According to a 2011 study of 875 charitable organizations conducted by the Nonprofit Research Collective, nonprofits continue to face significant economic challenges:

  • 65 percent reported an increase in demand for services.
  • 28 percent reported declining philanthropic support; 31 percent reported flat philanthropic support.
  • 46 percent reported a decline in support from non-philanthropic sources.
  • 54 percent of organizations receiving government funding reported declines in contributions.

The message from the study is clear: nonprofits today must figure out how to do even more with less.  Here are some quick tips you can use today to connect with your donors and motivate them to contribute to your cause.


First, know your audience.  This is Copywriting 101, but it is so important that I wanted to reinforce this point.  If you haven’t already, perform a basic analysis of your existing donors.  Are they primarily men or women?  Are they concentrated in any specific areas of the country?  What age groups do they belong to?  Knowing the answers to these questions will not only help you target where you fundraise, but also influence both the format and the tone of your fundraising materials.

Second, be specific.  People donate because they believe their contribution will make a difference.  Be as specific as possible in tying the action to the result – or the donation to the benefit.  For example, Meals on Wheels of America does this very effectively in their donations page copy :

  • Helps provide meals for 100 seniors: $700
  • Helps provide meals for 50 seniors: $350
  • Helps provide meals for 20 seniors: $140
  • Helps provide meals for 10 seniors: $70
  • Helps provide meals for 5 seniors: $35

By tying a number of seniors helped to a donation amount, Meals on Wheels helps donors to better understand the impact their contribution will make to the lives of real people.

Finally, don’t get so lost in crafting compelling copy that you neglect your call to action.  Always ask your readers to do something specific and immediate and if possible, ask them in multiple ways and places.

Imagery and Video

There’s an old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words”, and in our information-saturated society that rings truer than ever.  For example, Meals on Wheels of America uses close-cropped images of seniors throughout their web site to demonstrate “the face of hunger”.  These haunting images connect with donors in a way that copy alone could not.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a video worth?  The answer may vary, but the impact of combining copy, images, and sound guarantees that your message will be amplified far beyond what was possible only a few short years ago.  The relative ease and low cost of producing video, combined with the exploding popularity of social media and video-sharing sites such as YouTube, make video an important part of your fundraising efforts.

Putting it all together

As I mentioned in my volunteer recruitment article, it’s easy to overlook print in the age of Web sites, videos, and social media.  However, colorful brochures, flyers, and other printed materials should still be considered an important component of your overall fundraising outreach efforts.

Knowing your audience will help with color choices for your printed materials.  For example, if you are appealing to older donors, you should know that aging eyes perceive colors differently and the contrast between different colors becomes less noticeable.  Blues, purples and greens may look alike when used together, while shades of yellows, or anges and reds are much easier to distinguish.

Copy, imagery, video, and the format of your fundraising materials all play an important role in connecting with your donor base.  Take the time to review your current efforts and test out some of these tips, and let me know how it goes!

Next in the series: Getting the word out – tips for increasing awareness on a budget

About The Author

Cheryle Ross is a Marketing Programs Manager for Xerox Corporation and manages marketing efforts for Xerox Direct and Xerox FreeColorPrinters, both of which serve the small business and non-profit sectors.  Prior to joining Xerox, Cheryle worked in a similar capacity for a wide range of both B2B and B2C organizations including WebTrends, Lucy Activewear, and InFocus Corporation.  When she’s not hard at work creating campaigns for Xerox, Cheryle enjoys travelling, running, and enjoying life in the Pacific Northwest.