• RC Clark

Positively Influence Your Donors to Donate With These 6 Principles of Persuasion

*These principles were originally thought of by Robert Cialdini and I have remodeled them to apply to fundraising.*

Say a friend sends you a Christmas card. Are you now more likely to send them one back?

Imagine you're considering buying something and there's only one left. Will you buy it now?

What if two different nonprofits ask you for a donation at the same time. You've known both for about a year yet you only remember the mission of one. Who are you more likely to give to?

Answers to these questions are easy because they're based on psychological principles of influence that are ingrained into us. When they're present, we react automatically.

We can use the following principles to be an organization that donors love to say yes to.

1. Consistency

Humans have an obsessive need to be consistent.

Once we've made a choice or taken a stand, we'll act according to our commitment or risk facing the consequences of being seen as inconsistent.

The best way therefore to get someone to donate again, is to make it easy for them to donate a first time. Then we can reinforce the consistency principle by publicly recognizing their act.

Tip #1: Begin by asking for less

Say you're building a welcome email series. You wouldn't want to open by asking a new subscriber to become a recurring donor because that wouldn't yet be consistent with their level of commitment.

Instead, you want to build up their consistency self-image one step at a time by starting with small asks and working your way up to bigger ones.

In an email series, make your first couple calls to action something easy like watching a video or reading a blog before asking for a donation. Each level of commitment will further build up their self-image into the kind of person that says yes to your requests for commitment.

Tip #2: Publicly recognize action

If we publicly recognize donors in our newsletters, videos, and blogs, they'll be more likely to continue giving to uphold their social image.

On the flip side, non-recognized donors will relate to the stories of recognized ones and feel that in order to be consistent, they should also give like the people they're seeing or reading about.

2. Trust

Recurring donors are vital. They've adopted our mission, volunteer for our projects, and tell their friends about us.

Do we want income, or equity? Successful nonprofits that use the principle of trust think about the latter. It's the difference between a one time donor and a recurring relationship that lasts years or a lifetime.

Tip #1: Ask, "What will this relationship have to be for this donor to stay with me for life?"

The relationship with your donors should be like a marriage. It's about always being there. That you will have the other person's back. That they know you care about them. That you find ways to stay interesting and relevant over the years.

If you make the effort to treat donors like family, they'll stick with you, and you'll reap the rewards of a recurring relationship.

Tip #2: Go back to your mission

Trust revolves around fulfilling your mission. It's what keeps the entire organization together and focused.

Continually remind donors what your mission is and what steps you're taking to fulfill it. This will keep them knit to your cause and trusting of their support in you.

3. Reciprocity

It's common knowledge that if someone does us a favor, we should do them one in return.

It's so common in fact that sociologists have found that every society on earth thinks think this way.

So if we want donors to give, we have to give to them first.

Tip #1: Share quality content

People are with you because they believe in your mission. If you send them mission related content they want to read, stories they want to hear, and events they want to participate in, they'll highly value your effort and want to give back.

Tip #2: Use emotional reciprocity

Making people feel good is enough to compel them to reciprocate.

Make sure to thank your donors and subscribers often with personalized emails and gifts that are unique to the actions they've taken. The extra effort to see them as partners rather than revenue will increase their desire to give back.

4. Social Proof

We use the actions of others to decide what we should do, especially when we view them as similar to ourselves.

In fact, 83% of people trust recommendations from those they know above all other forms of marketing.

To take advantage of this principle, we can tell donor stories that are relatable and share statistics that prove our efforts.

Tip #1: Share Stories

If we want people to attend events, we should share stories from event attendees. If we want donors to become recurring givers, we should share stories about recurring givers.

When someone who shares the same mission as us does something, we’ll want to do it too.

Tip #2: Use Statistics

People trust numbers because they're specific and can be directly linked to effects on the ground.

Typically, the bigger the numbers, the stronger your social proof.

If you don’t have impressively large stats, you may want to showcase the significance of a single impact rather than many.

Pencils of Promise however should show their numbers:

5. Authority

The principle of authority states that people follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts.

We trust doctors about our health, accountants on our taxes, and teachers for our education.

Tip #1: Be an Expert

The more you can share about what you know in your niche, the more authority you will have.

You can host a blog that publishes articles based on the issues surrounding your mission. Or you can share stories on the work you've done and the results you've gotten. The more info and evidence, the better.

Another way is to leverage other organizations' platforms by guest posting on their blogs or being a guest on their podcast. When others vouch for you, you gain authority.

Tip #2: Use Celebrity

You don't need a movie star to use the power of celebrity. Your own Executive Director can be the perfect person to deliver a message that will influence. Use their photo and signature in your emails to leverage their celebrity status.

Community leaders and public servants are also the perfect celebrities to endorse your work. Reach out to them and ask for a testimonial to share in your marketing.

6. Scarcity

Scarcity, or more modernly, "FOMO", says that when something has the potential to go away, we want and value it more.

Many nonprofits are doing work that is mission critical. The sooner they can take action, the better. It's the potential loss of something and time sensitive nature of their work that makes the scarcity principle effective.

Tip #1: State the consequences of not doing something

When a donor thinks about how much they care about your mission, and that if they don't act, something will be lost, they will be more likely to take action to avoid that loss.

A stark example of that would be a nonprofit that helps bring clean water to people in remote areas. In our messaging to donors, we will let them know that when clean water is not provided, innocent people get sick.

Tip #2: Create Urgency

The simplest way to do this is to set a deadline. Don't just ask your donors to do something, ask them to do it before a certain date. Don't just ask them to attend your gala, let them know that there are only 25 seats left.

As nonprofits, our mission is time sensitive. The faster we can get support and take action, the better for everyone.


These six principles of influence need to be considered in every communication you have with donors, email subscribers, social media followers, and your internal team.

Equipped with this proper knowledge of what makes people say yes, we can fulfill our mission to do the most good in the shortest amount of time.

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