Making The Ask: Donation Appeal Strategies That Work

As a nonprofit fundraising professional, you know the importance of maximizing your fundraising strategies’ potential for success. Of course, because this topic is so important, it can be easy to get hung up on small details and fail to address the key question for evaluating your approach to donation appeals: does this strategy actually work?

Asking for donations can be stressful, and your supporters’ responses will vary due to a number of reasons, some of which may be outside of your control. However, your approach to donation appeals should take as many of these variables into account as possible to make stronger donation requests. By doing so, you can formulate a fundraising strategy that is more effective, efficient, and reliable. 

To help your nonprofit make targeted changes to improve your donation appeals, this article will go over proven strategies that lead to more donations and larger gift amounts:

  • Focus on development. 
  • Conduct prospect research. 
  • Provide ways to maximize donations. 
  • Use both anecdotes and statistics. 
  • Add a social element to donating. 

Your nonprofit is likely already using a few of these approaches. Use the advice in this guide to further refine your strategies and discover how you can implement new ones. There is no need to pick and choose which strategy to use, as all of them can be used alongside each other. Let’s get started. 

Focus on development.

Fundraising is more than just asking your supporters for money. Or, at least it should be. Fundraising that focuses on development and relationship-building sets your nonprofit up for greater success by building connections with donors first before making your ask. This can be a lengthy process and increase the timespan between donation requests, but it is necessary for earning reliable support and major gifts

Every donor is different, and your team will need to adjust your approach based on their preferences and how the relationship progresses. However, there are a few methods nonprofits can use to standardize and track the development process:

  • Set goals. When your team focuses on developing a relationship with a donor, what is your end goal? For prospective major donors, this may be to receive an initial major gift, while for at-risk donors, your team would do better to focus on bringing them back into the fold rather than pushing for more. 
  • Create a timeline. Knowing when to ask for a donation is crucial for both earning monetary support and sustaining your relationship with a donor. Asking too early or too frequently can alienate donors and may harm your retention rates, while putting it off wastes time. When crafting a timeline, consider both your prospective donors’ current relationship to your nonprofit and your organization’s event and fundraising calendar. Nonprofits can use these pre-planned activities as engagement opportunities to strategically advance relationships at key moments leading up to the donation request.
  • Plan for multiple outcomes. As mentioned, developing meaningful relationships with donors will require regular adjustments to your original plan. Opportunities and challenges can and will arise, which can complicate your timeline. In these situations, avoid forcing relationships to reach previously established milestones, and instead be ready with backup plans to slowly and naturally course-correct. 

Focusing on development over individual donation requests can also help your nonprofit build long-lasting relationships with donors. These relationships tend to be more valuable than one-time contributions, as they are reliable and can be grown over time with the right stewardship. 

Conduct prospect research. 

You can’t connect with your donors if you don’t know who they are. Additionally, while every contribution helps, your nonprofit has limited time to pursue personal relationships with every single donor. You can solve both of these problems by conducting prospect research. 

Some nonprofit organizations have the bandwidth to conduct prospect research in-house, but others seek the advice of a third-party expert. If you’re interested in investing in outside assistance, check out Donorly’s guide to hiring a prospect research consultant

Regardless of who you have conducting your prospect research, this process allows nonprofits to evaluate donors on their perceived capacity and affinity to give. Additionally, prospect research can also help nonprofits uncover potential corporate connections, which can be another in-road towards making a successful donation request. 

Ultimately, prospect research is about collecting data that can then be leveraged to connect with prospective major donors on a more personal level. And there are multiple ways to gather this data, such as partnering with a company like boodleAI that can provide you with a greater amount of data to work with than you might currently have access to.

Of course, after gathering this data, you will still need to make your ask. We recommend nonprofits:

  • Review their research. 
  • Prepare a strategy. 
  • Clean up their data. 
  • Develop a solicitation plan. 
  • Get started developing new relationships. 

These steps emphasize staying organized and making data-driven decisions. Connecting with donors requires a mix of data analysis and networking skills. It may feel a bit strange to track and categorize interactions, such as sharing an emotional story, alongside data about their corporate connections, but doing so allows you to get a more complete picture of your donors and better tailor your personalized approach to each individual. 

Provide ways to maximize donations.

While your major donors are inherently already making major gifts, your moderate donors may have more concerns about reaching back into their wallets to increase their support. You can help them and make more effective fundraising appeals by providing them with ways to maximize their donations. 

Donors want to see their contributions go further, and giving them opportunities that promise to add additional value at no additional cost can be persuasive. You can help your donors maximize their giving potential through:

  • Matching gifts. Some corporations offer donation matching when their employees give to charitable causes. Many organizations will offer 1:1 gifts, and some have higher rates, up to 3:1. Use a matching gift database to help your moderate donors discover if their employer has a matching gift program and work alongside them as necessary to fill out and submit the required forms to claim your gift. 
  • Planned giving. While moderate donors aren’t able to give as extravagantly as major donors, they are still strong candidates for planned gifts. Planned gifts allow donors to make a significant contribution without worrying about the financial burden, supporting a meaningful cause and cementing their legacy at the same time. Talk to both your major and moderate donors about planned giving and prepare educational materials about your program to share with them. 
  • Passive donations. Passive giving strategies tend to have the lowest investment cost of potential donation methods and can be an effective strategy for nonprofits aiming to increase their low and average donors’ giving potential. For example, you might try using AmazonSmile or starting up a monthly giving program. Passive donation strategies like these take time but can add up through collective action, providing another revenue stream and giving each donor a new way to connect with your organization. 

Be thoughtful about which of your donors you target with these strategies. For example, while average and moderate donors may be happy to participate in a passive fundraiser, your major donors may be confused at the invitation to give in such small amounts. As previously emphasized, match your donation appeal to your relationship with each donor. 

Use both anecdotes and statistics. 

Donors want to know that their contributions will be put to good use. When pitching your nonprofit to donors, ensure that you emphasize the impact their gifts will have on your mission. While the most straightforward way to do this is to share statistics and facts, many donors are more persuaded by emotional appeals and anecdotes. 

Of course, not every story your nonprofit can share will be equally effective. Getting Attention’s guide to nonprofit storytelling outlines a few strategies nonprofits should keep in mind when crafting their donor appeals:

  • Make your donors a part of your story. The nonprofit storytelling formula includes a few key elements. Your story needs conflict, which is caused by the problem your mission seeks to solve, and also a protagonist. Avoid making your donor the hero of your story, in an effort to stay away from any “saviorship” language, but instead center your organization and the vital role your donors play in your community, who together are able to defeat your story’s villain. 
  • Establish a sense of urgency. When crafting your story, consider the balance of emotions you’re trying to evoke in your readers. While you want to emphasize the scale of the problems your nonprofit combats, you also need to avoid making the situation seem hopeless. Instead, focus on the need for immediate action and provide solutions your donors can get involved with immediately after reading your story. 
  • Use visuals. Visuals can enhance your storytelling efforts by putting a face on the characters in your story. Just make sure to ask your beneficiaries, volunteers, staff, or whoever else your story is about for permission to take and distribute their photo to donors. 

When approaching donors, consider opening with your stories first, then help donors confirm their decision with data second. This ensures your donors will have a reason to be invested in your cause, which can trigger their interest to explore the finer details later on. 

Add a social element to donating. 

As mentioned, many factors can impact whether your supporters ultimately accept or decline your request for a donation. In some situations, your nonprofit will be able to leverage one of these elements: their peers. While some donors prefer to keep their giving a private matter, others enjoy being celebrated and may be more inclined to give if they see their peers also donating. 

Social elements can be leveraged for both major and moderate donors. For example, during a capital campaign, you might ask major donors to make introductions to their friends who may also be inclined to give. This social connection can greatly influence whether the prospect you were referred to makes a contribution. 

Then, during the public phase of your campaign, you can encourage moderate donors to share your campaign page with friends and family. This can encourage entire groups of friends to give once a few of them make a public contribution. 

Additionally, you can publicize your donors’ contributions, which may make some supporters more inclined to give and be honored alongside their peers. This can include thanking them publicly in speeches at events, creating donor spotlights, and even building permanent displays of recognition such as donor walls.

These strategies also show off the positive public recognition your donors receive to your prospects. Donors weigh many factors when deciding to give, but in some cases this may tip the scales in favor of contributing to your nonprofit. 


Crafting your donation appeals can take time, but it is well worth the effort to bring in donors who give more and stay with your organization longer. Be sure to do your research so each appeal is tailored to your donors’ interests and capacity to give. Then, make note of what was successful to continue building the relationship and earning their continued support. 


About the Author

Founder and President, Sandra Davis, leads Donorly with 30 years of fundraising experience and leadership. Sandra has consulted on numerous capital campaigns, led strategic planning and feasibility study efforts,

and managed board development and recruitment efforts, planned giving, special events, and annual giving programs. Under her leadership, Donorly has grown to support the fundraising efforts of over 75 clients to date.

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