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What is the Best Language to Use When Building Relationships With Your Mid and Major Donors?

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I’ve been sharing a lot of tips and material about mid and major donors lately. And this got me thinking, what’s the best language to use when talking to and trying to build relationships with these donors? Equally, are there words that we should avoid using? Words that might turn them off? Are there words we shouldn’t be using?

In Fraser Greens’ book, 3D Philanthropy, Fraser talks about mood killing words – those words that you really shouldn’t use when talking to donors, of any kind.

In an old, (but still very relevant!) blog post, Katya Andresen talks about these ‘mood killing words’ in detail – and they’re as relevant to major donors as they are to others. View the blog post, and the words to avoid in detail here!

These words include:

1.  Capacity

2.  Empower

3.  Enhance

4.  Indigenous

5.  Partnership

6.  Development

7.  Systemic

8.  Community

9.  Innovation

10. Superlative

11. Outcomes

12. Support

13. Sustainable

14. Resources

15. Dignity

16. Facilitate

17. Diversity

18. Fostering

Katya goes on to summarise the deadliest combination of words and phrases to turn off donors too, e.g. ‘facilitating outcomes.’

So what should we be saying to our major donors? 

I’ve spoken to charities about this before and some have claimed if they took the above words out of their pitches and messaging to donors, there would be nothing left to write.

I beg to differ.

I think the best language to use when engaging with major donors is language similar to their own. Preferably, language that they use every day.

When engaging with donors, on any level, we need to be able to use the same everyday language that they use, in order to engage with their hearts.

With mid and major donors, in particular, we’re trying to persuade them to part with a significant amount of money to help our beneficiaries.

Why everyday language?

1.  We need to ignite a passion in potential donors and, in order to get major donors passionate about our cause, they need to be able to relate to it on a human level.

2.  We need to engage with and build relationships with these donors – and the best way to do that is to relate to them on their level.

3.  Major donor relationships tend to be built up over a lengthier period of time. It’s, therefore, more likely that we’ll be able to keep a dialogue going with them and keep them engaged if we use everyday language.

4.  Using everyday language is particularly important when engaging in face to face meetings and phone calls with donors. It lends a human touch to our fundraising team.

5.  It’s also easier for one person to sustain and build a relationship with their donors on a personal and human level if they’re using language that the donors are used to and that doesn’t make them come across as false or phony.

6.  It makes us sound more sincere.

7.  We usually think of making approaches to major donors through personal introductions or one to one conversations, but you do need to remember your potential major donors are searching for you online too. So, from a digital marketing point of view, using everyday language that people are more likely to use, can massively help you and your cause when it comes to search engine rankings and being found on Google too!

Should we avoid formal, business language altogether?

There is a flip side to the coin to consider…

Mid and major donors are often professionals, quite often business people, who are looking for the best return on investment for their donations, in terms of what their money will support and achieve.

More often than not, these donors are results driven. It stands to reason then, that there may need to be a balance in the language we use when communicating with them.

To some degree, more formal, business professional language may need to be used in order to get across the aims of your cause and the benefits of investing in it. Particularly when you’re pitching to major gift donors.

It may make sense to pepper the conversation with business and professional terms that they are familiar with.

Don’t overcomplicate things and keep your communication jargon-free as different industries will have different levels of knowledge.

Don’t bamboozle them with long, formal phrases or embarrass them by using overcomplicated words that they won’t understand.

How do we do this?

Firstly, when doing research on your major donors, or indeed those mid-level donors whom you’d like to convert to major gifts, think about ‘language.’

What sort of words, language and even tone of voice do they use on their website? And in their emails? Is it professional and business-like? Or is their tone more warm and friendly? Perhaps they use a different tone in their emails to what they do on their website?

Secondly, meet them in person or at the very least chat with them on the phone. And when you do, observe the language and words they use. Where possible try to mirror it.

Final word.

Whilst it’s great to come across as professional in business correspondence, it’s best to match the tone and mirror some of the everyday words that your major donors use.

Instead, talk to them, mirror their language. Use words that will appeal to their human nature and ignite their passion for your cause.

And yes, at some point, particularly if you’re presenting a formal proposal for supporting your cause, you may need to pepper your pitch with some of the professional, more formal words to help win your business case.

To learn more about how to use language appropriately and building great relationships with your donors please check out our Mid Value Donor Super Course inside The Fundraisingology Lab.

See you soon!


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