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Nonprofit Value Proposition: 4 Proven Ways to Help Donors Understand Why They Should Give

Published by Nathan Hill

Whether you’re trying to raise more money online, communicate with donors face-to-face, or increase revenue from a direct mail appeal — your nonprofit value proposition is the most valuable tool to influence someone to give to you.

Most nonprofits, however, fall short when it comes to articulating their value proposition.

In fact, when given a score based on proven strategies, most nonprofit value propositions score a 2.3 out of 5 or lower.

The good news is that the opportunity to improve your value proposition is huge. And our library of fundraising experiments has uncovered 4 key elements you can use to improve your value proposition and increase giving.

Ready to dive deeper already? You can activate they Why Should I Give to You? course on nonprofit value proposition here »

What is a nonprofit value proposition?

There are a lot of misconceptions about what a value proposition actually is. It’s not your mission statement. It’s not an incentive to give. Instead, a nonprofit value proposition answers one fundamental question that every donor asks when considering giving to your organization: Why should I give to you, rather than some other organization, or at all?

Why should I give to you, rather than some other organization, or at all?

You might answer this question slightly differently depending on the context:

  • a donation page
  • an email appeal
  • a direct mail letter
  • an in-person conversation

Regardless of the medium of communication, there are 4 key elements that you need to include in your answer to give yourself the best chances at earning a donation.

Before we outline the 4 key elements, let’s look at a couple common examples that are not actually a strong value proposition.

A Value Proposition is Not Your Mission Statement

Many nonprofits trying to communicate their value proposition resort to articulating some version of their mission statement. But your mission statement is not a donor-centric message.

Your mission statement is intended to be a guidepost for your organization. If you’re trying to decide whether to invest in a new initiative, project, or strategy, your mission statement is a guiding light to help you decide if it’s in line with what your organization is all about.

But this doesn’t help a donor gain a deeper understanding of why they should give.

Mission Statement Example

Here’s an example of a mission statement from the San Diego Zoo:

San Diego Zoo is a conservation organization committed to saving species around the world.

This mission statement may help them decide how to allocate budgets, invest in staff, and support conservation projects. But if this is copied and pasted on to a donation page, a donor is left to wonder:

  • What specifically does my donation go towards?
  • How much do I need to give to make an impact?
  • Can I trust you with my investment?
  • How is your work any different or better than any other zoo or conservation organization?

A Value Proposition is Not an Incentive

Another common misconception is that an incentive is sufficient for winning over potential donors. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Example of a donation page using incentives

While incentives may be great tools for giving donors a reason to give now or at a higher level, incentives don’t help donors understand why they should give in the first place.

Take a look at the example from a local PBS station. Their donation page has little to no explanation as to why someone should give. Instead, the donor immediately starts to consider what they might get back in return for a donation – rather than being focused on the impact of a gift.

In this example, donors may start to think…

  • I can get an umbrella for a lot less than $20 per month.
  • I can just buy a Texas flag t-shirt, and not have to pay monthly.
  • I can buy a round-trip flight for $240 – which is a lot more than just 1000 airline miles.

The problem with only using incentives is that donors are instantly placed into a transactional mindset. They’re not focused on the impact or outcome of giving — they’re focused on what they can get back for themselves.

4 Elements of an Effective Nonprofit Value Proposition

3300+ online fundraising experiments have taught us a lot about what works to increase giving and grow generosity. And the biggest factor in determining whether or not someone will give to you is your value proposition.

To craft an effective value proposition, there are 4 key elements you need to keep in mind as you craft copy and design emails, donation pages, landing pages, and more.

  • Appeal – How badly does your ideal donor want to give to the cause or need?
  • Clarity – How quickly do donors understand what you’re asking?
  • Exclusivity – Can your donor make this impact with another organization?
  • Credibility – Can your donors trust the claims you’re making?

Let’s look at an experiment related to each of these elements to see how they can be applied on your pages and in your fundraising.

#1. Appeal – Helping donors understand why they should want to give.

“How badly do I want it?”

If I am your ideal donor, how badly do I want to support your cause? Or solve a particular problem? Or invest in a specific program or fund?

You as the fundraiser obviously care a lot about your cause — you’re giving your career to support it. But your donor’s may have a variety of different motivations for considering giving to you. And the only way to know which messaging angle is going to resonate and appeal the most to your donors is to put it to the test.

Consider this experiment for a moment:

Example of using appeal in your nonprofit value proposition

In the experiment above, you see 4 different versions of copy on a giving widget. When someone clicks the “Donate” button, they’re taken to a donation page to complete their gift.

This organization had 4 different ideas of what kind of messaging would be most appealing to their potential donors:

  1. The straight-forward version: “Honor Kade and Kallan with a donation to CaringBridge. You make Kade and Kallan’s website possible.”
  2. The reverse order: “Kade’s CaringBridge site is supported by generous donors like you. Make a donation to CaringBridge in honor of Kade.”
  3. Impact Focused: “Help Kade stay connected to family and friends. Make a donation to CaringBridge to keep Kade’s site up and running.”
  4. Emotional Appeal: “Show your love and support for Kade. Make a donation to keep Kade’s site up and running.”

Each one of these messaging angles touches a different motivation. They each answer the “How badly do I want it?” question in a different way.

After running an a/b/c/d test, they saw a 67% increase in donations using the Emotional Appeal messaging angle. Donors were more likely to give when the donation appeal was framed around the outcome of showing love and support for Kade — rather than focusing too much on the function of the website.

Key Takeaway: You have lots of ways you can present your donation appeal. Run an a/b test to see which versions of your value proposition will align most with the motivation of your donors.

#2. Clarity – Communicating your value proposition using clear language.

“How quickly and easily do I understand it?”

If your ideal donor is reading a fundraising email or the copy on your donation page, how long does it take them to understand what you’re asking?

The reasons to give might be abundantly clear to you — the fundraiser — but your donor likely needs more explanation of why the should give using clear language.

Below is a simple example of how clarity plays into the giving process.

Example of using clarity in your nonprofit value proposition

You can see in the experiment that there are 3 different versions of the call-to-action button on this ad. Each one of them has the same appeal, promising a free CD of the most recent broadcast from this nonprofit’s radio programming when you donate.

They wondered if they could increase clarity on the call-to-action, and lead more people to say “Yes” and donate. Here are the 3 calls-to-action:

  • Version A: Give Now
  • Version B: For a Gift of Any Amount, Get Your CD Here »
  • Version C: Get Your CD For a Gift of Any Amount Here »

Version C led to an 18% increase in donations by providing the most clarity out of the 3 calls-to-action. It addressed the primary appeal up front “Get Your CD…” and clarified exactly how to get it “…For a Gift of Any Amount.”

Key Takeaway: Use clear language in your email appeals, donation pages, advertising, and other channels to help donors quickly and easily understand your nonprofit value proposition.

#3. Exclusivity – Setting your nonprofit’s work apart from others.

“Can I get this somewhere (or anywhere) else?”

One of the most overlooked components of your value proposition is what we call exclusivity: how do you communicate what’s different and unique about your organization?

When someone considers giving to you, they’re not reading your donation page in isolation. In the back of their mind, donors know that there are other nonprofits that do similar work to you. To earn their donation, you need to explain your unique approach to impacting your cause.

In the experiment below, you can see how CaringBridge used exclusivity to strengthen their value proposition.

*Note: CaringBridge provides journal pages for people going through health crises. It keeps friends and family in the loop on health updates, and allows loved ones to share comments and encouragement.

Example of using exclusivity in your nonprofit value proposition

In version A, this giving widget used generic language to make their donation ask:

  • “Make a WonderFull Tribute Donation” — I can make a tribute donation to nearly any other organization.
  • “Connect people with love and support” — Almost any other organization can say they connect people with love and support.

In version B, however, they used more specific and exclusive language to make their donation ask:

  • “Honor Deborah With Your Tribute Donation” — A website visitor who has been looking at Deborah’s page is only able to honor Deborah with a donation here.
  • “Make sure the website that brings them joy…stays up and running” — A donor can only make this specific impact by giving to CaringBridge.

By making their donation appeal more exclusive—focusing on impact that you can only make through CaringBridge—they saw an 86% increase in donations.

Key Takeaway: Make sure your value proposition explains how your organization solves a unique problem or uses a unique approach.

#4. Credibility – Building trust through your copy and design.

“Do I trust you?”

You can have a value proposition with strong appeal, clear messaging, and reasons to give that are exclusive to your organization. But if your potential donors don’t trust you or believe your claims, then they won’t give.

There are lots of ways to build trust and credibility in your value proposition:

  • Testimonials from beneficiaries
  • Reviews from donors
  • Data to illustrate impact and reach
  • Trust marks from GuideStar, Charity Navigator, etc.

In the experiment below, you can see how something as simple as a testimonial can build credibility and make a meaningful impact on donations.

Example of using credibility in your nonprofit value proposition

Version A and version B of this experiment had the exact same design, layout, donation form, images, and reasons to give. The difference was that version B added a testimonial illustrating the value of the free gift that a donor would receive after giving.

By getting someone else who has benefited from the organization to share a testimonial, it helped build trust and credibility—leading to a 27% increase in donations.

Key Takeaway: Go above and beyond to show potential donors that they can trust you using things like testimonials, reviews, and trust marks.

What next steps can you take to improve your nonprofits value proposition?

You’re not alone in trying to find ways to improve your nonprofit value proposition. In fact, according to research, most nonprofits are ill-equipped to communicate their value proposition effectively across channels.

Which is why we’ve created an in-depth course for you on how to develop your nonprofit value proposition, contextualize it for the right audience at the right time, and test your best hypotheses to increase donations and results.

And because you’ve made it all the way to the end of the post (which is no small feat), I want you to have access to the Why Should I Give to You? course for free for 30 days.

You can learn more and activate your free course here »

Published by Nathan Hill

Nathan Hill is Vice President, NextAfter Institute.