How to Create a Nonprofit Fundraising Offer That Can’t Be Refused
Do you know what the 40/40/20 rule is? It’s something long preached by direct mail experts, and it reveals that the key to success with your fundraising appeal is not the thing most nonprofits spend the greatest amount of time on.
Alas, it’s not the “creative.”
Here’s how the “40-40-20 Rule” goes:
40 percent of a direct mailing’s success is dependent upon the list; 40 percent of the success comes from the offer; and 20 percent of the success is due to the creative.
- 40 – Mailing list (audience you’re talking to)
- 40 – Offer (what you’re asking audience to do)
- 20 – Creative (words, pictures, fonts, colors and design)
Today we’re going to talk about the offer. Because if you don’t make it clear and easy for folks to take the exact action you desire, then the rest of your mailing has little purpose.
7 Compelling Fundraising Offer Essentials
1. Specific Problem
Something you can visualize happening. Or not happening. Not something broad and generic like “support our cause.” If you’ve had success in the past with a generic appeal, I understand. That can work, especially with folks who already ‘get it,” but that limits your reach and appeal. To expand beyond folks who already love you requires greater specificity. And, to be frank, when you’re more specific you’ll secure larger gifts. So stop leaving money on the table and describe a specific fundraising goal and cost to achieve what you propose.
ACTION TIP: If you know it costs $20/month to feed a senior, I’d like to know that. In fact, in deciding how much I should give, I need to know that! It might cause me to give $240 to feed a senior for a year. If you just ask me to “support our senior nutrition program with a gift of any amount,” I may just give you $25.
#NFGtips: Before you send out any appeal, make sure your donation page makes it easy for donors to give.
2. Simple Solution
Something capable of being easily grasped by your audience. Not all the underlying complexities. Your fundraising offer is not a place to educate your donors. Or try to explain them into giving. Don’t feel compelled to expound on every nuance of what you do. Or every piece of the puzzle. Get right to the most important part of what you do. The demonstrated outcome.
ACTION TIP: Donors simply want to show you they care. They want to make the happy ending come true. They want to see themselves as heroes. Giving becomes a reflection in the mirror of who they are: compassionate, generous, values-based people. Donors will give when they’re persuaded that doing so is an excellent expression of who they are. If you want to tell the rest of the story (and you should), do it after the fact. In your thank you letters, emails, and year-round communications. By the time next year rolls around, they’ll have a whole story bank in their minds and hearts, and will likely give even more passionately.
Think of your fundraising offer as lighting the first spark. Then let your stewardship communications over the ensuing year fan the flames.
People give when their hearts are touched. Usually from ONE compelling story. Often from a photo that depicts this story, accompanied by a compelling caption. A zingy, succinct opening line can help as well.
ACTION TIP: Come up with something memorable and “sticky” with which folks can easily connect. Usually, the best way to do this is through storytelling. Don’t make it an educational lesson or intellectual exercise. Something people will struggle to remember. People don’t give because of the fact that 27,000 people in your community are hungry. Or 200,000 birds are soaked in oil and can’t fly. They don’t give to statistics. They don’t give with their heads. They give when something tugs at their heart strings. One hungry child. One oil-drenched, grounded bird. One wrong they can believably right with their gift.
4. Donor Benefits
Human beings always ask themselves: “What’s in it for me?” Always show your donor what the benefit will be if they give. Remind them they’ll feel really good. Studies show merely contemplating giving releases “feel good” dopamine. Everything about giving –thinking and doing –is good for us!
ACTION TIP: Tell prospective donors giving will save a life… lead to a cure… offer a resource for them and their children… make their community a better place. You can also add in benefits like tax deductions, inclusion in a giving society and even token gifts (like invitations to free events, being entered into a raffle to win something, etc.). Perhaps one of the biggest benefits you can offer is to make your donor feel like a hero.
Offer the donor a “good deal” – show them how they get a bigger bang for their buck than may seem to be true at first blush. People love to S-T-R-E-T-C-H their dollars.
ACTION TIP: Describe how their dollar goes further than they might imagine. One meal provided in the third world will seem relatively cheap. One dollar given that will be matched dollar-for-dollar due to your matching grant is alluring. One dollar given that has ripple effects, helping not just the recipient, but their entire family, is tempting.
Strike while the iron is hot. You’ve worked hard to trigger folks’ emotions. Don’t let them put off giving until a future time, when their ardor may have cooled. Offer deadlines.
ACTION TIP: Create a sense of scarcity. No one likes to lose out on a good deal. Matching grant deadline. Doors about to close deadline. People waiting in line deadline. Year-end tax deduction deadline. Even if you can’t find a natural “scarcity” deadline, give some kind of deadline like: “Do it by next Monday.”
7. Call to Action
Ask early and often. Think about the single, most important thing you need to communicate; then tie your opening to your reason for writing as quickly as possible. It may be only thing your prospect will read before deciding whether or not to continue reading, or simply toss you into the trash.
ACTION TIP: Make your ask explicit. Spell it out in black and white. Force a decision with introduction that triggers an “I’ll help/I won’t help” decision.
- Every morning Jim dreams of getting onto a basketball court again. But his war injury means this will never happen. Unless you help.
- Isabelle dreams of being 1st in her family to go to college and ‘make something of herself.’ Instead she’ll probably get a minimum wage job right out of high school. Unless you help.
Offer multiple ways to give (e.g., via remit piece and envelope; link to your website; telephone number). Make branded giving pages user-friendly and mobile responsive. Assure the landing pages include the campaign-specific call to action. Begin with “YES! I’ll help _________.” This seals the deal and helps the donor feel warm and fuzzy about their decision to help.
Imagine your fundraising offer, in a nutshell, is to donate a meal that costs you less than $2.00.
Your specific, simple, emotional, rewarding, leverageable, urgent, actionable appeal works like this (I’ve offered a few variations to show there’s no one right way to do this, but you’ll succeed if you include all the compelling elements):
Your $2.00 gift will feed Joe a hot nutritious Thanksgiving dinner in the company of caring friends. Please give before Monday to reserve Joe’s place.
Donate a $2.00 meal before next Monday so Joe gets a hot, nutritious Thanksgiving dinner in the company of caring friends this Thursday.
The choice is yours. Joe can be cold, alone and hungry this Thanksgiving. Or warm and fed, in the company of a caring community. It all depends on you.
Give the gift of a nutritious, hot Thanksgiving dinner, served in the company of friends. Just $2.00 received by Monday will reserve a place for Joe.
- Specific problem – You can show a photo of it. Donor can easily visualize the impact.
- Simple solution – Your reader is asked to do one thing. S/he doesn’t need to know all the reasons that bring Joe, and folks like him, to your mission. Or how you provide the meal. Or what ancillary services you provide (though you may hint at that in noting Joe will be “in the company of friends”). Offer up the information about additional support services you provide in your future donor communications.
- Emotional need – Fulfills human urge to help/make an impact; to connect with others.
- Reward – Feels good to help a real person. Now. Implication is that when you help someone in your community it makes the community better
- Leverage – Good deal. Inexpensive. Fed someone, and then led to other “ripple effects” (implication Joe will get not just nutrition, but also other supportive care).
- Deadline – Feed someone a holiday meal, at a time people can feel very depressed and alone.
- Call to action – Do it now, here’s how, and it’s easy.
Ready to Create Your Own Irresistible Fundraising Offer?
Simply include these seven elements and you’ll be ahead of the game.
And remember to keep it simple and focused.
Black and white is good when it comes to offering options to join you (or not) in your mission. Your donor should think “Yes, I’ll help” or “No, I won’t help.”
And, since your offer is so clear and compelling it would be unthinkable for them to say “no.”