the 5 most important words in fundraising

Not in any particular order here are what I think are the 5 most important words in fundraising.

    1. You. Talk to and write to the donor specifically. Make it personal for them. If it’s not personal, it’s not powerful. Help them see how they have an opportunity or a chance to do something big. Oh, and please don’t communicate to “you and other donors like you.” Yikes, that’s a bad idea. You’re communicating 1 on 1. Always.

    2. Change. Donors usually give to change something. They want to change lives or change a situation or solve a problem. Building a building is only important if it is changing something big in the world (other than occupying an empty lot).

    3. Story. You don’t actually have to use the word “story” but you have to tell stories of real people in need. The more vivid the story the more likely donors are to respond.

    4. Unless. Maybe my favorite on the list because it’s powerful and tricky. You have to make sure donors understand what will happen if they don’t respond. You have to be sure they understand the ramifications of not acting. This one’s tricky because you can’t, can’t, can’t guilt your donors (or as Hoots would say, “don’t ‘should’ on them”).

    5. Feel. Donors have to feel the need or opportunity in their gut. Don’t make the tragic mistake of thinking that major donors aren’t emotional. Don’t get so consumed with making the statistical case that you forget to help them understand what it feels like to be hopeless, hungry, alone, abused, abandoned, etc. And you can hint at how good they’ll feel by helping.

That’s the 5 I have on this today. On a different day I might swap out and change one or two, but I’ll leave that to you. What have I missed?

Oh, and why didn’t I put “God” as number 1? A couple of reasons. The Oneicity Tribe is diverse to say the least, and while I’m a complete Jesus-person and make no effort to hide that on the blog, we allow room for everyone. So maybe you’d put God as your number 1. If you’re wondering why I didn’t, ask in the comments and I’ll give you my answer.

And I left off a big one because it would have been #6, and I couldn’t decide which of the 5 I’d leave out. I hope you come up with it because I want to discuss the concept with you!

So, what about you? Agree? Know the word(s) I missed? We’re in this together and I’d enjoy learning what you think.

Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: squidish)

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Steve Thomas

8 thoughts on “the 5 most important words in fundraising”

  1. Great to hear from you, Jeff.

    One way is telling the STORY of how YOU can CHANGE the world with your gift. Then you drive the narrative to the very concrete X of what $ will do. $=22 meals. $=7 people with safe places to sleep…

    That’s what comes to me in this moment. Anyone else?

  2. Thanks that helps. I think your phrasing is key “driv(ing) the narrative to the very concrete X of what $ will do.” To me that seems like the toughest hurdle in working with people. If/when they can answer that – “$7 changes this life – here’s how…” then we’ve moved into some great territory. Thanks for clarifying. Keep up the good work (and it is good work).

  3. Steve, you are a very clever guy, holding out that other word! I am 100% certain that other word is Thanks At least that’s what you have taught me. “Thank you” is a more than a word. It’s an attitude, and a mighty powerful one at that.

  4. @Al — You snuck in on me, I’m sorry I missed your comment. “Thanks” was the word, but you’re right, so often “thanks” is perfunctory…and not genuine. I’m thinking now that maybe we’ll be smarter to not think about saying “thanks” but think about acknowledging donors. That might challenge us to think outside of the “thanks” box.

    What do you think?

    Thanks for your thinking with me.

  5. Hi Steve

    Interesting list and some great points.

    I’m very interested in why you rule out ‘…and others like you’. I wouldn’t personally do so – I think there’s horses for courses.

    Here in the UK, organisations such as the National Trust and RSPB, both hugely successful non-profits, gain support by making people feel part of a movement. Donor, like others, like to feel their decision to donate is right, and reinforcing that by letting them know they are part of something bigger – that more people care about – might strengthen their conviction and improve the chances of repeat donations.

    Best wishes


  6. @Duncan — Great to hear from smart people from the other side of the pond! Love the UK perspective. My thinking for “and other like you” is that I’m (Oneicity) messaging as specifically to a donor/prospective donor. My thought is that by broadening the message to be “you and others” it clearly shows that I’m addressing others and it allows potential donor to think: “I don’t have to, because there are others who will do it.”

    BUT you are 100% correct that people do want to be part of a movement or something larger than themselves. I’ve been thinking a LOT about how “causes” are different than much of the mainstream fundraising/development efforts in the US. So…I’m not sure if I’m waffling but I agree. In the context I was thinking about, I stand with my thought, while agreeing that we do like to be part of a larger movement (cause).

    Maybe it’s down to specific calls-to-action that should be specific to “you” and other messaging can indicate a part of a larger whole. I can live with that.

    What do you think?

    Thanks for thinking with me and stopping by.


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