5 Phrases That Turn Off Donors

Over the years I’ve collected some less-than-inspiring statements and sayings from a variety of leaders and organizations.  In most instances, all of the folks and organizations were well intentioned.  But, in each instance they used phrases – either verbally or in correspondence – which turned off donors.

Below are some of those phrases, along with comments and thoughts from a donor’s perspective:

1.  “I’ve been so busy. . .” – We should never answer the perfunctory, “how have things been?” question with this complaint.  I have witnessed donors get turned off by a staff member saying this.  In fact, I would suggest that donors (and especially volunteers) can easily be offended by statements like this.  Donors are working their jobs (being “so busy”), and in addition, are assisting us!  So, articulating our woes may not go over well.  The best donors consider themselves to be partners with our organization.  They won’t partner for long with whiners.

2.  “We really need funding for. . . (fill in the blank).” – Even if a donor asks what you need, or how you would use their gift, please refrain from framing your answer this way.  Instead, explain how their gift will help you meet needs.  Don’t tell them you have needs.  The former inspires, the latter makes donors retreat from giving you a larger gift.

3. “The economy really has been difficult.” – This and similar statements turn off donors in a variety of ways.  First, this phrase beats a dead horse as everyone knows the economy is in rough shape.  Second, we give donors an “out” – a reason why they can’t support us with a bigger gift.  Our job is not to give them reasons to avoid being generous, but to have good responses when they provide such objections.  Finally, this phrase focuses on negative situations none of us can readily control.  Instead, we should inspire our donors by focusing their attention on our good work and how their giving will transform lives and communities.

4.  “Participation is just as important as gift amount.” – This, of course, is an age-old approach to increasing participation with specific groups of donors.  The problem with it is that it isn’t true!  Of course, participation is not as important as gift amount.  Participation may be a goal, but don’t try to kid your donors and tell them that a gift of a lower amount is just as important as a gift of a higher amount, because both donors have “participated.”  They know that makes no sense and it hurts your credibility.

5. “Enclosed is your invoice.” – I’ve seen this more than I care to admit written on pledge reminders.  As development professionals, we should work to develop a culture of philanthropy among our donors and prospects.  This is a phrase of business, of transactions, not of giving and philanthropy.  We should never invoice donors.  We should remind donors of their commitments.  Donors may not voice a concern with a phrase like this, but the problem is still present.  We may have just dampened their enthusiasm for giving without their fully understanding why.

There are more than 5 phrases that turn off donors, of course.  But these are 5 that I have personally heard or witnessed.  I’m sure you and members of your staff don’t use these phrases – but you may want to keep a hand on the tracks from time to time just to make sure.


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