It takes up to four times more time and money to find a new donor than it does to keep an existing donor. We all know that donor retention is a year-long process, right? The good news is December can be the “cherry on top” of a yearlong stewardship or donor retention program if you’ve paid attention to your communication.

The wrong way to keep your donors giving:

1. Use language that is all about you. For example: Please help. Give Today. Attend our event.

Those word choices don’t inspire or cause people to want to give you their money or their time. Utilitarian language quickly becomes part of the loud fundraising noise that barrages your donors, especially at year-end.

The right ways to inspire your donors to stick around:

  1. Talk about the impact their gifts helped you make.
  2. Use communication to cause people to feel something.
  3. Don’t wait until year-end to work on donor retention.

Our brains are wired so that we must feel something before we can make a decision. Cause me to feel happy, sad, proud, angry, or worried; the emotion doesn’t matter. Just don’t waste your words with a report that is dry and uninspiring.

Adding a few more words and thoughtful descriptive phrases to your communication will inspire the response you want: pride about previous donations and an interest in giving more.

Here’s an Example of Utilitarian vs. Inspiring Communication:

A Report: Utilitarian Language

Mrs. Lee is one of our subscribers to our theater series. She’s been a part of our theater family for many years.

Mrs. Lee loves the performing arts and rarely misses one of our shows. She often brings guests with her and she always makes sure we know that she is spreading the word about our quality performances to others. We love Mrs. Lee as much as she loves our theater.

A Story: Inspiring Language

At the tender age of 9, wide-eyed Amanda saw her first live theater production: a three- hour long performance of Camelot. Now at 79, Mrs. Amanda Lee loves to remind me she can still recall the thrilling moment when the orchestra music began, and she was swept away with a love for live theater.

It’s not surprising that Mrs. Lee is one of our most passionate patrons. Even when money was tight, she proudly brought her son and daughter, dressed in their best outfits, to the People’s Theater. These days, she delights in opening the eyes of her grandchildren to the magic of live theater.

Just as your grandparents or parents are aging, Mrs. Lee is becoming more frail each year. However, this hasn’t changed her love of live theater. She recently said the joy she gets from our performances is better than any rehab or medication, and she proudly told me that our theater is in her will.

Amanda Lee knows it takes more than ticket sales to keep our theater financially healthy.

As I talk about her, Mrs. Lee reminds me and our staff that we are much more than a theater company. For Amanda Lee and her family, we are a place where memories are made, dreams are woven, and passion is felt. Frankly, we love Mrs. Lee as much as she loves our theater.

Cutting Through the Clutter of EOY Appeals

When an inspiring story is shared in your newsletter, on your website, on your social media, or in person, you help your supporters remember how their contributions make a difference.

Sharing real examples that paint a clear, relatable picture is the right way to ensure that your donors feel connected to your organization. You can’t share too many inspiring stories, but you can share too many uninspiring reports.

Using inspiring examples of your impact is what reminds a supporter why he or she made a gift in the first place. To cut through the clutter of year-end appeals, use carefully chosen words to inspire donors to give again.

A list of emotionally connecting words and a template for crafting an inspiring story can be found in the Boring2Brilliant eBook on my website.




Lori L. Jacobwith is a nationally-recognized master storyteller and fundraising culture change expert who was named one of America’s Top 25 Fundraising Experts. She has delivered coaching and training sessions that have helped nonprofit organizations raise $300 million dollars from individual donors. Her proven strategies & tools teach staff and board members to share their stories powerfully and effectively to cause donors to give more. Lori holds a BA in Political Science and Speech Communications from the University of Minnesota, has additional training from Indiana University’s Fund Raising School and is a longtime member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

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