The idea of asking for donations might seem simple, but getting this right is vital to getting the most out of any fundraising strategy. This applies to any channel or means of fundraising that your organization employs. To maximize your donations, you should be asking yourself three questions:
- How – How are you asking for donations?
- What – What are you saying?
- Who – Who are you asking?
That being said, we’re here to help you raise more from your fundraising asks. In this handy guide, we’ll cover the following topics:
Ready to learn about how to ask for donations in the most effective way possible? Let’s jump in!
How to Ask For Donations: Delivering Your Ask
Every fundraising channel has its pros and cons. Here are some of the channels you can use and what you should know about each:
Direct mail is the oldest mass-marketing fundraising channel, and it has lasted through time for a reason. This strategy has an incredibly high response rate when compared to digital channels and continues to be the driver for the majority of individual donations in the US.
The downside of direct mail is the higher upfront cost, but the return on investment and response rates, especially with existing donors, makes direct mail the most effective channel for raising money.
If you’re interested in learning more about direct mail, or want to get started with a direct mail fundraising campaign, GivingMail is here to help! To learn more about this powerful channel, see our article on direct mail as a means for driving donations to your cause.
Telemarketing is another high-response channel for nonprofit fundraising. The upsides of telemarketing are the level of personal connection you can make with the donor as well as the high response rates. This is most feasible if you have volunteers with time to make calls, or have large enough scale to outsource to a telemarketing firm.
The biggest downsides of telemarketing are cost and effort required. Your organization either needs enough personnel or volunteer hours to make the calls, or be willing to spend heavily upfront to hire an outside telemarketer. These limitations usually limit telemarketing to high-value donors or large-scale nonprofits.
Email fundraising is a fast, cheap, and easy way to reach your donors. It takes very little time, can be automated, and generally has a positive impact on fundraising as part of a multi-channel approach.
The problem is that using emails to fundraise leaves you competing for attention with all of the clutter email inboxes generally receive. Most emails don’t get opened, and even among those that do, response rates remain low. While the downsides are small, email struggles to be the centerpiece for nonprofit fundraising because of the recipient’s likelihood to ignore the appeals.
In-person fundraising can be a great way to make a personal connection with your donors and drive incredibly high response rates. This can be used for high-value donors via personal meetings, or at a larger scale in the form of fundraising events. There is no better way to get your donors to feel a connection to your cause than to have a personal interaction with them.
It isn’t always possible to have in-person meetings or events though. And even when you can, the frequency of these in-person connections is limited. Fundraising events also take a significant amount of time and effort to pull off, which can be a huge task for an organization with limited resources.
Fundraising through digital channels, such as an organization’s website and social media profiles, have grown significantly over the last decade. These channels share many of the same pros as email – cheap, easy, and scalable. Social media can also keep your organization at top-of-mind for donors between gifts.
The downsides are similar to email as well. The response rate is low and donors aren’t often thinking about nonprofits when browsing the web. While its viability as a single fundraising channel is low, social media and a well-designed website can be great additions to a multi-channel fundraising approach.
How to Ask For Donations: Writing Your Script
So now you’ve decided how you want to reach your supporters to ask for donations – how should you be asking to maximize your chances of success? Here are a few best practices.
Focus on the donor, not the cause
It’s important to understand that the donor is the hero in your organization’s story. While you may be doing the work of your cause, none of it would be possible without their generous support. Make sure that the donor knows their value and how much they are appreciated.
When talking about what your organization is accomplishing, make sure that the donor is doing the action. If you are an animal rescue organization, you should say that the donor saved the lives of thousands of animals, rather than they helped your organization save the animals’ lives. This might seem like a small point, but recognizing the donor as the hero better connects them to your organization and solidifies their support.
Go beyond “donate”
When wording your fundraising appeals, be consistent with the donor as the hero. This includes the specific fundraising ask/call to action. “Please protect animals in need” goes a lot further in the mind of the reader than “please donate to help us protect…”
The more the reader feels that they are the one actively achieving your cause’s goal, the more likely there are to give their support.
Ensure that you say thank you
Simple appreciation can make a world of difference in your donors’ experience with your organization. Make sure that you end every interaction, appeal, etc. by thanking them for their support—both past and future. This is an effortless way to let your donors know they are important to you.
Tell a specific story
Statistics and numbers are extremely useful for demonstrating the scale of your cause. For example, “X number of animals left to shelters or put down every year” gives the reader an idea of how big of an issue you’re solving.
The best way to make it personal though, is to tell a specific story about your cause. “Fido was rescued from a shelter and found a loving home because of your support.”
The best appeals draw on the heartstrings of donors and make a personal, emotional connection between them and your organization’s cause.
Give suggested donation amounts
Always provide suggested donation amounts. The easiest way to think about this is with an example:
Person A is walking around their office place asking for $20 donations to support an organization they volunteer with. Person B is doing the same thing, but only asking for $10. The most common donation amount for person A will be $20, where person B is getting $10 gifts. Then, imagine Person C is asking for donations of an unspecified amount. They might get a couple $5 bills or even some loose change!
You want to find a happy balance with your ask to keep your response rate, and your gift amounts, high. One way to do this is to base your ask on previous donations. For example, if someone gave $20 last time you asked, you might then provide them with an ask string of “$20, $30, $50, other.” This way, you’re more likely to get a desired response which could lead to an increase in donation amount.
How to Ask for Donations: Choosing Your Audience
You’re probably wondering how to choose the recipients of your fundraising appeals. In short, the answer is everyone. Anyone your organization is in contact with is a potential donor.
To maximize fundraising results, be sure to ask prior donors, volunteers, event attendees, followers, lapsed donors, and potential new donors. It’s also important to note that asking frequently is a good idea, too. There’s a reason that large brands you buy from communicate with you regularly – it works.
Your best response rates are always going to come from existing donors. There is no better indicator for likelihood to donate than a (recent) past donation. You should be asking this group frequently to keep up their support.
Volunteers are another great group to ask for financial support. These people already have a connection to your organization and want to see it succeed. They may just be a simple ask away from not only giving their time, but monetary support as well.
The same goes for those who have attended your past events. Just by showing up, this group is telling you that they have some connection to your organization and care about your cause. Your organization should be asking them for support—both at the event and in follow-ups after its conclusion.
Potential New Donors
Even the best fundraisers lose some portion of their donors over time. It’s so important to be continuously acquiring new donors to keep your budget from shrinking. Even if the initial fundraising campaigns for new donors cost money, the returns over time more than make up for it. Without donor acquisition, your organization is doomed to see funding shrink substantially over time.
Social media followers
While the response rates might be lower than some of your other audience segments, you should be asking your social media following for donations as well. Again, anyone who shows a connection to your cause has some likelihood to give a donation. Your social media following is an easily targeted pool of potential donors.
There are a number of reasons that people stop giving to an organization: financial struggles, giving to another cause, or simple forgetfulness. If somebody used to give to your cause, chances are they haven’t stopped caring. In fact, the reason behind their lapse may be as simple as they haven’t been asked for a donation in a while.
This highlights the importance of consistently be asking your donors for support. They may not always give, but the more you ask and the more they think about your cause, the more likely they are to continue supporting.
How to Ask for Donations: Best Practices
By now we should have a pretty good idea of how we’re asking, what we’re asking, and who we’re asking – but what else do we need to know to get the most out of our fundraising? These tips should get you as much as possible from your asks.
Research your donors and prospects
The more you know about donors and prospects, the better. Being informed about their preferences for communication, financial situation, previous donations, other causes they support, etc. can all lead you to make the right ask at the right time to maximize your returns.
Engaging in prospect research allows you to set up a meeting with a potential major donor, while helping you avoid investing your valuable time into someone who you’re only hoping to get a $25 gift from.
However, it’s important that you house all of this information in an organized manner. Gathering prospect and donor data can take a lot of time, so storing your knowledge in a database can be a huge help in the future. The more you know and have quick access to, the better.
Segment and personalize your asks
To get the most out of your donor and prospect lists, segmentation and personalization can be game changers.
Donor segmentation is simply splitting the group that you are asking for donations from into smaller sections by like characteristics. For example, you may want to use a different appeal for donors that have volunteered to help dogs vs. those who have volunteered to help cats. These two segments would get different appeals catering to their unique preferences. Segmentation can be done based on any information you know about your donors/potential donors.
Segmentation generally applies to information that you wouldn’t directly reference in writing (i.e. sending a different letter to people based on their previous gift size, gender, age, etc.).
If you find a characteristic that correlates to your donors behavior, you can segment based on that. This is most useful when the total group you’re asking for donations from is large. With a small group, it’s harder to split into even smaller segments.
Personalization, on the other hand, is always possible and always beneficial. Personalization of an appeal simply means that you are referencing their personal information in your communication. Starting a direct mail letter with “Dear [Donor Name]” is just one way to personalize.
You can also reference their history of volunteering, donations, event attendance, etc. “Thank you for your past gift of $X. Your support saved the lives of animals in need.”
Acknowledging what they’ve done for you in the past is an easy way to let the recipient know that you care about them and remind them that that they have supported – making them more likely to support again.
Reach out through your donors’ preferred methods
Donors will often tell you how they want you to communicate with them. This might be direct mail, email, phone calls, etc. If your donor shares this with you, use it to your advantage and make sure you communicate predominantly through the preferred channel.
For best results, use their preferred method along with other channels (unless they’ve asked you not to).
Create a sense of urgency
Consider the difference between these two asks: “Your support of $20, $35, or even $50 is desperately needed. Please give today!” and “Please consider supporting with a gift of $20, $35, or even $50.”
Both are asking for the same thing, but by creating a sense of urgency, the first ask makes it more likely that the donor gives. This same principle is how last minute sales with countdown timers can get us to buy things we might not otherwise. Adding urgency to your ask is an easy way to improve your chances of getting a donation.
Practice good stewardship
The golden rule teaches us to “treat others how you would want to be treated.” Donor communication is no exception. Using “please” and “thank you” in all of your appeals adds to the donors’ experience and makes them feel more like a part of the team, rather than an ATM. If you hand someone a gift, a thank-you is always appreciated. Make sure that you always thank donors for their support.
These thank-yous can even extend to a follow up letter/postcard/email so that your donor knows both that you received their gift and that you took the time to acknowledge them for it.
Ask, Ask, Ask
It might seem obvious, but the more you ask, the more you get. Organizations in the nonprofit and for-profit worlds alike have learned this and are constantly communicating with donors/consumers as a result. After all, it’s the best way to stay at top of mind and increase their chances of a donation/sale.
If your organization is only asking for gifts once or twice a year, then the donor only has one or two chances a year to give. By communicating with donors on a monthly basis instead, you’ve drastically increased the chances of getting more from your donors by simply asking more often.
If you’re looking to create a direct mail appeal or have questions about nonprofit fundraising, GivingMail is always here to help! For more information, be sure to check out the following additional resources:
- Direct Mail for Nonprofits: The Ultimate Fundraising Guide. Direct mail fundraising is our favorite channel. Find out how to send effective direct appeals to donors and raise more for your cause with this guide.
- Fundraising Letters: Writing Great Appeals (+ Templates!). Unsure of what to say in your fundraising letters? Here are some powerful tips and useful templates to make use of for your campaign.