emotional reason to donate

People don’t give because it’s the end of the year. They give because you provide them with an emotional reason to donate. 

Year-end messaging may merely predispose folks to give at this time.

And I say may because:

The fact it’s the end of the calendar year is merely a timing issue that comes into play once a donor has decided, based on emotion, to give to your organization.

Fundraiser’s Quick Guide: Year-End Emotional Email Appeals

Knowing most donors aren’t primarily motivated to give by the fact they may be able to deduct their gift, what might this mean for your year-end email strategy?

It turns out there are three types of emails you can send. 

  • Organization-centric message
  • Process-centric message
  • Donor-centric, emotional message

Which type are you sending?

Take a look at your planned year-end appeals. (Or look at what you did last year). See if any of them begin with headlines, sub-headers or first lines that look like these:

Organization-centric message

  • “It’s the end of the year, and time once again for our annual campaign.” 
  • “Help us meet our campaign deadline.”
  • “We’re one-third of the way there!”
  • “Help put our campaign over the top!”

Donors aren’t much motivated by your needs and your processes. The fact that your campaign is about to end is not their problem. Such organization-centric messages are not emotionally resonant for your donor.

Process-centric message

  • “Don’t wait. Make your gift before December 31st.”
  • “Last chance to make your tax-deductible gift!”
  • “Double your money before the end of this month!”

The fact the end of the year is coming is not your donor’s concern (unless they itemize). They may wish to leverage their giving (via a challenge grant), but this is not the primary reason they’ll give. Timing factors, as well as leveraging factors, come into play only once the donor has made a decision to give because you gave them an emotional reason to donate. They speak to now and how much, but not to whether, or not.

You need an emotional reason to donate to inspire gifts from the heart.

But… Wait! Deadline Year-End Messaging Has Worked for Us.

Are you sure?

I’m not suggesting all these email subject lines will be epic fails.

Donors who already give to you may renew. But…

  • New donors are unlikely to be motivated. 
  • Current donors are unlikely to give more. 
  • Generally, no one will share the message with a friend. 

Because… it’s just not a compelling, rewarding, or emotional reason to donate.  

Timing-based messages yield transactional gifts.

Sure, they’re donations.

You can report back to your board you received them.

You can tell your boss how many people donated compared to last year – and it may not even look all that bad. At least at first blush.

However… there’s something very wrong with this picture.

Ideally, you want more than status quo.

If you remain where you are, inevitably you’ll fall behind. 

What your “it works for us” experience does not reveal how much money you’re missing out on:

  • New prospective supporters you’re not inspiring to become donors.
  • Current donors you’re not inspiring to give more.
  • Current donors who are actually giving less.
  • Lapsed donors you’re not inspiring to renew.
  • Occasional donors you’re not inspiring to give consistently.

Better Year-End Messaging to Promote Giving

Throughout the rest of this article I’ll suggest more effective year-end messaging.

  • Messages that will ensure you don’t leave money on the table.
  • Messages that will resonate with new donors as well as ongoing supporters.
  • Messages that will viscerally remind folks why your cause is so critically important, and why donating now makes a whole lot of sense.
  • Messages that will propel donors to an emotional climax on the road to making an ongoing investment in your mission, vision and values.

And, if you still don’t believe me, you can test for yourself!

Remember this: 35% of people decide whether or not an email is worth their time based purely on the subject line. [BTW: It may be useful to note the average email open rate across industries is 20.81%. If your experience has been significantly below this benchmark it means you’re not doing a terrific job capturing attention with your headlines. Clearly, repeating last year’s message would be folly. It’s time for you to make a change. In fact, you may want to test out two changes by doing an A/B test that compares one message against another.]

Let’s look at some better ideas.

Connect to the Heart, not the Head

You have a multitude of arrows in your fundraising quiver.

Each arrow does a different job. Why use just a transactional one when you can also use an emotional one.  

Let me show you what I mean by describing three types of giving:

  1. Transactional
  2. Thoughtful
  3. Passionate; Transformational

Transactional gifts are ‘head’ gifts.  

Relatively little emotion, time or thought goes into the decision-making process. These gifts are generally motivated by any number of ‘business’ reasons. 

  • Oh, yeah, I’ll give now in case I decide to itemize this year.
  • Oh, yeah, Martin asked us to give in memory of his Mom, so we’ll give.
  • Oh, yeah, I was going to give $100 and forgot; now they’ve got a matching challenge so I’ll give $75 and they’ll end up with 50% more than I planned. 

These gifts assume the quality of paying a bill. 

They’re chores; it feels good to check them off your list. It doesn’t feel emotionally good, however. People know they’re trying to get away with the least they can give and still have it be considered ‘acceptable.’ 

This is different than giving what would make them feel heroic.

Transactional givers often do the bare minimum.

And it’s generally because you did the bare minimum, both in terms of cultivation and stewardship leading up to the gift and solicitation messaging.

Transactional gifts are not bad. These givers are still donors. 

But they could do better.  

You could do better.

And… it’s your fault because you’re not using your best tools (arrows) to evoke their best impulses and help them become the best versions of themselves.

Thoughtful gifts combine ‘head’ and ‘heart.’ 

Adding in some emotional, donor-centric year-end messaging can get donors unstuck from making habitual, transactional gifts. 

The best way to get donors to move beyond habitual is if you put some thought into the equation and prevent bad habits from solidifying. Only then will your donor be inspired to match your thoughtfulness.

Are you taking the time to be thoughtful?

Rather than focusing on time of year or tax deductibility, focus on something that triggers your donor’s empathy. Add some emotional prompts in your e-appeal header that cause the donor to visualize what will happen if they give/don’t give. 

Donor-centric message

  • “Get homeless off the street before winter cold sets in” [Donor visualizes people freezing – unless they give.]
  • “Give today to provide 250 warm holiday meals” [Donor visualizes people alone and sad, without a holiday meal to share – unless they give.]
  • “Children Fleeing War Need Your Help Now” [Donor visualizes children trapped in a war zone, maybe dead – unless they give.]
  • “Your gift NOW means we help 10 more kids next year.” [Donor visualizes 10 sad kids – unless they give.]

Passionate gifts come largely from the heart.

Passion is a strong, barely controllable emotion. If you can invoke passion, you’ll likely get a meaningful gift.

It helps to incorporate messaging you know floats your donors’ boats.

You’ll find most passionate gifts come from major donor prospects you’ve built a relationship with and have been cultivating over time.

Even so, the right message goes a long way in bringing the gift to fruition.

Have you ever asked your donor which of your programs is most important to them? Have you asked them anything about their background to endeavor to learn what informs their values? Do you know what would make them feel like an action hero? You’ve got to take proactive steps to show donors you know them

Once you know what will make your donor feel heroic, endeavor to get them to visualize taking such an action when they read your email subject line.

Donor-centric, action hero message

  • Prevent Lake Louise’s water from becoming undrinkable.”
  • “Can you help Mary find a place to sleep?”
  • “How many children can you save today?”
  • “48 hours to save the bees.”
  • “Ready to change the future for 100 children?”

Note that action verbs work wonders in helping donors see themselves in the role of actor, helper, savior, rescuer and hero.

PRO TIP: Use the Coshedule Email Subject Line Analyzer to measure emotional impact and also optimize for length, both important aspects of email subject lines that convert.

Continue Emotionally Connecting – All Year Long

Plan ahead to keep donors inspired, engaged and loyal.

Never forget that for donors, it’s not about the money. It’s about the impact they can create.

Hopefully your appeal messaging got inside your donors’ heads and hearts by telling a story in which they could become the hero who gave the story a happy ending.

Now it’s incumbent on you to remind them of their heroism by demonstrating their impact.

If you treat the gift merely as a ‘one-and-done’ transaction, that’s all it will ever be. The gift is not the end of the road. In fact, it’s the beginning!

Generally, you must begin as soon as the first gift is received. 

You need a second gift strategy. Go beyond an electronically-generated form receipt. This will feel transactional to the donor. You should be aiming for something more powerful and lasting. Show thoughtfulness right away by adding something personal…. meaningful… emotional… and, dare I say it, transformational. It’s okay to make donors feel like heroes

The bare minimum you must do is send a prompt, warm, personal thank you that reassures your donor you received the gift, you truly appreciate it, and it will be put to use immediately in the manner they intended. This instills trust, which is the foundation of any lasting relationship.

Next get to work on building a relationship. 

Show donors you value them for more than their money. Develop a list of creative cultivation touchpoints to give gifts to your donors throughout the course of the year

There are lots of ways to delight your donors:

  • One of my favorites is to simply send follow-up emails with photos and updates of how the donor’s gift was used
  • Also figure out ways to engage donors by asking for feedback via email, social media or even donor surveys
  • And include them as members of your community and family by inviting them to events and volunteer activities.

Learn more about building donor loyalty and an emotional reason to donate with this downloadable e-Book: Your Donor Love & Loyalty Plan.

donor love and loyalty

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.