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How to craft fundraising messages that engage donors

October 11, 2022
A smiling donor looks at a fundraising message on his computer.

Fundraising messages are critical for nonprofit organizations looking to engage donors and secure the funds needed to pursue their purposes. Although crafting messages that resonate with donors and inspire them to take action can be a challenge, it’s an important part of your fundraising strategy

In this guide, we’ll explore a recent study into the current state of fundraising messages and explain how your nonprofit can make the most of these findings. 

A study on fundraising messages 

A recent report from IUPUI’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy seeks to understand the impact that fundraising messages have on donor engagement. To do so, 1,545 American adults (equally split between men and women and among different generations) were given information about a local nonprofit in one of the following ways:

  • Watching a short video (primarily composed of action shots showing the organization’s work) in addition to a short narrative.
  • Reading a fundraising email (which included text and an image) in addition to a short narrative.
  • Reading only a short narrative description of the nonprofit’s work. The narrative did not contain any images and served as the control group.

Researchers then considered how each person acted in response to the fundraising messages, including whether they responded to the nonprofit’s newsletter, made a one-time donation, or initiated a monthly donation

What research says about fundraising messages

1. Video is more effective than email for connecting with potential donors.

The report found that video worked best to establish a connection with potential donors. Supporters who watched the video increased their connection rate by 43%, and those who received the fundraising email increased their connection rate by 25%, compared to the control group who read the text-only narrative. Video was found to be “effective because it induced an empathic and/or a moral principle of care response, without simultaneously inducing strong negative feelings of distress, sadness, and/or guilt.”

However, the medium of the message wasn’t the only important finding—researchers found that the content and tone of the video also matter. For instance, a video showing a nonprofit interacting with beneficiaries saw more engagement than a video describing the hardships faced by beneficiaries.

2. Video worked best at prompting supporters to think about moral values.

The most effective fundraising messages are the ones that inspire reflection about everyone’s inherent responsibility to help make the world a better place through action. The report revealed that video was the most effective way to do this and encourage participants to help those in need.

3. Gender factored into the three scenarios’ different responses.

Women and men exhibited similar empathic and moral responses to the three fundraising message scenarios. However, their differences were in the negative responses.

The email induced negative feelings in both women and men, meaning feelings of sadness, guilt, and distress. The video did not induce negative feelings among women but did among men, which meant that the increase in connections to the nonprofit due to the video was driven by women.

How to craft compelling fundraising messages

Now that you know the current state of fundraising messages, use these best practices to effectively communicate your message to potential and current donors: 

  • Leverage video. It’s clear that compelling visuals drive donors to take action. Whether you choose to film fundraising messages yourself or outsource them to a professional production company, start creating video content to make an impact. 
  • Use compelling storytelling. Effective storytelling can be a powerful tool for connecting with audiences, whether you’re using email, print, or video to send your message. This involves conveying the impact of a donor’s contribution, demonstrating your nonprofit’s work, and adding a clear call to action.
  • Segment fundraising messages. Experienced fundraisers know that different audiences respond to different messaging—and those audiences can be determined by data points like demographic and gender information. Segment donors based on shared characteristics and send messages tailored to their preferences. For instance, if you know that your female donors respond more positively to video, send them the video message while reserving the email message for male donors. 
  • Conduct A/B testing. Organizations with that practice A/B testing on elements like their asks, page designs, and messaging can refine their fundraising messages and make them more effective.

Although research has been done on fundraising messages and their impact on donor engagement, it’s important to track your own supporters’ engagement. For instance, if you notice that video performs worse than email among your target demographic, then adjust your strategy accordingly. 

A final note about fundraising messages

With these actionable insights, your nonprofit can create compelling fundraising messages that support your purpose. Whether you are new to nonprofit fundraising or a seasoned professional, remember to keep up-to-date with fundraising trends and best practices. Doing so will help you remain relevant and successful for years to come. 

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