You know this when it comes to your personal life (surely you can hear your Mama’s voice in your ear). You certainly know this when it comes to political correctness (surely you know the words to avoid, at all costs). You even know this when it comes to your professional life (surely you take pains to avoid certain acronyms and jargon).
Well… guess what?
Words matter when it comes to fundraising too!
When asking people for a charitable gift, choose your words with care.
Which Fundraising Ask Word Works Best?
Here are some common ‘ask’ words:
- Pitch in
- Chip in
- Leave a legacy
I have strong favorites, as you may be able to infer from the words I’ve boldfaced.
Let me tell you why.
Give vs. Donate
Jeff Brooks lays out some reasoning, with which I largely agree, in Do you want your donors to give or to donate? He does not care for “gift” used as a verb or “contribute,” as he considers these words ‘jargony and bureaucratic.’ He prefers both “give” and “donate” because
Give is a warm, personal word. It’s what we call it when we give something to someone close.
Donate is what most donors call it when they give to charity.
I’m more selective.
My huge preference is GIVE.
Maybe it’s because I believe more folks say “I give to XYZ charity” or “I made a gift to XYZ charity.” Sure, some say “I donate.” But I’m betting they feel a lot better when they say they give.
I strongly encourage you to think more about how your donors feel. Before, during and after your ask.
We all love gifts! They’re thoughtful and come from the heart.
Giving is something people do all the time. We’re wired to take care of one another. We’re comfortable with giving, and it brings us joy. We give to our kids, our parents, our partners, our friends, our colleagues and our community. And they give to us. Sometimes it’s a tangible gift, other times it’s an intangible ‘feel good.’ A warm glow, so to speak.
Gifts keep on giving.
Give vs. Contribute, Pitch in, Participate or Join in
We tend to ask folks to make little contributions when we’re coming from a place of apology. Maybe you feel fundraising is distasteful and you don’t want to impose too much. Maybe you feel fundraising is begging and you don’t want to appear too greedy.
Whatever your motivation for asking the equivalent of “could you give a little something” or “Any little bit would be helpful,” you’re not doing your donor a service. It makes them think their gift is just a drop in the bucket. You won’t get their most passionate commitment, nor will you likely retain them or upgrade them.
It’s okay to ask people who value your work to make a gift of a specific amount that will get the job done. This makes your donor feel like the hero giving your story a happy ending, not like a member of the chorus. Chorus members are great too, but why not make every donor feel important and not just ancillary?
Rather than asking “will you chip in $10 to help fund a $100 tutoring session,” consider what $10 might purchase and ask for that: “Will you give $10 to buy needed school supplies?”
Anything implying what the donor is giving is small is a bit of a turn-off. You want donors to feel uplifted by their giving. This is why I also don’t love “contribution” as it implies you are not the hero, but your payment towards a larger sum will help. It will ‘contribute.’
The difference is subtle, but… look for the word you believe will make your donor feel TERRIFIC.
Give vs. Invest
I love both these words as they’re uplifting.
Consider using the word “invest,” especially with major donor prospects. People care about their investments and they follow them.
- Investments yield a positive social return.
- Investments yield an opportunity for positive relationship building.
Though the difference may seem just semantic, words do have power. When you make a personal financial investment you expect to get reports back, right? What a wonderful entrée for you to report back to your donors on the impact of their philanthropy!
Bequeath vs. Leave a Legacy
We pay a lot of lip service to the term ‘donor-centered fundraising.’
Yet we don’t always practice what we preach.
When is the last time you heard someone actually use the word ‘bequeath?’
Yet if you have a ‘planned giving’ (don’t get me started on that ‘insider,’ jargony terminology) section on your website, that word probably shows up.
‘Bequeath’ is about process. ‘Legacy’ is about values.
Which do you think donors find more inspiring?
Lift Your Donors Up When You Ask
When asking for philanthropic gifts, keep in mind when you lift your donors up they’ll lift you up as well.
Don’t bring donors down by using ‘token’ words.
Check out these dictionary definitions to see what feels most inspiring to you.
- Contribute – “to give or supply in common with others.”
- Donate – “to present as a gift, grant, or contribution.”
- Give – “to present voluntarily and without expecting compensation.”
- Invest – “to use, give, or devote (time, talent, etc.), as for a purpose or to achieve something.”
Do you see why I prefer “give” and “invest?”
NOTE: You might test a word like “Give” against “Donate” on your website donation button or in your email appeal. Remember not to add any other variables so you get a meaningful result. Check here, here and here for ideas to get your A/B testing juices flowing.
Remember, you want to lift people up from simply fulfilling an obligation. When folks feel coerced or brow beaten they’re not likely to repeat those gifts. Stop begging folks to just “chip in” a little bit (unless that’s truly all you’ll ever want from them). You can accomplish the same fundraising objective by asking everyone to “Please give $3 to feed a hungry child.”
Your goal is to inspire philanthropy (i.e., ‘love of humankind’).
We give freely to those we love. We invest in those we love. We don’t ‘donate’ to them.
Beware the passive, drop-in-the bucket solicitation.
Ask actively: Give; invest. Be the hero.
Your thoughts? Please opine in the comments section below.
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