Developing successful messages to drive donations to your charity

Dan Jubb
  • Dan Jubb
  • Head of Brand and Strategy

Donations from individuals and organisations are the essential life blood to any charity. But many struggle to win support in what is an increasingly competitive market place. And yes, the third sector is a market place, like any other business environment.

The landscape in which charities operate has changed considerably in the last five years – cuts in public sector funding alongside growth in the third sector, together with increased demand on the services that charities provide, have all played a part.

If you want to drive donations to your charity in that environment, you need to start by getting your messaging right. The right message, artfully delivered, can be crucial in winning new support and ensuring the loyalty and generosity of your existing supporters.

Supporter engagement – your number one priority

Here at TGDH, we’ve carried out extensive research to find out what’s required to drive donations to our third sector clients. We’ve learned that there’s one thing that stands head and shoulders above all other criteria: engagement with your target audience. We’ve discovered that by forming lasting relationships with supporters through carefully targeted messaging:

One-off donors become regular donors to your charity.

Not only that, but

They progressively donate more, increasing their donations to your cause over time.

Engaging with supporters leads to continued and growing income from your supporters.

Great stuff! But what exactly do we mean by ‘engagement’? How do we do it?

Create a clear and recognisable brand

  • Your brand needs to have a distinct voice.
  • The reasons that your charity needs to exist should be immediately apparent in your branding.
  • Whatever your charity, you will have numerous competitors. You need to get people to notice you amongst the competition. Stand out and show WHY you’re different.

Keep the conversation going

It’s essential that you communicate with your supporters and potential donors in a way which builds relationships and keeps the conversation going. Your communications shouldn’t be a series of posts that are based on requests for fund-raising campaigns or that highlight need.

Your approach needs to be more conversational and ongoing. For example, once someone has made a donation, the follow up is vitally important. This is your opportunity to build the relationship and get the buy-in of your supporters. You’re part of the same cause now – you’re working together for something important.

Show your gratitude and camaraderie with information such as:

  • How much money has been raised for a particular goal or service.
  • How that money is being used.
  • The impact you’re having on individuals.
  • Information about how supporters are working together to create a greater whole.

Give information about future aims and upcoming events and campaigns, but remember that you’re having a conversation and that it’s about ENGAGEMENT. Don’t scare supporters away by hectoring them for more support or trying to engender ‘guilt-giving’.

You’ll engage with your supporters if you make them feel good about what they’re doing.

Creating a Feel Good Factor

If they feel good, they’ll come back for more. This marketing technique is every bit as applicable when someone is giving as it is when they are buying.

Supporters feel good when:

  • They can see that they’ve made others feel good and improved their lives in some way.
  • They see that a small amount of effort, money or time has made a big impact.
  • They feel part of something bigger – a community working together to achieve something important.

It’s all about giving your supporters a sense of genuine achievement from what they’ve done.

Personal links behind the feel good factor include:

  • Emotional – engendering a desire to help others.
  • Practical – something needs to be done, and a donation can help do it.
  • Personal – having experience, personally or through someone close, of the situation this charity is assisting with.

Personal stories can have a big impact. Use them to demonstrate the real effects of your charity’s work on the people (or animals or buildings or whatever) you’re there to support. Personal stories cut to the essentials of the everyday work that’s being done and give a clear picture of where the money is going and why the work is so important.

Tailor your message

Know who your different audience groups are and tailor your messages accordingly. Remember, when you want to engage with people, you need to be talking directly to them.

It may seem obvious to you why your charity needs supporting, but when a potential supporter has lots to choose from, you need to make really good case as to why they should choose yours. It all starts with the research.

Time spent on research will reap enormous dividends later.

You should start by thinking about the audiences that you might want to target. For example, are supporters likely to come from people local to where your charity works? Or people who have themselves been touched by the issues your charity tackles? Perhaps your charity works within the field of a special interest – for example, a charity that helps people with disabilities through a sports activity such as sailing.

Your audience research should include gathering information from a cross section of people involved in the charity:

  • Service users
  • Staff
  • Volunteers
  • Supporters
  • Individuals, organisations and groups

It should also look at tailoring messages in terms of different fund raising activities, such as:

  • Legacies
  • Events
  • Sponsorship
  • Community based projects (such as a stall at a local fete)

By finding out what’s important to individuals and groups, you can start to build a strong case for support.

Ensure the message fits the channel

The medium is just as important as the message. You need to research the best way of getting a particular message to a specific audience. For some, direct marketing with a leaflet campaign could be the most effective. For others, social media might be the answer. But whatever channel you use, your message should ‘fit’ the channel to be effective.

Tailoring isn’t just about external audiences

Remember that your own team - staff and volunteers - are also a part of your audience. When they are clear about your messaging and the part they play in it, they can then play a part in sharing the message and getting it out to the many stakeholders that they come into contact with.

The will also feel equipped and motivated to spread the charity’s message, once their own understanding is crystal clear. They will feel like an important part of a supportive community.

Play to your strengths

If you’re a small, local charity, then that should be a big part of your message. If you’re a large organisation with international reach, then talk about why that’s important. There’s place in the market for a huge range of charity types and sizes but you must be clear on where you fit into the picture and why doing things your way has impact.

Choose your channels

The medium is just as important as the message. You need to research the best way of getting a particular message to a specific audience. For some, direct marketing with a leaflet campaign could be the most effective. For other messages, social media might be the answer. But whatever channel you use, your message should inform and inspire.

Take your measurements

This is something that can get forgotten, but it’s a vital step for any charity if they’re going to keep building donations and support, year on year.

You need to measure the ways in which people find out about your work and why they choose to support you. Measuring support should be built into everything you do from the outset. For things like direct marketing and social media, analysis is easy to build into the system. For things like community or sponsored events you have to be a little more proactive. But that doesn’t mean it has to be complicated. A simple ‘How did you find out about the event?’ on a sponsorship form, would work well, for example.

Whatever your charity’s aims, engagement is the key. The time you spend on getting your messaging right and building a lasting and genuine community of supporters, will reap you huge rewards. It’s a powerful part of making your charity’s goals a reality for those you serve.