Words that Move Donors to Give | npENGAGE

Words that Move Donors to Give

By on Dec 8, 2010


Words that evoke interpersonal involvement move donors to give, but according to a recent doctoral dissertation on fundraising language, the industry does a poor job at it.  Frank C. Dickerson, Ph.D. used corpus linguistics to review and measure fundraisers’ letters to donors.  He found that we write more to inform rather than involve and concluded that the former is ineffective. 

Twenty-three linguistic features rose to the surface of effective written solicitations.  Dickerson suggests that by using these features we would raise more money because we are connecting through interpersonal involvement.

Review the chart below to see how parts of Dickerson’s sample letter “Help Send Carley to Camp” are constructed.  The letter can be read in its entirety here.

Linguistic Feature Characteristics the Create Interpersonal Involvement Example
Private verb Expresses mental thoughts and feelings I felt my heart break;

I know you’ve helped

THAT-deletion Sounds conversational You could tell [that] her 10-year old…
Contractions Adds fluency to discourse I’ve never slept in a tent before
Present tense verbs Depicts immediate topics and actions Tears almost come…
1st person pronouns Marks ego involvement I could tell;

I know you’ve helped before

2nd person pronouns Shows interaction Would you be willing to help?
Amplifiers Magnification of verbal force For Carley’s mom $20 is very precious
Adverbs Reveals stance, qualities, feelings … truly unable…
Possibility models States possible reality Could you help us once more?
Final prepositions Reflects surface reduction … simply don’t know where it would come from

You can read Dickerson’s article here to see the entire list of linguistic features and see the full “Carley” letter as well as an example of a similar letter that is highly informational and therefore ineffective.

Katherine has over 30 years of experience in the fundraising industry as a consultant, development officer and advancement team manager. As a member of Blackbaud’s analytics consulting team for over a decade, she facilitates strategic, client-facing content for Blackbaud’s custom modeling, wealth screening, and prospect research solutions to enhance clients’ development efforts with data-driven strategies.  Before assuming this role, she served as the national director of gift planning at
the National Multiple Sclerosis Society home office. Katherine has raised over $200 million during her career. She is a past president of the Colorado Planned Giving Roundtable, a former lawyer and also served as an affiliation faculty member at Regis University where she taught development-related courses at the master’s level for more than 10 years. She is a frequent speaker at BBCON, NACGP, Apra, AFP and other industry conferences.

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