How charities get me to donate every time

on June 28, 2017

I’d only been working at CrowdRise for a week the first time it happened. I didn’t even realize it. I was just researching causes, exploring various nonprofits and charities. I opened a few emails, and suddenly I found myself sucked into the most compelling campaign I’d ever read about. Five minutes later, I’m reaching for my wallet. This happened two more times. By week three I had donated to three different campaigns.

I started to think about what prompted me to give. I’m a writer, so naturally I’m drawn to the story. But most of the charities I’ve seen have pretty great stories. So, why these three then? Out of the thousands of charities out there, what was it about these three that compelled me to keep clicking the donate button?

After far too much coffee and a lot of digging, I’ve identified these three pretty distinct tactics I can only describe as “magical storytelling hooks.” This is what they are, and how these charities use them so well that I’m feeling pretty great about giving, again and again.

charity: water

How they got me: They just make their impact so tangible.

A bit of background
Anytime you see a laundry list of “charities that are doing really great at pretty much everything,” chances are charity: water is on it. They’re on a mission to bring clean water to everyone and they’re doing a kick-ass job of helping communities thrive, empowering women, creating jobs, improving overall health, and a whole slew of other benefits. Even Bill and Melinda Gates think so.

What they’re doing right
I know exactly what the $30 I give will accomplish. $30 brings 1 person  clean water for a year. $10,000? You’ll fully fund a water project for 1 school or community. It couldn’t be more clear. Now, charity: water has an advantage here since 100% of the all donated funds go towards clean water initiatives and I know not every nonprofit can leverage this model. But charity: water takes it beyond the just the donation model. They also drive home the notion of tangible impact on their blog, which often features stories of how their donors continue to make a very real impact on the initiatives and communities they’re supporting. And that reinforces the overall feeling of actually making a difference, as opposed to just writing out a check to some charity without really knowing how the funds are being distributed.  


How to apply it
You most likely know how far a $30 donation will go within your organization. Do you think if you asked one of your annual donors that they would answer the same? What about $50, or $100?  Try making the objective of your next piece of communication to get on the same page with your community about tangible impact. And let’s be clear, tangible doesn’t just mean things like field hospitals or malaria nets, it can be an initiative or program too. For example if your charity works towards eradicating domestic violence, you can talk about how $10 buys one person a meal at a shelter, or $25 goes towards creating support groups for survivors. Just remember to be specific and use concrete examples.

Pencils of Promise

How they got me: They caught my attention with powerful data that made me literally drop what I was doing and say, “that’s crazy. That’s a problem we have to solve.”

A bit of background
Pencils of Promise is a global network of people, institutions and initiatives that are working to make quality education a reality all over the world. They build schools, they help train and support teachers, they track student progress and they provide supplemental materials and programming. It’s pretty awesome, and the progress they’ve made so far is nothing short of incredible.

What they’re doing right
Pencils of Promise uses data-backed power statements to drive home their message. Case in point - take a look at the first thing you see on the Pencils of Promise website: “250 million kids can’t read this. Let’s change that.”


It’s attention grabbing statements like these that have the most impact. “250 million children of primary school age lack basic reading, writing and math skills. Teachers that receive PoP support see 3x higher test scores amongst their students.” The website is peppered with powerful statements like these. Then there’s the “100% promise” which encapsulates the ‘100% holy trinity of powerful messaging panel’ as I’ve taken to calling it.


They’ve combined these simple yet effective statements with stats directly related to donations. Combining hard data with graphics equals a dynamic duo of data visualization that really resonates with donors.

How to apply it
The trick is finding the right balance between the stats and the messaging, and then using it to think outside the box. PoP has mastered this technique, but there’s no reason you can’t take some of your own stats to create similar power messages.

Pro tips: Be clean and concise. Less is more. Use images or an infographic. Create a few data-fueled power statements and run with them. By that I mean, place them in highly visible spots on your website where you think they’ll have the most impact. You can also use some of these especially powerful messages as the subject line in an email campaign. Or as a tweet. The possibilities are endless.

Hand in Hand Center for Jewish-Arab Education

How they got me: They delivered unexpected side-by-side personal narratives.

A bit of background
This one’s for all the olive branch bearers out there. Hand in Hand Center for Jewish- Arab Education is an educational initiative that brings together thousands of Jews and Arabs in Israel in six schools across the country. They do this through a dual-edged approach to education that’s unique for Israel.The students also do everything together. And they talk about stuff, even the hard questions (ie,“Will we ever have peace?”) The overall goal is to serve as a model of what inclusivity looks like by building a kind of shared society of mutual respect and tolerance, in one of the most passionately fought-over regions in the world. And they’re doing it, you guys.

What they’re doing right
Hand in Hand is a smaller charity, much less well-known than the other two I’ve talked about.  So they have to rely almost entirely on their story. And what a story it is. I’m referring to the “side-by-side” perspective that carries across their entire narrative, which also directs their inclusive educational approach. Really great specific examples are the self-narrated stories of two friends and Hand-in-Hand alumni - Bar (Israeli) and Fatima (Arab). The girls talk about their experiences at the school, acknowledging that while they don’t always agree, they are able to appreciate completely different perspectives.  This ability to really empathize has made all the difference in their lives, impacting not only how they interact with other people, but also how they see the future of their country.

The dual-narrative is at the core of HiH’s storytelling. A perfect example is how they address a pretty sensitive topic for Israeli and Arab citizens.Hand in Hand calls it “National Days of Pain and Hope.” The website only very briefly explains what this means, then they let the students and their families tell the rest of the story. This includes a reception where two parents (one Arab, one Israeli) each reads a letter to their child.



By showing us, not telling us, Hand in Hand hints at the idea of a future that we can all rally behind. At the end of the day, they rely on their shared values and a mutual hope for peace. They want their kids to have a future, and that can only come through empathy for the person on the other side of the story.

How to apply it
Focus on who you help rather than how you help. Make this a feature on your website or email campaign. Highlight someone on social media - you can even share their story in parts like a series. As someone who works for a charity, you’ve probably heard hundreds of stories about how your nonprofit is helping others. Pick the ones that resonate the most (with permission, of course) and shout their stories from the virtual rooftops.

My “aha” moment: We’re all in this together
Somehow, these charities made me feel like I was important to the story, like my role (however small) was part of their larger mission. And not because they made me feel guilty in any way, but because I was overcome by this sense of “We’re all in this together.” Each charity used the cause as a source of empowerment that I was able to relate to. All of the personal stories of the people affected are woven into a larger narrative, and it’s a story that the audience feels good about.

Maybe that’s the secret then: they make potential donors feel like they’re an integral part of the impact and the storyline. And really, they are. For me, all three of these charities made me feel really good about giving. I felt like I was doing a whole lot more than just donating a few dollars. Honestly, I kind of felt like I was helping make the world a little bit better of a place to live. And if a charity can make a donor feel like that with just a few words, that’s huge.

Lauren Meir

Lauren Meir is the Creative and Content Manager at CrowdRise. She has been working in content marketing for nearly a decade, writing for a variety of audiences and industries. Lauren is passionate about the power of storytelling for good. When she’s not doing stuff with words, she can likely be found putting out fires. Literally, since her kids just discovered matches.