Photo By Nick Morrison, Unsplash

Avoid jargon, understand donor motivations

By Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, Notes on Nonprofits

This week’s column offers a fundraising tip and new research about giving in Florida and in our region.

Using jargon confuses donors

Even though 30% of all charitable gifts are made in December, writing a well-crafted message that inspires people to give is harder than it looks. That’s why I enjoyed a recent post from consultant Claire Axelrad, JD, CFRE who says jargon destroys nonprofit fundraising and marketing. Claire emphatically states how much she hates jargon and how buzz words, acronyms, insider speak, and stilted, formal grammar could be turning off your supporters.

Local officials and non-profit employees gather at Klemen Plaza in 2016 for the Big Bend Gives Back Kickoff. The event was a part of the effort to generate support for Giving Tuesday, celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving and intended to kick off the charitable season, when many make their holiday donations.

I have written every type of fundraising communication and I know how easy it is for jargon and overused phrases to slip into your writing. This is especially important right now when nonprofits are asking for year-end donations.

Instead of using dense, heavy text and overused words like ‘empower’, ‘case management’, and ‘integrated’, replace them with ‘inspire’, ‘encourage’, ‘personal care,’ and ‘combined’. Avoid phrases like “help us change the world” and “help us restore hope” which are so vague they become meaningless. Another overused phrase to take off your list is “now more than ever”.

Ask for donations in plain terms

Here’s a pitfall to avoid. Claire says people don’t want a lecture, a term paper, or anything that causes them to do more homework to understand the meaning of your writing. They want straightforward language that describes the problem and solution in simple terms. Keep this in mind when writing requests for contributions, thank you letters, and reports to donors or funders. It will make it easier for people to understand what you do, why it matters, and how they can help.

Understanding how Floridians give to charity

To better understand why people give, I encourage nonprofit leaders to read, “Giving in Florida”, is a new report published by the Florida Nonprofit Alliance based on research conducted by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University with financial support from the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund. The report was conducted in January 2022 based on a survey of 1,444 participants including people under 40, over 60, and high net worth individuals.

Most Floridians give to charity

Let’s start with some good news:

  • 7 out of 10 Florida households reported giving to charity in 2021.
  • 8 out of 10 Florida donors gave due to altruism and compassion.
  • 1 in 4 Floridians gave to racial justice in 2021 with an average gift of $1,335.
  • 4 out of 10 high net worth donors have named a charity in their will.
  • North Florida donors give more time than money

Now let’s look at giving specific to our region of the state.

  • People living in the North Central Florida region are generous, more so with their time than with their charitable dollars.
  • Giving in North Central Florida comprises 4% of all giving in Florida. This is the lowest percentage of any region in the state.
  • Volunteering and racial justice giving rates are significantly higher in our region than in the state overall.
  • The average amount given to charity by households in North Central Florida is $2,224.
  • Religion (26.4%), basic needs (16.5%) and health (12.8%) are the three highest supported issues which align with giving across the state.

Understanding donor giving habits can improve fundraising results

This report provides a great opportunity to evaluate your fundraising methods based on how people give. Consider discussing the following questions as part of a board or fundraising committee meeting:

  • How does the Giving in Florida report inform how we seek charitable gifts from people in our community? Are any changes necessary?
  • How well does our fundraising plan align with donor interests and preferences for giving?
  • What can we do to better connect with people of all ages who may want to support our mission?

Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach

Here are a few more takeaways:

  • The report affirms the importance of prioritizing donor relationships and understanding why people give to your cause.  This may suggest the benefit of replacing a special event (or two) with time spent talking with donors, getting to know them, asking for their feedback, and building authentic relationships.
  • Nonprofits that recognize and celebrate donor loyalty will benefit from greater sustained fundraising success versus those who eke by year after year thanks to a significant, one-time gift.
  • A one-size-fits-all fundraising approach ignores the communication differences, giving preferences, and interests of donors of all ages.
  • The more you know about how generational differences impact giving, the more personalized your fundraising strategies need to be.
  • If you haven’t already, make it a priority to invest in technology that will enable your organization to track and analyze fundraising results.

Read the full report at

Notes on Nonprofits is a column in the Tallahassee Democrat produced by Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, President of Stansbury Consulting, and includes resources, responses to reader questions, guest columns, and timeless topics. This column first appeared on December 5, 2022. Please send your comments and questions.

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