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How to Be Donor Centric in Fundraising (and When to Bend the Rules)

If you work on fundraising appeals for a nonprofit, then you’ve surely heard that it’s important to be “donor centric.” In a nutshell, that means focusing your communication on the donor, not the organization. For every cause, it all comes down to the impact the donor is having through their support. 

That makes total sense, right? However, most people are still receiving organization-focused language in their mailboxes and inboxes. That’s unfortunate, because it’s easy to turn most fundraising copy into donor-centric communication.  

Donor-Centric Copy: A Quick How-To 

Below I’ve taken some simple statements from a cancer research organization – typical of how a nonprofit might state their needs or accomplishments – and turned them around to reflect a donor-centric approach. Sometimes all it takes is substituting “You” for “We.”  

The final two examples in the chart illustrate the importance speaking to the donor in the most relevant way – which is a cornerstone of donor centricity. Whether your segmentation is analytics-driven or simply based on zip code, be sure to take full advantage of what you know about the donor. 

Donor Centricity Table

See how easy it is?  Now, for the hard part — knowing when to break the rules. 

Now That You’re an Expert on Donor Centricity, Don’t Go Overboard

I’ve heard people recommend avoiding almost every mention of “I” or “we” in fundraising copy. While doing that may technically make it more donor centric, it can also make the language awkward. More importantly, sometimes you need to balance donor centricity with authenticity. Let’s face it, writing like a real person sometimes means using the “I” word. Take this example of an opening paragraph for a children’s hospital appeal, written by a physician:

“As I make my rounds in this hospital every day, I see so many children all longing for the same thing: to be home, to be pain-fee and to live like normal kids. And many will get that chance, thanks in no small part to you and your ongoing support of our leading-edge pediatric oncology care.” 

Does that copy include several instances of “I”?  Indeed, it does. Is it donor centric? Sure, because it lands on the donor’s impact. It’s also engaging because it sounds like a real person wrote it – so it’s likely to generate good response. 

If you have a great story to tell, by all means, use it to set up the donor-centric ask in a powerful way. If you want the signer’s authentic voice to come through, go ahead and break the rules and start with “I,” as long as the copy comes around to a donor-centric sentiment.

The moral of the story is to follow best practices, but use your creative judgement. Help the donor understand their impact in the most effective and appropriate way. As long they feel like the hero, they’ll respond – and that’s what it’s all about.