The 5 Most Important Words and Phrases for Your Donors to Hear

Most non-profits spend lots of time talking to donors. They do it in person, on the phone, through letters, on websites, through social media, in newsletters and e-mails, at events and through fundraising letters.

Great communication is the basis of great fundraising. Yet, when writing donor communications, many non-profits fret over the wrong things. They agonize over proper punctuation and grammar… and they worry whether or not the letterhead looks too cheap (or perhaps, too expensive). In reality, the most important change you can make to your donor letters, newsletters, e-mails, and in-person conversations is in their tone and content.

Remember, no donor has to read your letter or take your call. It is your job to make sure donors feel appreciated and recognized by your organization, and that they want to invest in your non-profit’s mission. To do that, make sure you constantly use the following five words and phrases:


Did you ever have a conversation with someone who spends the whole time talking about themselves and patting themselves on the back? How did it make you feel? It’s boring, and it makes you feel like the other person thinks they are more important than you are.

Yet, most non-profits spend lots of time talking about “us” and “we.” We do great work. Struggling families can count on us. In order to continue, we need your support.

Ugh. It turns donors off. It makes them feel excluded. It sets up false walls between the organization and its donor base.

In reality, “you” is the most important word in the fundraiser’s lexicon. It makes donors feel welcomed, loved, appreciated and important. Donors are an integral part of our team. Without them, our organizations couldn’t do anything… we would cease to exist.

When speaking with donors (in-person, online, through the mail, or anywhere else), put the focus on them. You allowed us to feed 10,000 hungry families last year. Your generosity is astounding. Thank you for your leadership and support.

“Thank You”

Speaking of “you,” the second most important phrase in the fundraising dictionary is “thank you.” Donors expect, and deserve, gratitude and recognition for their gifts. Don’t make the mistake of sending a thank you note after you receive a check and then moving back into ask mode. Make thanking your donors part of everything you do.

Nearly everything you say or write to your donors should include some sort of thank you. Your newsletters, website, and even your fundraising asks can and should include a “thank you” for your donors’ previous gifts, referrals, advice and support. Nothing makes your donors feel appreciated more than hearing “thank you” every so often… and nothing makes your donors want to give again more than feeling appreciated for their previous gifts.


I know we said that your non-profit shouldn’t spend a lot of time talking about itself… and it shouldn’t. But what if you could build a culture at your organization where your donors saw themselves as an essential part of your team, working alongside your program staff and volunteers to accomplish amazing things? It’s possible, if you truly make the donor/program relationship central to everything you do.

Then, instead of thinking about “that organization I support,” donors will talk about “our organization.” Rather than saying, “The Catholic Relief Service team in West Africa,” your donors will tell their friends about “our team in West Africa.” When that happens, you can talk to your donors in a similar way, asking for support for “our work,” and your donors will know they are included in “our.” It’s possible – but it takes hard work and a true culture change that brings donors fully into the fold.

“Will you?” / “Would you?”

Take a look at all of your donor communications from the past year… all of the newsletters, e-mails, direct mail, and what you can remember of your donor calls and meetings. How many times did you say the phrases “will you?” or “would you?” If you’re not saying those phrases regularly, than you’re not making enough true fundraising asks to build a sustainable development program.

Far too many organizations make wishy washy asks. They say things like, “Can I count on your support?” or “I’d love if you could make a donation to our organization. Those aren’t asks. Asks are real, direct questions that include a specific amount.

“Will you donate $500 to our non-profit?”

“Would you make a $1,000 gift to our leadership campaign?”

Those are strong asks. Those are the kinds of asks that are easy for donors to understand, that demand an answer, and that make donors want to give.


Everybody wants to be part of something bigger than themselves. Every. Single. Person.

Your non-profit should have a big vision… one that outlasts both you and your donor, and which makes the world (or your corner of it) a far better place. You should talking about that vision and mission with your donors often.

If you’re doing that, then you’re ready to include the fifth and final word that your donors need to hear from your organization: “legacy.” Your non-profit needs to be inviting its donors to leave a lasting legacy by making a major, capital, or planned gift to support your work.

Those three types of donations: major gifts, capital campaign gifts, and planned gifts… are the big three game-changers for your non-profit that donors can make to ensure their legacy by ensuring the sustainability and growth of your organization. But they’re not going to make those gifts unless you ask. And they’re not going to be thinking about legacy and vision unless you bring up the topic.

The next time you’re sitting down to write an e-mail newsletter or direct mail letter (or getting ready to make a donor phone call), look through these five words and phrases, and make a plan to incorporate them often.


Photo Credit: Steve Johnson