivate people to take action by reinforcing how it reflects a part of their character, their identity.

Remember that some words might work harder than others to create this link between donor and donation. According to Jen Shang, a philanthropic psychologist, there are nine main adjectives that Americans use to describe a moral person; nonprofits can sprinkle these same words into their appeals, making the connection for supporters between the act of giving and their deepest self-perceptions as individuals.

1. Kind
2. Caring
3. Compassionate
4. Helpful
5. Friendly
6. Fair
7. Hard-working
8. Generous
9. Honest

You can also engage a supporter’s sense of self by emphasizing his or her existing role in your organization’s work. Clarify that your donors are the ones providing a solution to an urgent need, and connect them to the tangible impact of their contributions. Examples like, “You can provide a meal for this child today,” make it clear that the donor has a crucial part to play in this beneficiary’s story.

4. A Story that Compels

Last but not least, storytelling is an indispensable part of any persuasive fundraising appeal. We all know donations are driven by emotions, and it’s the power of a moving story that forges meaningful connections with an audience. You want to create a experience that seems tangible for your readers – one that brings them face to face with your organization’s work and impact.

Here are some content ideas for your next fundraising email:

• A video of beneficiaries sharing their own stories firsthand
• “Before” and “after” photos of a recent completed project
• A recent victory or upcoming challenge
• A video of volunteer testimonials
• A staff or board member’s reason for taking up the cause
• Beneficiary quotes or testimonials
• A video of a dedicated donor or fundraiser sharing why your cause means so much to them


When you’re fundraising for a worthy cause, being persuasive isn’t crafty or cunning. It’s a duty. Your organization’s work is providing a solution to a pressing problem, and your ability to motivate a community to back your cause will determine the extent of your impact. To make sure your fundraising email is connecting with your audience, you need to be thoughtful in the way you craft your language and content. With these tips in hand, you’ll be able to influence on a whole new level!

Write Emails that Activate Supporters

peer-to-peer fundraising emails guide

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Increase donations for your nonprofit and make tax season a breeze.

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