How to Effectively Communicate With Donors When Fundraising Online

Nels Challinor
Nels Challinor

Content Writer

Everyone knows that effective communication with donors is essential to successful online fundraising. But you may be left wondering what effective communication on the internet looks like. Between website copy, social media, emails, and more, there are so many avenues for reaching out to donors. How can you make sure that your communication with donors is helping you bring in gifts?

Nathan Hill is the VP of Marketing at NextAfter, a fundraising consulting research lab and institute on a mission to unleash generosity. Nathan has trained hundreds of nonprofit professionals in communication, fundraising, websites, and emails for organizations both big and small. In a recent webinar, Nathan gave us some tips for effective communication with donors.

Through their experiments, Nathan and NextAfter have found that the single most important piece of communication determining a donor’s likelihood to give is the value proposition. But before we jump into how to write an effective value proposition, let’s take a look at how we think about our donors.

The Donor Mountain 

Nonprofits and businesses have a tendency to think in terms of donor or customer funnels. The pattern will probably sound familiar: a large group of email recipients results in a smaller group of website visitors, resulting in an even smaller number of donations.

An Example Of A Donor Funnel For An Email Appeal

The trouble with this line of thinking is that it does not account for the conversions and donations that you are failing to get. It also assumes that some natural force will pull donors through the process of giving, much like gravity pulls water through a funnel. In reality, giving is a journey that involves a lot of work and many distractions along the way.

Nathan at NextAfter recommends thinking of donor experience as a mountain. Your job as a nonprofit is to get the donor to say yes to a series of decisions until they ultimately make the decision to give.

The Donor Mountain Shows You All The Steps You Need To Help Your Donor Make

With your donors, you should be playing the role of the sherpa as you guide them along the path of fundraising online. At each step, from clicking on your email, to visiting your site, to making a donation, your goal is to get them to say “yes.”

Attracting and retaining major donors is a top priority for all nonprofit organizations. We’ve put together a free workshop to help you with this process. But communication is key and there’s no better way to communicate donor impact than with a value proposition.

Value Proposition: What Is It?

Now that we know the most effective way to think about our donors, let’s talk about the best way to communicate with them. Nathan and NextAfter have helped nonprofits find greater success fundraising online with powerful value propositions. This pivotal idea deserves a clear definition. But before we talk about what a value proposition is, let’s be clear about what it’s not.

What It’s Not:

A value proposition is not your organization’s mission statement, which tends to be internally focused, rather than donor-focused. Your value proposition is also not an incentive. Incentives make donors think about themselves rather than what they can give to the organization.

What It Is:

The ideal value proposition answers one crucial question. If I am your ideal donor, why should I give to you rather than some other organization (or at all)?

Maximizing your online fundraising means answering this question as often as possible in donor-facing communications like websites, social media, and emails. 

An Example Of A Value Proposition On An Organization’s Donation Page

Let’s Break The Question Down

Here’s that crucial question once again: If I am your ideal donor, why should I give to you rather than some other organization (or at all)? By breaking the question into parts, we can unpack what makes value propositions such an effective tool for fundraising online.

  • If I…”: Approach your value proposition from the perspective of your donor. The point of this messaging is to motivate someone to give, so it should appeal to their priorities and match with what they know about your organization. Remember that they do not have the same level of insider knowledge that you do.
  • Why should I…”: The value proposition should always answer a “why” question rather than a “what,” “where,” or “how” question in terms of how a donor’s gift will support your mission. We evaluated the power of “why” questions for your donors in a recent webinar. Check it out!
  • Rather than another organization…”: Donors will make comparisons between your organizations and other similar organizations. You can use your value proposition to make yourself stand out and communicate the unique value of what you do.
  • (Or at all)…”: It’s no secret that organizations have to inspire donors to give. Your value proposition should compel donors to take action to support your online fundraising effort rather than scrolling past it.
  • Desired Action vs. Alternative Action: Your value proposition applies at every step along the donor mountain, not just with donations. With each step, there will be a desired action (e.g. “give to you”) and an alternative action (e.g. “give to some other organization”). You can use your value proposition to inspire donors to take the desired action when it comes time to open emails, click on links, and donate.

Now that we know the purpose of the value proposition for fundraising online, let’s review the four essential elements for a value proposition. 

4 Elements of an Effective Value Proposition for Online Fundraising 

There are four elements that you should include when writing your value proposition. Making sure all four elements are in place will ensure that you are effectively communicating donor impact to encourage donations. 

Four Versions Of An Appeal From CaringBridge
  1. Appeal: Your value proposition should answer the question: how badly do I want it? Put yourself in your donor’s shoes and ask why your donors care for your mission. When writing your value proposition, make sure that donor impact is central to your copy. If you are looking for some more tips for making that all-important ask in the world of Zoom and fundraising online, take a look at this webinar
  2. Exclusivity: Make your value proposition unique so that donors feel that they can’t make the same impact anywhere else. This will differentiate your organization from competitors.
  3. Clarity: Clarity is key in all types of effective communication. Even if you have an exclusive appeal, you need to make sure your audience can easily understand the language and design.
  4. Credibility: Your value proposition should increase your audience’s trust in your organization. Stories and testimonials from beneficiaries can be a great tool for building trust.
Three Versions Of CaringBridge’s Homepage With Different Levels Of Clarity

Keeping these four essential elements in mind as you are drafting and reviewing your value proposition will make it easier for you to ensure that you are effectively communicating with your audience. If you already have a value proposition written, you can use these elements to evaluate its relative strengths and weaknesses.

Where Are You Now? Score Your Value Proposition Today

The simplest way to evaluate your own value proposition and how well it serves you as a tool for fundraising online is to turn to those four essential elements above. For each one, ask yourself how successful your value proposition would be for a potential donor. 

A Rating System For Appeals

You may find that you have a clear and exclusive appeal that does not meet the credibility criteria. That realization should guide your revisions so that you can target those specific components of your value proposition that are failing to perform.

Compare To Other Nonprofits

You can also take a look at other organizations to evaluate their approach to value propositions and how you can use theirs as inspiration (or not). Here are two examples that Nathan at NextAfter showed during our recent webinar.

A Value Proposition For A Donation Page From Save The Children

Knowing what we now know about value propositions, we can see that Save the Children could improve theirs by making it more specific to improve the appeal and credibility. However, their copy included with their gift tiers does clearly convey the exclusivity of their mission.

A Value Proposition For A Newsletter From Buckner

Buckner could improve their value proposition for their newsletter by strengthening the appeal, the exclusivity of their offer, the clarity of their copy, and their credibility.

Conclusion: Effective Communication Involves Highlighting Donor Impact

Donors want to know how their gift will further the mission of your organization. The most effective way to communicate this information is through a value proposition. Use the strategies above to write a winning value proposition and maximize your online fundraising.

CauseVox offers customizable donation pages that let you add your value proposition directly onto your site. Your donation page not only allows you to convey your value proposition to donors, but it is also central to your whole online fundraising effort. Here are a few suggestions for building a winning donation page.

Get started now for free on building a donation page that converts with CauseVox!

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