How Nonprofits Succeed by Focusing on Others, Part 2: Emphasize Donor Impact

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In Part 1 of this article, we explored the importance of your mission statement in keeping you focused on effectively serving the people your nonprofit was created to help. Now let’s look at how focusing on donors and their positive impact can help you deliver on your mission and improve your fundraising efforts.

Donors give to your organization (and keep giving) because of your mission. But how well you communicate that mission to donors — including their role in helping you realize your mission — is crucial to your success.

As a rule, you want to keep your fundraising and stewardship messaging focused on the positive impact of the work you do thanks to donor contributions. Instead of emphasizing what your organization needs, focus more on telling your audience(s) about those you help (your beneficiaries) and those who make that help possible (your donors).

When donors perceive ongoing opportunities to make a positive impact by supporting your nonprofit — and when they feel recognized and valued for that support — they will reward you with their philanthropic loyalty.

Two of the most effective methods for keeping your message focused on the value you provide to beneficiaries is to blend emotion and logic, using stories and statistics.


Method 1: The Power of Stories

Emotional stories of transformation and impact give the donor a felt connection to the work you do. They go beyond logical and intellectual points to reinforce your case for support using the innate power of human connection. Read these two examples for NPH USA and see which one moves you more:

Example 1:

Thanks to your support, children living in poverty in countries throughout Latin America now have a second chance. Each child who comes to live at an NPH home is treated with love and care. Your donations help provide healthy meals, medical care, high quality education, and a loving “forever family” that the child can always count on. Children no longer need suffer, thanks to the generosity of caring NPH USA donors like you.

Example 2:

For eight-year-old Marlena, Christmastime was just another day in a heartbreaking life of extreme poverty. Her father had abandoned the family years ago. To scrape together a basic subsistence, Marlena and her mother earned money by digging through garbage for plastic and glass to sell to the recycler. But all that changed when Marlena was welcomed into our familia at NPH El Salvador three years ago. This Christmas, Marlena is celebrating with her fellow pequeños — in good health, an eager student, and beloved by a “forever family” that will always be there for her. Thanks to the generosity of caring NPH USA donors like you, Marlena now knows miracles can happen.

Notice how the second example uses storytelling techniques to engage the reader: a protagonist; a specific setting; a dramatic “turn” in the story; and a before-and-after contrast that describes a tangible problem and the organization’s solution – which is only made possible by donors.


Method 2: The Power of Statistics

While stories are effective at hooking the reader emotionally, most donors also need logical reasons to get behind your case for support. Strategic use of statistics helps provide the intellectual justification they need to follow through on an emotional desire to support your nonprofit.

Again, the focus here is on your positive impact on beneficiaries. It’s okay to also use statistics to describe the depth of the problem. But be sure to pair that with statistics that show how successful your nonprofit has been at solving the problem-at-hand.

Here’s an example from San Francisco AIDS Foundation:

Thanks to donors like you, more than 25,000 San Franciscans each year can count on the lifesaving care we provide. And thanks to your help, just 221 people in this city were diagnosed with HIV last year, the lowest number of new diagnoses since the epidemic began!

But our work isn’t done. Of the 16,000 people living with HIV in San Francisco today, as many as 38% are not getting regular care. In fact, for some groups like transgender women and Latinos, rates of HIV infection are actually increasing.

Your renewed support today will help us expand our services and reach those who still need care. And together we can make San Francisco the first major city in the world with zero new HIV infections.

Notice how there’s a mix of statistics in this example, and a mix of specificity. If you’re too vague with all of your statistics, you compromise your perceived credibility. But if you’re specific with every single statistic, your messaging will read like a mutual fund prospectus.


Bonus Method: The Power of “You”

Look back at the previous examples. Can you see what else they have in common? They emphasize the word “you” more than “we” or “us.”

Whenever you communicate with a donor, as a good rule of thumb your messaging should contain twice as many “you” words as “we” or “us” words. When fundraising messaging goes on and on about “our” organization and what “we’re” doing, it alienates the donor and puts up a barrier between the nonprofit and its supporters.

Here’s an example of “we” messaging:

At our organization, even $10 will help build a well to bring clean water to an entire village. Imagine the impact that could have. We believe clean water shouldn’t be a luxury — it’s a necessity. Won’t you join us in this work?

The focus is on the organization, not on the donor. It completely ignores the fact that there are no solutions without donors.

Consider this next example that focuses on “you” messaging:

It’s a 90-degree day. You’re hot, tired and thirsty. But as you reach for the faucet, something’s different. Instead of the crystal clean water you’re used to, brown, undrinkable filth comes out. You have no other option. What do you do? This is the reality for people in the villages we serve. For just $10, you can help change their lives forever. You have the power to ensure clean drinking water isn’t a luxury, but a basic human right. Won’t you join us in this life-changing work and make your contribution of $10 right now?

Aren’t you more likely to donate in this second example? This messaging makes the donor the hero. It invites donors first to empathize with the people who are suffering, and then gives them the opportunity to end that suffering.

Additionally, “you”-focused messaging tells the donor they’re an important part of the team. Once you’ve done that, the words “we” and “our” and “us” take on a new meaning because those words now include the donor. A previously self-serving sentence like “Our organization is making a difference” is transformed into a declaration of solidarity: “Together, WE are making a difference.”

Put these three methods (and the strategies you learned in Part 1) to use right away to help keep you focused on providing value to beneficiaries and opportunity to donors. Remember, it was a focus on others that gave birth to your nonprofit. Keeping your focus on others will ensure your growth and success.


On average, new IPM clients see a 34.8% increase in direct mail fundraising acquisition response rates within the first year of working with us. Want to learn more?

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