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The 3-Word Formula Guaranteed to Raise Money

December 14th, 2015 Posted in Fundraising

I consider these three words the holy trinity of fundraising success.

They are simple.

They are easy to remember.

They really work.

Plus, if you wrap them up with some emotional color, you’ve got an offer that can’t be refused.

Let’s take a look.

Did you know that “you” is one of the five most powerful words in the English language?

Make philanthropy about your donor’s experience. Use “you” rather than “I” or “our” or “we” (unless it’s “we, together”). Cross out all the ego-centric stuff in your copy and rewrite.

As veteran communicator Tom Ahern says, “you is the glue.”

“You” grabs your donor’s attention.

“You” is “sticky.”

“You” helps to “tip” your donor toward seeing your request in a positive light.

“You” makes the story you tell about your donor.

Make fulfilling your organization’s mission about your donor’s actions. Make the values your organization enacts about your donor’s caring, generosity and good character.

Use “you” to make your donor the hero.

Show your donor how to be the very best version of themselves.

  • “You can do this.”
  • “You did this.”
  • “Your commitment will make this happen.”
  • “You are magic … powerful … extraordinary … unselfish … honorable … wise … far-seeing …”

Instead of “We cure cancer,” “Our organization cures cancer” or “They cure cancer,” substitute “we,” “our” and “they” with “you” and “your.”

Speak to your donor personally.

Be flattering.

Assume his or her best qualities.

Allow your donor to rise to the occasion.

I thought my mom was crazy when she said, “do this because I said so,” to me. Who knew there was method to her madness?

Guess what? Neuroscience studies show this magic word can make any statement more persuasive.

One of the most interesting studies, reported by Harvard Magazine, revealed that as a trigger for acquiescence, the word “because” increased the success rate by more than 30 percent.

I found this amazing when I learned it, and I’ve used it ever since.

It turns out that “because” is one of the persuasion principles that help explain the psychology of why people say “yes” without thinking. The human brain is wired to react when it hears “because.”

It is a magical word—an automatic trigger for compliance.

Sure, you can get a “yes” without using this little tip. You can get people to think and consider your appeal and still make a contribution. But if you can boost your chance by 30 percent, wouldn’t that be a very smart thing to do?

Here are some examples:

  • Instead of “Today I’m sharing Amelia’s story with you,” say, “Today I’m sharing Amelia’s story with you because she needs your help.”
  • Instead of “Yes, I want to give,” say, “Yes, I want to give because children need me.”
  • Instead of “Please consider a gift of $500,” say, “Please consider a gift of $500 because children need your help.”
  • Instead of “Provide a meal to a starving child,” say “Provide a meal because Miguel is starving.”

You can do this to almost any sentence.

It almost seems ridiculous, yet the research reveals that the way people respond is often somewhat mindless, based more upon the familiar framework within which a request is made than on the content.

Using the word “because” triggers that familiarity framework. It gives folks an explicitly expressed reason to do something, rather than an implied reason. This sets the stage that kicks in the psychology of unconscious social inference. The difference is subtle, but the impact is pronounced.

There is a magical power behind the word “thanks.” Simply put, it makes folks like you.

It’s considered good manners, and makes you look like a good and giving person.

It also puts people in a receptive mood.

Penelope Burk’s groundbreaking research on donor retention found that the three principle things donors want from charities all have to do with the thank you. They want it prompt, personal and reflective of the impact of their giving. The thank-you process will be the single biggest indicator of your donor’s likelihood to give again.

But you don’t just save the word “thanks” for your acknowledgement letters.

When you thank donors in your appeal letters for their past giving, it also reminds them they already made a decision to give to you. This triggers one of Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion—commitment and consistency. We tend to repeat decisions we’ve already made because doing so is congruent with our self-image.

When you thank prospects in your appeal letters for being caring people, it plays into the vision of the person they would like to see when they look into the mirror. It flatters them and plays to their egos.

“You,” “because” and “thanks.”

The holy trinity of fundraising writing!

This is your framework for success. Now let’s fill it in with …

And by the way, you add color with your words, too. No magic markers required.

Let’s look at an example I’m borrowing from Sean D’Souza of who writes about “How To Correctly Use Emotion To Create Drama.” Sean’s blog is not about fundraising per se, but his tagline is “Why Customers Buy (and Why They Don’t).”

Want your donors to “buy” what you’re selling? Then read on.

Take a look at the following sentences.

  • She saw the bowl of soup.
  • She saw the bowl of soup and her heart sank.
  • She saw the bowl of soup and it flooded her with happy childhood memories.
  • She saw the bowl of soup and was overcome with how hungry she felt.
  • She saw the bowl of soup, but a feeling of hesitancy crept into her being.
  • She saw the bowl of soup and immediately felt overwhelmed.

What’s the difference between the first sentence and those that follow?

If you’re telling a story, the “things”—like the bowl of soup—aren’t what your reader’s brain is searching for. The reader’s brain is searching for the expression on your protagonist’s face—and what that expression means. What’s her mood? What difficulties is she encountering? Is her situation causing her to feel anger? Despair? Nostalgia? Frustration? Exhaustion? Hopelessness? Depression?

Even if you have a great photo of a woman with a bowl of soup, your prospective donor needs to know what this signifies. Why is it important?

You add the emotional meaning through your words. They may be words in the photo caption. Or words that precede or follow your main statement.

Emotion sets the scene. Emotion leads the reader through the rest of the letter or article. Emotion helps the reader empathize with the situation. Because many people can eat soup.

But each reader will feel totally differently about the soup, depending upon how you color the situation.

Just like the holy trinity of “you,” “because” and “thanks,” emotional words add the color and spice that cause what is read and said to “stick.”

Use your key words and colors generously—and reap the generous rewards.

NonProfit PRO magazine

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