The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Reframe Your Benefit to Donors with 4 Questions

One of the risks for nonprofits face when  asking for things from supporters (especially when you ask for money) is that the old bargain — the bargain of the 20th century – was essentially, “I have a cause that you agree with: you give me money, I’ll give you a newsletter. We’ll agree to call that membership because you’re clearly not just subscribing to the newsletter, you’re clearly doing something to support the cause. But we’re not going to make the word membership mean, really, anything other than small financial support.”

In the current environment — the opportunities for membership, for real membership, for some kind of shared participation — are large enough that the old cash donation in return for a quarterly newsletter model of membership is now starting to look thin.

The trick is to figure out what message is an actual statement of shared purpose. Together we can build something or you will get something out of this that isn’t just a kind of simple fee-for-service transaction or dressed up as membership, but is a kind of real participation.

The gap between what we now know about people’s motivations and about the under-optimization of design of user experience around opportunity suggests that nonprofits will need to look at it from the donor’s point of view, which in some cases, will hurt your feelings, because you will be saying, “Activists are active, other people aren’t.” You will then need to assess what it means to reach people who are less passionate about your subject than you are.

If you want to take a close look at how you are asking for action and want to reframe that to better appeal to donors, you should ask yourself four key questions:

    1. What is the opportunity for the donor?
      If my opportunity is dealing with stray pets or domestic abuse or ending world hunger, it’s clear that part of the opportunity is participation in creating some social good. That’s different than the opportunity for the donor. That opportunity has to be: “Which of your intrinsic motivations am I going to engage when I ask you to give me something? Am I going to make you feel autonomous? Am I going to make you feel competent? Am I going to make you feel a sense of membership? Am I going to make you feel a sense of generosity?”
      Nonprofits have historically have trafficked in the last on that list, relying on a sense of generosity, but not so much in the others, which represents a big new opportunity to explore.


    1. How am I articulating this benefit?
      Am I just going to say, give me your money and I’ll send you my thanks? Is there some way that I can show the potential giver, the potential donor, some other kind of appreciation besides that thing?I’m always astonished when I donate money online, how pro forma the email that comes back is, in a way that it doesn’t need to be. It’s often simply, “Here’s a receipt for your tax purposes”. It certainly doesn’t make me feel any sense of membership or commitment that has deepened after I’ve created this transaction than I felt before.


    1. How small is the most satisfying unit?
      What can I do that lets a person who is a little bit interested in what I do have an experience that is satisfying to them? This could be as a way of potentially recruiting them to some bigger and more involved experience, or as a way of getting what value I can out of the people who are just interested enough to donate a little.


  1. Is there a way for me to create a convening platform so that my users can create value for each other?
    Think of “likes”, comments and ratings on social sites like Facebook, Wikipedia and others. One of the things we know is that for all that we want, we want individuals to be committed to supporting the cause. Very often the positive regard of their peers is one of the most powerful motivations we can engage. It means rethinking this idea of membership as you give me money, I give you a newsletter. 

    If there is a way to take an organization and turn it into a convening platform, where the users reward one another by thanking one another, that can be much more powerful than being thanked by the organization.

Adapted from the webinar presenation: “How Improving the Experience Makes Users Want to Give” with Clay Shirky

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About This Blog

Amanda Khoury
Marketing Manager

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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