What Is a Donor Offer and How It Motivates Your Donor to Give
When it comes to creating mail and email fundraising appeals, there’s one fact you can’t ignore.
Aside from your donors themselves (which is to say, your direct mail or email list), the offer is the single most important part of your appeal by far. It’s the difference between getting a random spattering of responses from an appeal and a flood of donations.
It’s not the story you use, the graphics, how long the copy is or whether the copy sounds like the executive director. It’s not whether the button in your email says “give now” or “donate now.” It’s not whether it’s your organization’s 25th anniversary. It’s not your nonprofit’s programs, your internal teams or your Charity Navigator rating.
None of those things is as important as the offer. You can’t get around it. A weak offer (or no offer) means weak fundraising results.
What’s a Donor Offer?
In the world of direct response, whether that’s direct response fundraising or direct marketing, the offer is the deal. It’s the quid pro quo. It’s the “I’ll give you this, and you give me that.” It’s what your prospects get and what they have to do to get it.
Let’s look at an example. Say you’re surfing the internet and see an ad for alligator-skin cowboy boots. The ad says, “Walk tall in exotic style. Free shipping when you order before Aug. 4.” You think, “Yes, I should walk tall. And exotic style? Heck yeah. Plus, I hate to pay for shipping. Sold!”
What you get is a pair of obvious boots, plus everything that wearing them will say about you, plus free shipping. What you have to do to get it is to order before the deadline.
That’s an offer. It’s clear, direct and specific. If you love exotic cowboy boots, it’s easy to say “yes” to this. That’s what the offer does. It engages customers. And it motivates them to respond.
But that’s commercial marketing. Fundraising is different, right? Some nonprofits think so. Sometimes they think they don’t need an offer in their fundraising appeals. “Just tell donors what we do, and they’ll give.” Of course, that doesn’t work. Sometimes nonprofits think fundraising is so different from commercial marketing that the concept of an offer doesn’t apply. That doesn’t work either. After all, fundraising is donor marketing. Other times, nonprofits think that having an offer in their fundraising will make it too transactional, too salesy or too pushy. Let’s dig into that one.
A Donor Offer Goes Beyond a Transactional Nature
The offer in fundraising isn’t something you’re foisting onto your donors. It’s what attracts your donors to you. And it’s what motivates them — without any arm twisting — to give because they want to.
Let’s look at an example from direct response fundraising. The offer is “$5 sends a good, nutritious meal to a hungry, lonely, homebound senior.” That’s a strong offer, admittedly in encapsulated form. It’s simple, direct and specific.
Is it transactional? Well, it asks for a donation of $5, and in return, the nonprofit will provide a meal. So, yes, it’s transactional in that sense. Then again, most fundraising is transactional in that it asks for a donation. An effective offer, though, is much more than a simple exchange of dollars.
Is it pushy or salesy? Not at all. In fact, it’s engaging and motivating. Far from putting donors off, it attracts donors to the nonprofit’s work. That’s because a clear, simple offer like this one details the problem to be solved — hunger among seniors — and the solution — the meal provided. It tells your donor what their gift will do and why. It spells out the donation, the impact and the outcome. That’s inherently motivating for donors.
A Donor Offer Motivates Someone to Give
But there’s more to it. Because an effective offer isn’t one-dimensional. It includes both sides of the coin. It shows donors how they can have less of what they don’t want and more of what they do want.
Take the example of $5 provides a meal. This offer indicates to donors, first, how they can have less of what they don’t want — like hunger and loneliness among seniors, apathy for others’ suffering, a community that ignores vulnerable people, being a cold, uncaring person, letting social ills like hunger persist.
And second, it indicates to donors how they can have more of what they do want — like action on hunger, a community that cares about seniors, knowledge that caring for seniors will make the community better, fulfilling a social or religious obligation, the personal satisfaction of doing something good, thinking of yourself as a good person.
Of course, these extra dimensions of the offer would be referred to either directly or indirectly in the letter or email copy, or could be represented in the images used, depending on the specific circumstances of the appeal. But the offer itself is at the center of it, and that offer is what draws donors in, engages them and motivates them. It goes to the core of why donors give.
That’s why the right donor offer is critical. Ideally, it’s one that’s clear and simple, like the example of $5 providing a meal. It might take some research and thought to pare down your offer until it’s an easy-to-understand statement, ideally something that simply and directly communicates “Your gift of $X will accomplish Y.” And it might take some testing to know if your offer is the right one. But don’t worry. Your donors will tell you immediately by how they respond.
Long-Term Success Requires Multiple Donor Offers
In addition, there’s no reason to have only one offer. Just as there are various facets to the work your nonprofit does, there are various offers that you can present to your donors. Having a variety of offers — and introducing new ones — will keep your donors interested and will signal to them that your organization is moving and growing. That’s not a bad space to occupy in your donors’ minds.
Because, ultimately, this isn’t about the success of one individual mail or email appeal. Just as in commercial marketing, where a simple but compelling offer like “delivered in 30 minutes or it’s free” built Domino’s into a pizza empire, the offers you use fulfill a larger purpose.
Your offers are how you build relationships with donors, one response at a time. How you connect your donors with your mission. How you grow your nonprofit. And how you build your nonprofit’s brand. Because all those things depend on a donor writing a check or clicking the “give now” button, and then doing that again and again and again. And all that, in turn, depends on your offer.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
An agency-trained, award-winning, freelance fundraising copywriter and consultant with years of on-the-ground experience, George specializes in crafting direct mail appeals, online appeals and other communications that move donors to give. He serves major nonprofits with projects ranging from specialized appeals for mid-level and high-dollar donors, to integrated, multichannel campaigns, to appeals for acquisition, reactivation and cultivation.