How you make the donor 'ask' might bring larger donations

We forget or take for granted the power of our words – which results in many consequences – but do the words we choose impact on our fundraising goals? It seems the answer is YES.

Remember when our mothers stopped us mid request or plea with “what’s the magic word” (or was that just my mother? Well it turns out there might be some ‘magic’ words that will help you achieve larger donations or pledges when you are making your ask.

So what  do we need to ‘say’ to unlocks these fund-raising opportunities. It seems that

  • first, you must appeal to your donor’s competitive spirit and
  • secondly, you must flatter some of their key qualities as a donor.

Asking for donations – how you ‘ask’ might bring results

One word of caution though, these results have been found effective when appealing to women donors (who make up 2/3 of all donors) not men donors. But there is some hope and guidance on how to adopt a similar set of key qualities, and thus words, to use when you appeal to male donors.

Sounds simple but there is some art to the appeal and some research to support the claims.

These results reinforce the importance of appealing to emotions in our fundraising. If the power of our words and the stories we tell are used to appeal to emotions such as those identified below.Donations how to ask for them- non profits

Comparison brings results when asking for donations

It’s seems that our innate competitive spirit spills over into our willingness to donate. In a study presented by Amy Sample Ward showcases she found that using  direct comparison to another donor’s pledge (in this case via telephone donor calls) resulted in an increased pledge – so how does this go?

“Thanks for your donation, the women before you pledged $XX for this cause, what would you like to donate”

Amy calls this

‘peer pressure for good’

She also likens this to our competitive spirit which emerges when we support our friends to achieve a challenging goal – such as walkathons, ice bucket challenges or shaves or any other challenge which involves fund-raising.

Choosing to flatter when asking for donations

It appears that another key to enhancing your donations might be flattering your donors by appealing to the perceived better qualities.  Some may shy away from a choice of adjectives that are aimed at ‘flattery’ but don’t dismiss it until you see the impact of your choice of words on the donation expectations.

While this might seem somewhat manipulative it does reinforce the qualities you are want to reinforce in donors.

Jen Shang in her interview with Tony Martingnetti (podcast link) described her research to uncover the power of 5 key moral characteristics that it is worth weaving into your ‘thank you’ response to donors.

Those words

  • Kind
  • Caring
  • Compassionate
  • Helpful
  • Friendly

These are seen as ‘moral’ adjectives which encourage donors. So if they encourage greater donations – how so, or to what extend, Ms Sheng’s study suggests an increase in donation of on average 10%.

Where to from here

“When you ask, expect the answer.”.

Lailah Gifty Akita

So let’s start asking for donations in new and targeted ways from our donors.

I’d love to read some of your stories about how you approach donors and the successes you’ve had, please feel free to leave a comment.

About the author – Helen Attrill, MBA

Hi, Just a bit about myself – I have over 26 years as a leader in the aged care and not for profit sector and have led the successful implementation of significant sector, profession and organisational change.

If you’re struggling with some aspect of change management or frustrated with your progress then maybe I can help please feel free to contact me by emailing me at

To find out more about my work visit Meet Helen page.