Donor-Centered Appeals (Or, How to Get Out of Your Own Way)

In her continuing series, we welcome special guest, Stelter Editorial Director, Katie Parker.

Let me save you some time.

There’s a chance that this blog post doesn’t apply to you. Here’s a quick yes/no quiz to self-select your readership.

As you compare yourself to your core planned giving prospect, are you:

  1. The same age?
  2. Equal in gift planning knowledge?
  3. Identical in affinity to your organization’s mission?
  4. Matched in your daily schedule and pressures?
  5. Of the same financial standing?

If you answered yes to all five, no need to continue. You are your prospect and content that appeals to you will appeal to them. Have a productive day!

I suspect, however, that you are still here. Maybe you and your prospect pool have similar affinity to your organization, but the comparisons after that get fuzzy. Your gift planning knowledge, in particular, is certainly greater. And as a fundraiser, your day-to-day schedule likely doesn’t look much like theirs.

The takeaway: Your marketing appeals aren’t for you. They’re for your donor.

Translated to gift planning, this means focusing on the basics that your prospect is still uncovering. Crazy fact: 68% percent of Americans over the age of 18 don’t have will (Source: 2017 NMI Healthy Aging Database® Study). The basics are important: Wills and living trusts, beneficiary designations and the tools for planning a fiscally sound future are the audience’s core needs. As Dr. Russell James, J.D., Ph.D., CFP® and professor at Texas Tech University’s Words That Work taught us, formal terms lower charitable interest.

Write Like Warren

At the end of February, Warren Buffett sent out his very popular Berkshire Hathaway shareholders’ letter. Of course, it’s been dissected all over the internet. A world leader in financial decision-making, the Oracle of Omaha also happens to be a savvy marketer. Instead of writing with jargon and showy terms, he opts to write the letter with his two sisters—Doris and Bertie—in mind. These lovely ladies don’t thrive under the bell of Wall Street or the daily chatter of a 20th-floor financial institution. They are the average investor that Warren serves.

Who is the average prospect that you serve?


Some questions that can get you in the mindset of your prospects:

  • What are their pain points?
  • What do they expect from your nonprofit?
  • What are you solving for them?
  • What questions do they have?
  • What excites them?
  • What keeps them up at night?
  • Why do they care?
  • How will your prospect use this information?

Considering these questions ahead of prepping a fundraising appeal can match your message to your audience.

It also helps you clear your own bias from the conversation.


In the planned giving space, we’ve seen two recent examples of changing donor behavior that our industry has been slow to embrace. Are you getting in your own way of a gift opportunity?

  1. Not promoting donor advised funds. Our Senior Technical Consultant, Lynn Gaumer, just provided some reasons to rethink the DAF.
  2. Ignoring the availability and impact of DIY online wills. Donors can create estate plans without ever leaving their home. Making critical future decisions is individual hands more than ever.


If you’re still wondering how to put the donor in the driver’s seat, ditch the “I.”

For example:

“I am happy to share a new opportunity…” becomes, “You have a new opportunity to create change…”

“I think you’ll find the following interesting…” becomes, “With these tools, you’ll be able to…” (This example also answers, What’s in it for them?)


Here’s to finding your own Doris and Bertie!

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