Success in online fundraising depends on your ability to increase the desire to give in the mind of your donor. But how do you do that?  Our research has revealed four reliable ways.

While it’s simple to connect the dots between an increase in desire to an increase in how much is raised—it’s quite a different challenge to understand how to make that happen.

So often we start with a gut feeling—a sense of intuition about what might work and what won’t; what will be good and what will be bad.

But what if you had research showing you what to do? What if you were being guided by facts rather than just a feeling?

Fortunately, there is compelling evidence for how to increase the desire to give in the mind of a donor.

In partnership with our friends at NextAfter, we conducted a comprehensive study on the online giving experiences of 200+ nonprofit organizations.

And what we discovered was that across the board—the most critical contributing factor to success—is how effective an organization communicates their value proposition.

What is your value proposition?

Your value proposition is the reason why people should give to you, rather than some other organization, or not at all.

When someone arrives on your donation page, do they understand why they should give to you? How their gift makes an impact? Why it matters?

The good news is that you have full control over communicating your value proposition.

The bad news is that it’s also one of the hardest parts of marketing to get right.

For example… nonprofits often make the mistake of crafting an entirely logical value proposition.

The core of their proposition ends up being that we should give to them because…

  • It makes sense,
  • It’s practical, and
  • It’s the most effective way to solve the problem.

While this feels like a solid argument to those already sold on the mission—it’s not as compelling to someone on the outside who is considering all of their options.

Why, you ask? Because donors don’t primarily give for logical reasons.

Donors give for emotional reasons.

Donors give because something inside them is moved with compassion, fear, anger, or pride (or some variant of these powerful emotions).

Logic and reason are important, of course. Your value proposition needs to be reasonable. It needs to make sense.

But the way you express your value proposition must produce a strong emotional response in the donor in order to increase their desire to give.

Think of it this way: for every gift a donor considers, they weigh “the cost” of making the donation against the value.  If the cost is too high, they won’t give.  And so it goes, that it is essential to increase the perceived value of the donation.

When you clearly communicate value through emotional connection—you increase the desire to give in the mind of the donor.

It’s at this point, when it is important to lay out the logical support for making a gift.  This provides donors with assurance that their emotions have lead them to the best decision they can make.

But only after you’ve stoked their giving desire through an emotionally compelling value proposition.

So how do you craft a powerful value proposition?

When it comes to communicating value, you must answer a question in the mind of the donor, “If I am your ideal donor, why should I give to you rather than some other organization or not at all?”

There are four essential ways to answer this question.

#1. Desire

Does the donor want what you’re offering? Are they clear on the impact their gift will make? Do they believe the work you are doing is important enough?

If a donor is ambiguous on answering these questions, we shouldn’t expect them to exchange their money for what we are offering.

When donors hesitate to give, it’s often because the message is not articulating the impact well enough. The exchange is becoming all cost and no value.

A great way to build value is by being specific about the impact a gift can make. Donors must understand… how a life is changed, a crisis averted, a family is fed, the ocean is cleaned… you get the idea.

Show your donors, specifically…

  1. …what you can do with their gift.
    (ex: $100 sends life-saving medicine to a family in need.)
  2. …the impact a gift makes when it meets a specific need.
    (ex: Your gift keeps families from having to take on second and third jobs—which means they can be together, care for each other, and focus on getting healthy.)
  3. …the ultimate outcome.
    (ex: Your gift provides peace of mind and less stress to a family as they are finally able to take this positive step in their lives.)

Specificity builds your credibility as it demonstrates your ability to connect a donor with the impact they want to make in the world.

2. Exclusivity

Exclusivity means, “I can’t get this anywhere else.”

So… can their gift make the same or greater impact anywhere else? Are there other organizations doing the same thing?

What makes your organization unique? 

For example, do you work from a different perspective or a specific reason? Have you been doing it longer or in a new way?

Make no mistake, every nonprofit (especially yours!) is unique in some special way. You might have…

  • A beloved leader
  • A fascinating history
  • A landmark building or property
  • An innovative approach or out-of-the-box method

If you dive into this, you will find plenty about your organization that sets you apart.

Just keep in mind: when communicating exclusivity, there is no need to draw direct comparison to other organizations. You only need to highlight ways in which your organization is different.

3. Clarity

Is explaining what you do complicated?  Do donors understand why it matters? Do they understand the impact their gift makes?

The answers to these questions are all a function of clarity.

If donors are confused about what you offer, they’ll look past you for somebody who can communicate with clarity.

Now don’t misunderstand—clarity is not about persuasion.  Donors aren’t looking to be persuaded.  They are seeking to understand.

So instead of worrying about putting together a clever and persuasive message—focus instead on answering the essential question of your value proposition:

Why should someone give to you, rather than some other organization, or not at all?

No one will understand the impact their gift can make through your organization until you tell them the right way.

So as you think about the message you communicate—keep in mind that your primary goal isn’t to generate a creative masterpiece.  It is, above all else, to be clear.

4. Credibility and believability

Do donors believe you?

Maybe you haven’t asked yourself that question.  Perhaps you’ve just assumed that people will inherently trust what you proclaim.

But that’s just not reality.

While often the work of nonprofits is perceived through the lens of philanthropy and humanitarianism—it is also quite frequently met with skepticism, uncertainty, and doubt.

Saying you do good work doesn’t necessarily make donors feel they should believe you. In all of your marketing materials, look for ways to show proof of your credibility and expertise.

When you speak about your organization, try using quantitative instead of qualitative statements. For example, you can say that you found forever homes for over 10,000 dogs and cats—but when you say you’re the best at rescuing dogs and cats… people get suspicious.

Give donors facts that they can believe, but let outside voices tout your achievements. Third-party testimonials, trustmakers, or statistics can all build credibility so donors feel good about giving you their money.

Plus… you don’t end up sounding like a braggy know-it-all.

Tactics vs. essentials

While there are many tactics you can use to get a donor’s attention (like compelling photography, cool videos, or cutting-edge technology)—these four items are the essentials you must have in place to increase desire.

Raising donors isn’t about having the best technology, the coolest website, or the newest tactics.

Raising donors is about building trust.

If donors don’t understand, they cannot trust. So invest your time and resources into communicating your value.

When donors understand your value, they will want to invest and become a part of the story you are telling.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Product + Content Marketing at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2024 Stephen Boudreau.