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How non-profits use words to boost charitable donations

The logos six nonprofits featured in a blog about analyzing how they use language to solicit charitable donations.

Rising inflation has squeezed non-profits more than most. With more people struggling, they’re facing the twin predicament of having to provide more support at a time where people are reducing or canceling their charitable donations.

In this environment, charities’ choice of messaging becomes even more important. How do you convince donors who are themselves facing squeezed incomes to maintain – or even increase – what they give?

To find out, Relative Insight looked at tweets from the following US charities:

By analyzing and quantifying the differences between social media posts from these six organizations, we were able to discern each charity’s strategies to encourage contributions – and see how these household names are navigating a difficult landscape.

Despite all six having the same objective – maximizing charitable donations – each non-profit goes about it in a unique way.

Hone your messaging to maximize donations

Boys & Girls Clubs of America offers positivity 3.2x more

With many studies, including this report from the University of Florida, finding that negative imagery and language reduces people’s inclination to donate, some non-profits are transitioning away from shocking audiences with harrowing words and pictures. Boys & Girls Clubs of America is among them.

Its tweets were unapologetically positive and uplifting. These messages were 3.9x more likely to use words relating ‘contentment’, such as ‘proud’, ‘grateful’ and ‘thankful’, as well as expressing ‘happiness’ 2.5x more. It also used the phrase ‘spark hope’ infinitely more, with positive messaging overindexing 3.2x more overall in its tweets.

This demonstrates that the organization showcases positive outcomes to convince people to make charitable donations.

Excited for the @nps_success! We’re proud to champion this partnership to provide guidance & get more trained people to help students recover from the impacts of the pandemic & thrive in & out of school.

It’s also keen to promote its events and celebrity supporters. The charity talks about ‘events’ 4.7x more, as well as referencing who these events were ‘with’ 2.1x more, or who they ‘met’ 8.6x more. Boys & Girls Clubs of America showcases its political and celebrity connections to reinforce that it makes a difference in young people’s lives.

Thank you @kahlil_greene for speaking with our youth & clubs! Proud to call you an alum & advocate for youth! Making @bgcgw proud! #nyad22 #youthvoice 💙”

Unsurprisingly, given the nature of its work, there was far less positivity in the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s messages. However, the organization is definitive and absolute in its use of words.

It is 25.7x more likely to use language related to ‘dislike’ and ‘opposition’, including ‘anti’, ‘hate’ and ‘disapproval’. The charity is also 10.1x more likely to use the word ‘against’ – defining what it and its members won’t stand for. The Legal Defense Fund also uses the word ‘must’ 11.9x more, emphasizing its unwavering attitude to making society more equitable. Overall, it’s 13.2x more likely to use this type of language than the other charities.

For nearly a decade, LDF has been urging the Department of Justice to take much-needed steps to enforce the anti-discrimination provisions of Title VI. We are pleased that the agency produced the new policies and procedures it announced.

Rather than urging supporters to make charitable donations, the Legal Defense Fund instead requests that they take action. This mostly takes the form of change at the ballot box. It uses phrases like ‘elect candidates’, ‘early voting’, ‘voice heard’ and ‘ballot box’ infinitely more.

From federal elections, to local races and ballot measures, there is a lot at stake this election season. Voting is the language of our democracy, and making your voice heard at the ballot box is critical.

The Legal Defense Fund doesn’t overtly ask people to donate. What it does do is clearly and directly state what it stands for and the change it is trying to bring. People who support these aims can then choose to offer support.

St Jude 49.9x more likely to praise donors

St Jude Children’s Research Hospital also clearly highlights its goal to donors. Rather than expressing this through steadfast beliefs, it instead talks about its ‘mission’. The charity uses this phrase 19.7x more, using it to define its aims. It also uses the phrases ‘St Jude mission’ and ‘lifesaving mission’ infinitely more, reinforcing its importance.

Researchers at St. Jude partnered with @who to provide effective cancer treatments to children in low- and middle-income countries. This is only possible with your generosity and support. Click the link to donate to our lifesaving mission.

When people make charitable donations to help St Jude with this mission, it’s quick to praise them. The charity is 13.7x more likely to use the phrase ‘thank you’, talks about donors’ ‘amazing support’ 122.7x more and uses the phrases ‘greatly appreciated’ and ‘truly appreciated’ infinitely more.

@patbcooper your support is greatly appreciated, Pat. We can’t thank you enough! 💛🤍”

St Jude also looks to encourage fundraising efforts, as well as interacting with parents of children undergoing treatment. This is demonstrated by the phrase ‘great work’ overindexing 57.7x more.

@jonahbaer amazing! Keep up the great work, Jonah! 🙌 🏃 ♂ #stjudeheroes

The charity’s messaging pulls everybody in one direction. All those who work for or support St Jude are pulling together as part of a team to achieve the charity’s mission – giving them a sense of purpose.

The Salvation Army chooses to serve 7.5x more

Interestingly, it was the Salvation Army whose tweets overindexed for words you’d associate with charities. It was 2.7x more likely to use words related to ‘giving’, such as ‘provide’, ‘gift’ and ‘give’. The charity also used words relating to ‘help’ 1.8x more, including ‘relief’, ‘support’ and ‘assistance’.

The low relative difference metrics for these words indicates that all non-profits analyzed used them to some degree, however, proportionally it’s the Salvation Army who used them most within its tweets.

…through power outages, heavy rains & storm surges, the #salvationarmy is mobilizing disaster response teams to provide support to impacted areas due to #huricaneian. Please help support the relief efforts with a donation.

How the Salvation Army defined this support which was unique. The charity used the words ‘serve’ and ‘served’ 3.7x and 11.3x more respectively. These words draw upon both its religious and military heritage, portraying the organization as an entity that exists to support – with all the sacrifices associated with service.

“It’s because of people like you that the Salvation Army can serve more than 31 million Americans in need each year. Your gift helps the Salvation Army love beyond hardships all year in your community.”

Habitat for Humanity focuses on families 4.8x more

Rather than highlighting how many people it looks to support, Habitat for Humanity focuses on a certain group to secure charitable donations. It emphasizes the plight of families to help its messaging hit home.

The non-profit uses the words ‘family’ 1.7x more and ‘families’ 3.1x more. Its tweets also featured the phrase ‘more families’ infinitely more. Overall the charity focused on families 4.8x more overall as a way to build donor empathy. Rather than donate to help faceless recipients, it use of language puts contributors with families in recipients’ shoes, sympathizing with them.

We smile when we think about… – Home dedications 🔑 🎉 – New opportunities for families ❤ 😄 – Building and repairs 🏚 ➡ 🏠 – Safe communities around the world 🏘 🌎 #habitatforhumanity 😃 #bigsmile.”

Given the complexity of Habitat for Humanity’s work, its tweets look to educate potential donors. While other charities’ call-to-actions were predominantly to donate, Habitat for Humanity instead offers information.

The phrases ‘learn more’ (2.6x), ‘full story’ (27.9x) and ‘#didyouknow’ (161.1x) overindexed in its tweets. The charity clearly wants donors to understand where their money is going and what it achieves to encourage people to make regular contributions.

Habitat’s @terwilligerctr uses innovative solutions to make affordable housing possible for millions, creating access to capital and facilitating more efficient and inclusive housing market systems. Learn more about the @terwilligerctr’s work:

Feeding America 22.5x more likely to reference neighborliness

While Habitat for Humanity looked to attract charitable donations by using families as a reference point for donors, Feeding America chooses neighbors. The charity was 41.9x more likely to use the word, while also mentioning ‘community’ 3.0x more. Overall, it referenced the topic of neighborliness 22.5x more than the other organizations.

The organization wants to drive the issue of hunger closer to home by inferring that somebody donors know, or see regularly, is impacted by it.

When disaster strikes, Feeding America and the network of food banks are on the ground providing food and resources to neighbors in need.

The charity also looks to raise money by building a sense of urgency around the issue of hunger. It was 1.5x more likely to use temporal nouns such as ‘today’, as well as being 4.6x more likely to use the word ‘this’ – in the context of emphasizing the current time period, including ‘this week’ or ‘this summer’.

The organization also used the word ‘facing’ 14.8x more, in the context of people ‘facing hunger’, while the word ‘need’ overindexed 4.4x more. Its message is effectively: “People are facing serious hunger right now and need your help.

Today we honor moms everywhere, especially the millions of moms facing hunger – moms who are resilient, strong and doing everything they can for their families. This #mothersday, you can help give moms facing hunger the support they need to thrive.

Varied social strategies to secure charitable donations

Within minutes, Relative Insight’s text analysis software analyzed 250,000 words to identify the strategies US non-profit organizations use to attract charitable donations. While this is fascinating, it also surfaces tactics that other non-profits could emulate to attract contributions at a time of squeezed incomes.

This could include iterating messaging to ensure the people they reference are those who’ll resonate with potential donors. While they might be averse to giving money to complete strangers, suggesting that their donations are going to neighbors, or to families like theirs, reassures contributors.

Many of these organizations clearly define their mission, values and how they go about their work within social messaging. This directness helps donors to know exactly what their contributions will achieve.

Other non-profits could also mimic St Jude’s strategy of enhancing the natural dopamine boost that comes from donating to charity by publicly congratulating individual donors – encouraging them to repeat donations to get the dopamine hit again.

Assessing whether your messaging is getting the job done has never been easier. Relative Insight’s text analysis software helps you to hone how you communicate with donors to maximize contributions. Get a free trial now to see for yourself.

Resonate with donors