Jolene Miklas, Copy Director  ●  11/2/2020

Using Fundraising Principles for Good — and to Outwit Little Monsters!

heroic fundraising blog image trick or treat halloween pumpkins

Halloween 2020 was a bit of a bust for some of my neighbors. We fared far better at my house. How? We used basic fundraising logic! It all came down to understanding human nature like any fundraiser would …


This Halloween, in a move to curb the spread of COVID-19, many of my neighbors opted out of handing candy to trick-or-treaters. Instead, they placed baskets of treats at their doorstep with a sign that read, “TAKE ONE.”

I did the same. But, in a split test only a direct marketer could love, I put out an assortment of candy and a sign that said, “TAKE THREE.”

The results? My neighbors were swiftly wiped out of candy. The “TAKE ONE” signs went unheeded, and a handful of monsters worked their mischief to make the candy disappear.

But as I stood, unseen on the other side of my door, I heard a different story.

“Take three? Yay!” a young voice exclaimed.

Most of the ghosts and goblins counted aloud as they made their selections. “One, two, three,” they’d announce, sometimes asking their cohorts which three pieces they chose. As the night wore on, my basket stayed full, as trick-or-treaters tended to take three pieces of candy — no more, and no less.


I couldn’t help but think of basic fundraising logic:

  1. Donors like specificity.
  2. Donors want to follow directions.
  3. Donors love a great deal.


The Magic of Specificity

Odd numbers stick out. A number that someone doesn't expect to see (like on a sign that says "TAKE THREE" in a sea of signs that say "TAKE ONE") makes someone take note.

Try asking your donor for an odd amount, like $21, to provide a night of shelter, Thanksgiving meals, or something else. The specific amount sounds authentic and believable, and helps your donor imagine the tangible difference she’ll make.

So does telling a donor you’re at 76% of your fundraising goal, rather than three-quarters of the way there. The odd number sounds more current and urgent, and is more likely to catch attention.

A sports fanatic who’s not moved to give $20 might not be able to resist giving the number on their favorite player’s jersey — if only you had a reason to ask for it.


Donors Like Easy-to-Follow Directions

Though most won't admit it, people like to be told what to do. It frees them from the labor of figuring something out or making a decision.

Your donor wants to help, so she’ll appreciate being told how. Telling her to “give now” is a great start. Try including directions in your appeal, like: 

  1. Choose and detach a voucher below.
  2. Place it in the enclosed envelope along with your gift.
  3. Mail it back to feed a hungry family!

Don’t burden your donor with too many details. Just tell her what to do to make a difference now.


Everyone Loves a Deal

I suspect that some of the trick-or-treaters saw my neighbors’ “TAKE ONE” sign as a dare. My “TAKE THREE” may have appealed to them as a more satisfying deal.

Your donors like a great deal, too. Think of ways to make their donation go even further, possibly through a matching gift or enticing offer. Perhaps their monthly donation earns them a free gift — but an extra donation also sends a teddy bear to a hospitalized child.

Consider the magic of a 3x matching gift (or higher). The odd number is likely to stand out — and feel like an even better value.


Certain tactics are timeless — and ageless, as evidenced by my trick-or-treaters! Keep using your fundraising principles for good!


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