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Each fundraising appeal is different. But I find the following seven emotions excellent for motivating donors through direct mail. That’s both for soliciting gifts or nurturing donors so they will give again in future.

One thing to keep in mind is donors are not always consciously aware of their emotions. Particularly with emotions like number 5, you need to be subtle about how you evoke these feelings in your copy.

Anyway, here goes…

1. Outraged. This is straightforward. Get your donor angry over injustice and they will give. Whether it’s cruelty to animals or human trafficking, outrage is a fundraiser’s friend.

2. Protective. The donor gives on behalf of the helpless. Babies, children or animals who are threatened in some way and need tender loving care. Combined with Outrage, this is very effective.

3. Inspired. Several things may inspire a donor. A small amount of money that saves lives. A beneficiary who has overcome severe hardship and is worth helping. A vision to end poverty or see a cure for diabetes.

This is often about showing a donor’s potential impact. If donor knows their gifts can help achieve a concrete result, they give.

4. Fear. The donor is concerned about consequences. This is often effective in health or political fundraising.

What if I have a heart attack and need to go to hospital? Or what if I get cancer and there’s still no cure? Or what if we end up with a politician who will cut funding for education, destroy the environment, or is some way utterly corrupt?

5. Exclusivity. The donor is invited to be part of a select group – the ones that REALLY care about the cause and are doing something about it.

This is very good for soliciting monthly gifts or major gifts.

6. Influential. The donor is given an opportunity to influence an outcome in the life of a person or group. A child sponsor gives a child an education. A donor provides revolving loans to families who would otherwise starve or remain in poverty. A donor gives illiterate adults the chance to learn to read and get vocational training.

7. Benevolence. This is about the joy of giving. Lots of donors love giving and get that warm fuzzy feeling about it.

One day, my mother-in-law (who loved giving to many charities) was looking very pleased with herself. It turned out she’d sent a sizeable amount of money to a friend in Africa – cash in an envelope. She had just received a letter of delight and thanks.

I doubt she heard our admonitions about sending money through the mail (to Africa of all places). She just sat there looking like the cat that ate the canary and the cream! The feeling of benevolence she got from giving to someone who really needed it outweighed any other consideration.

This is how you want your donors to feel – like their donation was money well spent. You can talk about the joy of giving in your appeals – but make sure you give your donors the warm fuzzies with your thank yous and report backs about what you did with their gift.

So there are my top 7 emotions. However, you can use many others in your fundraising copy. Here are a few more to think about.

Pity Privileged Pride Powerful
Joy Disgusted Wonder Generous
Blessed Smart Encouraged Stressed
Apathy Effective Passion Grieved
Anger Indignant Gratitude Comforted
Insecure Recognised Excited Significant
Amazed Connected Valued Lonely
Anxiety Compassion Guilt Religious fervour


Good luck. It’s been emotional.

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