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Donor-Centered Language

By Mary Hernandez, Petrus Blog Contributor

Your year-end appeal is about to get to the final proofing stage, and thankfully, there is still time to edit with a critical eye and include your donors as a key player in your messaging. 


Your appeal likely includes these elements:

  • Transformative faith experiences of one or more students
  • A recap of the number and kind of students involved this year
  • A summary of a particularly successful ministry outreach event or retreat 


These glory stories and positive growth statistics are important and good to share with the reader, and they will undoubtedly lift their spirits and be a cause for hope. Yet, it is essential to remember that appeals are about you [the donor] and us [the ministry]. Making the donor visible in your ministry’s story is critical to a successful appeal and strengthening donor engagement.  


I want to share some practical and real-life appeal examples with you to learn from one another about messages that successfully keep your donor at the center and how to improve on a message that is okay but leaves the benefactor out.  


Special thanks to the following ministries for opening their appeal archives for this month’s blog: Our Lady of Wisdom at the University of Louisiana Lafayette, St. Mary’s at Texas A&M, and St. Thomas More Newman Center in Columbia, Missouri.

Make Stronger Connections


To better engage your donor, begin by segmenting your list by donor type. Identify them as alumni, parent, current or past benefactor, recurring giving circle member (usually has a branded name), parishioner, or something else that is significant to your ministry. It’s a simple adjustment that tells the donor you recognize who they are to the ministry.  

Original example: Our ministry and outreach, including the radical availability of the sacraments to more than XX,XXX Catholic students on campus, is possible through the generosity of our alumni, benefactors, and Ministry Partners. 


Here is that message, segmented by donor type and donor-centered:

Our ministry and outreach, including the radical availability of the sacraments to more than XX,XXX Catholic students on campus, is possible through the generosity of…alumni like you! …Ministry Partners like you! …Parents like you!


Here is another instance:

Original example: The XXXXXX Newman Center is truly a gift for every student, alumni, parishioner, and brother and sister in Christ who walk through Her doors. This gift is only possible because of the many who offer prayerful and financial support to help us continue our mission on campus.  


Now here is the rewrite, donor-centered: 

XXXXXX Newman Center is truly a gift for every student, alumni, parishioner, and brother and sister in Christ who walk through Her doors.  You and …other alumni…other parents…other friends make this gift possible when you offer prayerful and financial support to help us continue our mission on campus. 


The next example recognizes the importance of the donor’s past gift and eloquently challenges him to increase his support in his next gift: 

These may be financially tough times for many, but I ask that as you are able – as a generous supporter – please consider doubling your gift in 20XX, which in your case would be an annual contribution of $XXX.



Donors as Partners


Whereas the earlier examples call out to the donor personally, your donor becomes a more central to your appeal when they rise to the level of partner in ministry. How can a donor realistically join you in the work of ministry? In one such example, the message strikes an emotional connection with the donor while inviting them to partner with you in this important work:

Our Bible Study Leaders need your prayers as they face unique challenges in spreading the Gospel on campus. I have included a special enclosure so that you can “meet” them and pray for them by name. I invite you to hang it on your refrigerator in your home, keep it inside your Bible and share it with friends and family as a reminder to pray for them and the students they lead. (The enclosure included headshots of Bible Study leaders and a bit of information about each).


The following example invites the donor to partner in the potential success of the special giving event referred to in the appeal. The donor is also called to action in two different ways.


I encourage you to join us on MONTH DATE for THIS SPECIAL EVENT through prayer, in person, and with your charitable dollars. Your participation will help us to share the joy of a life with Christ with our young people. Visit OUR WEBSITE to learn more about the initiatives your gift will support. If you customarily make a year-end or Christmas gift, this is a great opportunity to have it matched by our generous matching sponsors, doubling your impact. We hope you will champion this initiative by inviting a friend to join you in making a gift this year.



Remind your Donors, “You Are Not Alone.”


The college ministry I serve in has a large percentage of givers who give their weekly offertory online. When passing the offertory basket on Sundays, an observer may find it alarming.  Where are all the hands reaching out to drop their gift of support into the basket? I had a meaningful conversation with one of our major and longtime supporters who noticed this trend. Thankfully, I corrected the record and shared that it is a big win for our ministry to have so many provide consistent and stable support through weekly and monthly electronic gifts. 


Their concern speaks to the heart of many a major benefactor: no one wants to be alone in supporting a cause. Indeed, it can be outright scary for the benefactor, who may feel as though they are assuming a larger share of the financial burden. If major support is lost for any reason, it is equally concerning for the ministry who would find itself in a tough financial predicament. 


Here are some appeal messages that assure the donor that they are not alone in their support for your Catholic center. 


Original example: I am so grateful that you have joined us as a Ministry Partner to support our work with young people. 

Here is the tweaked version, reminding your donor that he is not alone: 

I am so grateful that you have joined the community of XXX Ministry Partners, who give monthly in support of our work with young people. 


Original example: Your gift is needed to help us achieve this goal. 

The rewrite: 

Yours and every gift is needed to help us achieve this goal. 


Original example: Thanks to your gift, we are excited to share we have a $XX,XXX matching challenge for this year’s SPECIAL EVENT! 

The rewrite: 

Thanks to your gift and a small group of sponsors who also contributed, we are excited to share we have a $XX,XXX matching challenge for this year’s SPECIAL EVENT! Your gifts will double their impact when they are matched dollar for dollar on MONTH/DAY! 


Hopefully, these messages will inspire you to strengthen the language of your appeal to be more donor-centric. Admittedly, appeal writing is an art and science all its own, and there are many worthwhile approaches to enliven your outreach, from storytelling to impact-driven appeals. For further learning, tune in to Petrus Academy's Donor-Centered Communications, A talk by JoAnn Shull, CFRE. You can also check out research by Tom Ahern and Penelope Burke for further reading on creating donor-centered connections to your mission. 


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