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How to ask for donations: 6 steps to “yes”

A great ask always includes a few key ingredients. Get a “yes” to your donation request with these tips.

Rachel Mills
October 17, 2022
July 17, 2020
Nerd Mr Butter

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Today, the average person faces a fundraising ask everywhere they turn, whether scrolling through social media or shopping at the grocery store. In a sea of requests, you need an appeal that mobilizes your potential donors — without being pushy or fading into the background.

Use these six tips to write better fundraising letters, create an engaging fundraising script, or develop your campaign marketing strategy.

How to ask for a donation in 6 steps

Whether you’re raising a small amount of money, requesting items, or trying to win a major gift, how you ask is often more important than what you’re asking for. Getting a “yes” to your donation request starts with these techniques.

1. Get to know your audience

Who are you hoping will donate to your campaign? The answer shouldn’t be “everyone.”

In an ideal world, every individual, nonprofit organization, and company would fall in love with your cause. But in reality, you’ll focus on a core group of current and potential supporters, such as friends and family members, local business owners, churchgoers, or college students.

Writing content, choosing a communication channel, or selecting images with “everyone” in mind will result in a generic message and fundraising ideas that miss the mark. Identify who your target audience is as early as possible, and then conduct research.

Answer questions like:

  • Which social media channels do they visit most?
  • What language do they use when they’re sharing something?
  • Are there any major obstacles to donating for this group?

A little research will clue you into the right words, medium, and tone for your audience.

2. Communicate a clear fundraising goal

It’s much easier to dismiss a vague request for support (“We’re accepting donations for our soccer team”) than a detailed request for help (“We need $500 by August 31 to buy new jerseys for our soccer team”). It’s essential to explain the reason you’re asking.

Your goal should be broken down into three distinct parts:

  1. The specific amount of money, items, or time you need to accomplish your mission
  2. How you’re going to use the donations you receive
  3. The positive impact of each donation

The more detailed you are, the more confident donors will be that they can help you solve the problem. For example:

“Last year, you helped people like Isabelle feed her family of four when she lost her job. This year, you can provide more meals to your neighbors in need. Each $1 donation lets Greentown Pantry distribute 10 meals. Let’s help them feed 100,000 people this year by raising $10,000.”

On a fundraising platform like Givebutter, you can set a flexible goal and celebrate progress alongside your donors.

3. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point

People naturally skim through posts, emails, and videos — even if they’re interested in the information.

To make sure your message gets read, keep it brief and focus the attention on your request.

Launching a shoe drive via email and social media? Include an image of shoes and write the address of the drop-off point in bold or large text. Asking for an online donation of $100 for your choir group? Add a colorful Donate Now button to your school website. No matter how you deliver the message, use short, simple language that’s easy for both newcomers and longtime supporters to understand.

If a supporter is ready to contribute, taking action should be fast and stress-free. Before you launch a campaign, see how many clicks it takes to donate, buy tickets, or learn more. If it takes more than two steps, you may want to make it easier to find.

4. Use attention-grabbing words

Some words and phrases are simply more persuasive than others, and that’s good news when you’re planning your fundraising ask. The right language can create urgency, spark curiosity, and motivate idle supporters to take action. You may have just eight seconds to capture a potential donor’s interest before they move onto something else.

Convince people to slow down and engage with your donation request by sprinkling in terms like these:

  • Now: “Now” signals an exciting and rare opportunity. People love the promise of immediate gratification (“You can save orangutans right now”) and instant change. It’s even more powerful when you pair it with a limited-time campaign, like a 24-hour fundraiser.
  • Because: If people don’t understand what their support will accomplish, they’ll move on. Follow up the word “because” with the most compelling reason you’re asking for a donation.
  • Imagine: Adding the word “imagine” into your appeal helps your supporters instantly step into someone else’s shoes. Use it to paint a vivid picture of what will happen if your fundraising goal is or isn’t met.
  • Join: You aren’t just asking for money or items. You’re inviting supporters to be an active participant in your organization’s mission or fundraising effort. Ask them to “join” your cause and accomplish something as a group. This is especially important for crowdfunding campaigns.

5. Personalize your ask

There’s one more word that will power up — and personalize — your message: “you.”

A cost-free way to boost donations is to use the word “you” and speak directly to your potential donors.

Let’s see this in action. Which of the following messages would motivate you to keep reading?

  • “Dear Sir or Madam: Our team is working tirelessly to solve the problem of hunger in America. We need an average of $50 per donor to serve our beneficiaries each year. Will you help us?”
  • “Samantha, you’re the solution to the problem of hunger in America. Your donation of $50 would feed 100 people for the next year. Will you help us?”

The first message is well-meaning but impersonal. It puts the spotlight on the group asking for help rather than the person they’re asking, making the donor feel invisible.

Personalize requests by using your donors’ names. If you don’t have access to names, don’t worry. Instead, think of a relevant nickname for your donor base. For instance, the Red Cross calls its supporters “Champions.”

Another way to add a personal touch? Create individual donation pages for each member of your team to customize.

6. Get the timing right

Fundraising software is helpful for many reasons, but it really shines when you need to make decisions about timing. What day should you start your campaign? What time should you send invitations to your webinar or gala? When should you update attendees or donors?

With Givebutter, you can see exactly when your supporters are most active — making donations, sharing links, signing up for fundraising events, and more. For instance, imagine that most contributions come in on Fridays, but your major donors contribute on Sundays. You can shift your fundraising strategy and schedule automated emails (with two unique messages) on these days to keep donations flowing.

Ask and you shall receive

With requests coming from all directions, people go out of their way to avoid solicitations. But if you use the tips we’ve covered in this article, your campaign won’t be lumped with the rest.

Putting together the right donation ask begins with getting to know your audience and learning their language. Provoke emotion and action with a clear message, a defined goal, powerful words, and personalization.

Now that you know how to ask for donations, you’re one step closer to fundraising success.

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