What's YOUR biggest obstacle to closing major gifts?

“Giving Triggers” for Today’s Donors


Today’s donors are not really sure they can trust you.

Today’s donor has changed.

Here’s how to reach her, connect with her and get her to respond to your appeal.

We spend a lot of time in our profession trying to understand donors’ changing preferences and concerns.

If you are sending out the same kind of appeals that you’ve been doing for the past 10 or so years, I bet your donors are dropping off.


Because donors have changed.

In fact, they have really, really changed.

You need to understand that today’s donors are more hesitant to give.

Before the recession they were just freer with their money.

Today many donors hold on much tighter than they used to. And they are far more selective.

You are seeing that in your fundraising results I’m sure!

So how can you reach today’s donors for your organization?

1. Show Them the Impact They Can Make With Their Money.

infographic what the muck

Tell your story through infographics by using REAL NUMBERS.

I bet you are sick of hearing about “impact.”

BUT I see so few nonprofits really showing – clearly – how dollars from their donors are creating positive change.

I know you can do a much better job showing your impact.

You’ve got to be SPECIFIC and use REAL NUMBERS.

How to do this? Try saying: 

  • “Your gift can do this . . .  and this . . .  and this.
  • “Your gift of $100 can fill 75 backpacks full of food for hungry children.
  • “Your investment of $1 million can help us raise unrestricted revenue of $10 million.

2. Show Them How Their Gift is an Investment.

Your donors will open their wallets if they can see how their gift will pay off.

gold1 going up

Donors expect their gifts to yield a wonderful happy return.

Remember that nervous donors are not so sure they trust you to use their gift wisely.

So show them all the wonderful stuff they can accomplish.

How to do this?  

Be specific! Use real numbers:

By the way, both of the sample pages above have too many choices and are confusing to the donor.

Don’t make that mistake.  Don’t give your donor too many choices.

3. Show Them a Clear Return on Their Investment.

charity water screen shot

Charity water does a fabulous job telling donors where their money went.

A colleague of mine said about a donor recently:

“They made a gift because they could see a clear ROI.”

How clearly are you spelling out your own Return on Donors’ Investments?

I’m sure you are familiar with “social impact investing” and “social entrepreneurship.”

Well – get ready – this is the way of the future.

Donors are looking at things from this perspective:

What can I do to make things better? What can I do to create social change?”

How to do this?

  • Right now – you need to STOP talking to donors about YOUR wonderful work.
  • But START talking to donors about the work THEY can accomplish through their gift.
  • And use REAL NUMBERS.

4. Build Credibility.

As a consultant, I often have The Credibility Discussion with my clients.

It’s a really important discussion about how we are presenting ourselves to the world – our messages, our marketing and our pictures/images.

It might be useful for you too – have a “credibility review” of all your materials and messages.

Use charts and graphs to show donors how you spend their money.

Use charts and graphs to show donors how you spend their money.

How are you demonstrating to donors that you are a safe place to invest their money?

How to do this?

  • Add your Guidestar and Charity Nav links on your home page or your donation page.
  • Add awards and recognitions.
  • Add your board members’ names to your web site.
  • Add a “Your Gifts at Work” page to your site.

5. Let Them Designate Their Gifts to Specific Projects

infographic health results

Telling your story in real numbers builds donor trust.

There’s no question: Donors will give more if you let them restrict their gifts.

Now I know you and your leadership don’t like this.

But whether you like it or not, it’s a simple fact.

And it’s because donors are less trusting.

How to do this?  Try these ideas:

  • Can you change the generic name of your Annual Fund and rename it to something project-oriented?
  • Or can you focus your annual fund or campaign on a specific project with sizzle?
  • Can you figure out how much it costs to help one person a day and focus your appeals around that?
  • Or focus on how much it costs to keep your facility open a day.


Donors have changed.

They want different things from us, like it or not.

Smart fundraisers will figure how to ride this trend. Folks with their heads in the sand will lose money.

Good luck and let me know how you are implementing these ideas.

Please leave a comment and chat with me about this post!



  • Andy Robinson

    Hi Gail — A little pushback on item 5, restricted gifts. As solicitors, we need to get better at pitching the totality of what we do and how our projects and programs fit together (see item 4, credibility) and how unrestricted gifts increase the donor’s ROI (see item 3). So many of my clients are overly dependent on restricted foundation and government grants — I would HATE to see them also pitching restricted gifts to their individual donors unless absolutely necessary.

    Furthermore, for unsophisticated organizations this can create an accounting nightmare. Try asking your bookkeeper to track $50 and $100 gifts into restricted funds. She/he will shoot you, and with good reason.

    Every organization needs a policy about accepting restricted gifts, including a minimum amount below which they only take general, unrestricted donations. This may cost us a few dollars and donors, but it will save accounting headaches (and money) and force us to get better at telling our stories.

  • Development Committee member

    I have positive perspective on soliciting gifts for specific purposes. I have found that donors are often willing to give much more to projects or line-items that speak to their individual interests. So I am very much a fan of tailoring your ask to specific projects. For instance, a Board member who was interested in strengthening the Development function of our organization stepped up and wrote a large check to underwrite the costs for development training seminars for the staff and Board. Others who have an interest in computers might contribute to purchasing needed technology for the office. They will give more because it speaks to them personally and because they can see exactly the results and impact of their gift.

  • gailperry

    Hi Andy – I agree about restricted. It can be an accounting nightmare. But I am talking about something more general – a “designation.” Not a legally restricted gift. Having several general gift “buckets” should work. But even they can certainly make accounting more complex. No doubt about it.

    If we ask donors to help fund backpacks, we do need to be able to report back and say we raised XXX for backpacks and helped yyy kids. If we give donors a choice between funding the library or scholarships – we need to be able to report back to them about each one.

    I don’t like it so much either – but I do think donors feel far more comfortable if they are giving to something specific. It’s where donors are today.

  • gailperry

    Hi and thanks! You’re right – most larger gifts are almost always restricted to a specific purpose. And this makes donors happy because they are funding their specific interest.

  • T.J. Cantwell

    Great post. I concur with Andy. Restricted donations are a dangerous game especially if you are making it appear that they are donating for something specific but it is actually going into a general pot. Definitely talking about specific projects that the organization is involved and even examples of what donations are used for is a great idea to give donors tangible items to associate with. However, too many people are allowing donors to dictate exactly what money is spent on and in some cases how and when the money is spent. This can get you more donors but at huge cost in terms of the whole organization and in the long run sacrifices the necessary general operating funds of an organization. Unless you are dealing with a huge corporate donor or individual I would stay away from being too specific. Even with large donors it is important to always allocate a reasonable percentage to “general operating” to make sure you don’t have a money to buy 100,000 backpacks but no money to staff the distribution or promote what you are doing. Thanks for the great post.

  • gailperry

    Hi TJ! Thanks for writing.

    My thoughts (and I have an accounting background):

    – be sure to allocate indirect costs (admin) into any specific request for funds for a specific project. Organizations can drive themselves bankrupt by asking for the direct costs of a project only.

    – donors are happier when they are somehow connected more closely to the purpose of the gift. How to do this? I’ve presented one way in my post – and there are others, for sure. When Charity:Water raisies money for wells in

    – I am totally with you re organizations are allowing donors to dictate too much. I am totally against “mission drift” that is driven by some donors who want certain results.

  • Kironde Educ. & Health Fund

    I have found over the years that foundations have always wanted to fund a project that has a quantifiable verifiable result. Individual donors are now looking for that ROI.

    If you have a long term project there has to be milestones and specific projects within the mission. College professors who teach public service topics such as public health encourage their students to be very specific about their goals and look for the underlying problems that create the need for public/private funding.

    If my fund is truly successful we will cease to be needed or reinvent our mission.

  • Jeff

    Gail, great post. Any thoughts or examples of Higher Ed using strong impact statements or imagery around annual giving?

  • gailperry

    Hi Jeff, I’d use the things that your annual giving campaign funds – sports, the library, professors, buildings? Maybe a cool shot of a bunch of happy faculty and students together? Maybe a pile of students outside the library holding a sign that says “our library rocks!” See if you can be playful and happy.

  • utterly brilliant, Gail. thank you again! do you have any reflections on Dan Pallotta’s approach to fund-raising and the re-education necessary around the concept of ‘overhead’ and how it’s perceived by donors, organizations, and the public alike? esp as this ties in to designating areas of donorship? http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pallotta_the_way_we_think_about_charity_is_dead_wrong.html

  • gailperry

    Hi Alx – Clearly the issue of overhead is misunderstood. I totally agree with Palotta. We must educate everyone to understand that spending money on fundraising is an investment in the future. Fundraising is not a cost center – it is a revenue center.

  • Amir Homayoun Rafizadeh

    Its always been about impact and it always will be. Good stuff Gail.

  • gailperry

    thanks so much Amir!