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.

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