Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Would You Pray for a 98-Year-Old Nun? How to Make Emotional Connections With Donors

Sr. Johnilda spent her life raising children in orphanages. Now 98, she keeps in touch with some of these children who are now adults. Some of them still call her “Mom.”

Wouldn’t you want to help Sr. Johnilda spend her final years in dignity and basic comfort? 

Recently, Giving Focus worked with the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ on a direct mail appeal asking for prayers and financial gifts to maintain the dignity and basic comfort of sisters in retirement. Before writing the appeal, we sat down with 30 retired nuns and listened to their stories. For two hours, the sisters told us stories of how they gave their entire lives to help other people. We then shared these stories in the solicitation letter so that potential donors could get to know and connect with the women that they were being asked to pray for and make gifts to.

When writing a solicitation letter, tell your readers a story about someone real who will benefit from their donations. This will create an emotional connection between your organization and your donor, making your donor more likely to give.

Solicitation 1 

“Please consider making a gift to our organization because we offer the best programs and services in the area.”

Solicitation 2 

“Last week, Susie went to bed on a full stomach for the first time in weeks because of a gift from someone like you. Please consider making a gift to our organization so that another little child like Susie doesn’t have to go to bed hungry.” 

Feel the difference?

The emotional connection offered in the second solicitation makes readers aware that there’s a need for their support. “Awareness of need is the first prerequisite for philanthropy,” state RenĂ© Bekkers and Pamala Wiepking in their article identifying the mechanisms that drive people to give to charity (Bekkers & Wiepking, 2011). The article explains how awareness of need is an emotional response that’s basically beyond the control of donors. Awareness of need is experienced before the donor even begins to consider the pros and cons of actually making the gift. 

Studies also show that knowing a beneficiary motivates people to make charitable contributions (Polonsky, Shelley, & Voola, 2002; Radley & Kennedy, 1995). 

How can you make potential donors get to know your beneficiaries? Tell real stories. 

Telling stories about real people who directly benefit from charitable gifts makes donors understand why their financial support is needed. Interview your beneficiaries, listen to them, and share their stories in your solicitation letters. Becoming familiar with a charity’s beneficiary – not the programs or services offered – increases a potential donor’s perception of need, which in turn increases the likelihood that he or she will give.


Bekkers, RenĂ©, and Pamala Wiepking. “A Literature Review of Empirical Studies of Philanthropy: Eight Mechanisms That Drive Charitable Giving.” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 40.5 (2011): 924-973. 

Polonsky, Michael Jay, Laura Shelley, and Ranjit Voola. “An examination of helping behavior—Some evidence from Australia.” Journal of Nonprofit and Public Sector Marketing 10.2 (2002): 67-82. 

Radley, Alan, and Marie Kennedy. “Charitable giving by individuals: A study of attitudes and practice.” Human Relations 48 (1995): 685-709.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What Are Your Donors Saying About You?

What are people saying about your organization? How are your donors taking about you? If you don’t know the answers to these crucial questions, here’s how to find out: hold a focus group.

Why hold a focus group?

Because as a fundraisers you have got to know your product inside and out. And in today’s donor-centric fundraising culture, this includes knowing what people really think about you.

What is a focus group?

“A focus group is a small group of people whose opinions about something are studied to learn the opinions that can be expected from a larger group.” – Merriam-Webster

In September, Giving Focus held a series of focus groups at Pines Village Retirement Communities in Valparaiso, IN. Opinions were collected from Pines Village residents, vendors, friends, donors, family, and staff members in order to guide the organization’s future marketing and donor communication efforts.

The results?
  • knowing the words and phrases the community uses to describe the organization
  • knowing what makes the organization unique, setting it apart from the other organizations in the community that provide similar services
  • knowing what inspires people to give to the organization
  • knowing in advance the kinds of questions potential donors will ask

Giving Focus will use this information to shape the internal case statement for supporting Pines Village. (For more information on internal case statements, visit fundraising communications expert Tom Ahern’s website at www.aherncomm.com). Then, Giving Focus will train the Pines Village staff and board on the internal case statement. These trainings will enable the staff and board to talk about their organization in a clear and compelling way that relates to and resonates with donors and supporters. 

What kinds of questions should you ask in a focus group?

Questions should promote an in-depth exploration of participants’ thoughts and feelings. Our questions asked participants what they thought were the biggest strengths and challenges of the organization. We asked what specific words they used when describing the organization. We asked them what they would want know before making a donation to the organization, and what reasons they’d offer to inspire a potential donor to give.

For more information about how we can help you understand what your donors really think about you, contact Andrea today. And be sure to stay tuned for our next blog post – it will tell you all about how to hold a successful focus group.