By Sarah B Lange under Fundraising, Individual Donors on May 20, 2021

Did you know that in 2019, individual donors contributed $352.87 BILLION to US nonprofits!

Believe it or not, giving increased 10.6% last year – during a pandemic!

How are things going with your individual donor program these days?

Would you like a bigger slice of that juicy, billion-dollar?

I’m here to help you do just that!

When it comes to donor appeals, you can make the best pitch ever. You can make a reasonable ask. You can follow every rule out there, but at the end of the day, you can’t make your donor (prospective donor) say YES.

However, you can help move them in that direction by better understanding what influences your donor’s decision-making! Here are two key ways you can help your donors say YES!


1. Most of the ways we use money are transactional. However, a charitable contribution is not the same as the purchase of an item of clothing – there’s an emotional component to it that we ignore at our own peril. Donors need information in order to feel confident about their decision to contribute – yet often, we fail to provide the very information they need, which means they either don’t donate, or donate at a level lower than the one of which they’re capable of giving.

If we want our donors to be generous, we need to help them understand what their money is “buying.” While there isn’t a tangible exchange, we still need to help them understand the return on their investment. We need to connect the dots between the donation and the impact it will create.

This helps our donors feel like they are making a more informed decision, which helps boost their giving confidence. They feel more confident providing 10 meals for a family than they would giving you $50 to “fight hunger.” Providing a single Mom and her kids with a week of shelter feels better than “preventing homelessness.” As counterintuitive as it might sound, we need to create a “purchasing” situation, because that’s something most of us do every day.


2. Another way to help your donors say YES is to take advantage of the following mental shortcuts that all of us use:

a. Gathering social information: When we’re not sure what to do, we look to others for cues. Donors are usually interested in who else is giving to your organization, which is why those pesky donor lists are so important! Beyond that, SIXTY-THREE percent of people donate to organizations their family and friends recommend. Are you encouraging your existing donors to like and share your social media posts with their families and friends? If not… start now! Use that tendency to seek out social proof to your advantage!

b. Gathering evidence: before we make a purchase, we usually want some sort of evidence to validate our buying decision. More times than not, this “evidence” is rooted in recent experience. That means if a local nonprofit’s been called out for questionable behavior in recent months, it could influence their decision to give to you! If this is the situation, get out ahead of it by reaffirming your values and adopting (re-adopting) the AFP’s Donor Bill of Rights. Also, it’s helpful to invite people to ask questions if they have them. This will help demonstrate your commitment to ethics and transparency.

The other thing to note is that we all need differing amounts of time to make decisions. Knowing which type your donor is will help you convince and reassure them once you’ve made the ask.

(Wondering how to identify them? Ask them to pick a speed on a Likert Scale in your next donor survey, then save that information to your donor database!)

Some people – like me – make decisions quickly (admittedly, sometimes I make them too quickly and end up with buyer’s remorse!). People like me are called Automatic Decision Makers and make our decisions based largely on first impressions. People like me respond to a powerful and well-articulated argument as to why we should support a cause. We tend to be quick to respond to requests.

Other people need to experiment with different kinds of decisions. They may already feel like they know what the right decision is, but will keep looking for information to confirm it. These Experimental Decision Makers need to hear the same idea in multiple ways, and may need to be reassured – this usually happens through the process of asking questions, and evaluating the answers you give them.

Other people need time to mull over their options before making a decision. These Patient Decision Makers do not make purchasing decisions on the spot – rather, they are more likely to say they need time. If you run into this type of donor, ask them how much time they need, and what additional information you can provide to help them make an informed decision.

Finally, there is that person who will forever question their decision, and whether it was the right one. The Indecisive Decision Maker need a considerable amount of attention and reassurance and may or may not be worth the investment. At the same time, if you can meet their needs, then you can meet the needs of any donors!

Use these tips to leverage more from your donors this spring, through your appeal (you’re sending one out, right?).

And if you’ve got questions, I’m here to answer them!


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