Harnessing the 6 Powers of Persuasion to Grow Your Nonprofit

September 13, 2019
8 minutes
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Making the case for change at your nonprofit can be an uphill battle. (And that's on a good day!) You're often dealing with dueling priorities, a minuscule budget, and outdated ways of thinking that scream, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it".

Nonprofit Source reports that more than 30% of nonprofits still don't accept online donations even though more than 50% of people prefer to donate online. You don't have to read between the lines to know this means that tons of nonprofits are cutting out half of their potential donor base—and leaving a lot of $$$ on the table—by not adopting a digital fundraising strategy. Imagine taking on a fundraising platform that only allowed one gender to donate... you'd never agree to cut out all donors who aren't men!

So, fundraiser, how do you convince your nonprofit (ED, Board, colleagues) to modernize your fundraising strategy and move toward a system that prioritizes smart fundraising tech? If your nonprofit falls within the 30+% that need an online giving makeover, listen up—now's the time to make the case for change.

And to help you bring your plan to life, we went to Psychology Today. According to Robert Cialdini, the "father of influence", there are six useful persuasion tactics proven to be effective when trying to move the needle towards change. Don't worry, these aren't slimy sales tactics—these are super practical ways to get your team on board so your nonprofit can reach its full fundraising potential.

1—Commitment & Consistency

The concept of commitment and consistency is based on the premise that humans have an innate need to be viewed as consistent. Once you publicly commit to doing a thing, it's much more difficult to back out of that decision for fear of being perceived as unreliable or indecisive.

When it comes to making a case for change at your nonprofit, sometimes the first step is getting people to agree to hear what you have to say. This can be surprisingly difficult if you work at an org that's stuck in their ways; however, once you get people to actively and publicly commit to at least lending their ear, you'll likely be able to shift their perspective on the thing you need buy-in for.

Try this: Send an email. Seriously, that's it. Send an email to schedule a coffee with the big boss or your colleagues to discuss a few of your newfangled ideas for modernizing your nonprofit. This is a low level, no-pressure meeting to discuss ideas that you've been thinking about and how you intend to make things better. You simply want to plant the seed and get a feeler for how your peers respond. The intel you get from this will help you figure out how you'll frame your pitch in a more strategic meeting down the line.


Apparently, people don't like it when you bring them unpleasant news (shocker) but respond well when you present info that's helpful (double shocker!). What this means in this situation is that while it's tempting to start with all the things that are wrong with your current systems, leading with the positive can help you come out on top.

If your not-so-secret-mission is to get your nonprofit on board with new tools or processes, plant the seed for change with possible positive results of your suggested path forward. Bonus: this can also have a mirroring effect—sort of like when someone smiles at you and you automatically smile back.

Try this: Once you've planned that strategic deep-dive meeting with your team to discuss your proposed changes (new standard business processes, jumping to a new fundraising platform, peer-to-peer campaigns, etc.), hit 'em with the good stuff, like the fact that 47% of millennials donate to crowdfunding campaigns, or that nonprofits raised $400 million in 24 hours on Giving Tuesday in 2018 through online fundraising, and then watch as those ears perk up at the potential for progress.

3—Social Proof

You may have heard the term "social proof" being thrown around a lot lately. In short, it refers to the idea that in social scenarios, people often look to the reactions of others to determine the best way to respond. This stems from the very human fear of being viewed poorly for not responding appropriately. Here's an IRL example of social proof: Have you ever seen someone faceplant after tripping over their own feet? Your first reaction may be to laugh (don't pretend like you've never done this), but when you look around, no one else is laughing. They're helping like good samaritans do, so you change face quick and feel pretty lousy for being the jerk who laughed. (Yeah, this is us; we're the jerks who laugh while we're running over to help.)

But how does the persuasive power of social proof come into play when you're talking about making changes at your nonprofit? Simple, by looking at what successful nonprofits are doing in the same space and presenting them as use cases for change at your organization. Explore other nonprofits whose online recurring giving program is thriving, and use them to show why your nonprofit should follow suit. When it comes to getting buy-in for something as significant as modernizing your online giving program, looking at who's done it best and then relying on social proof is an effective tactic for making a case for change.

Try this: When presenting your new ideas, come armed with case studies that demonstrate how other nonprofits have succeeded by adopting more modern fundraising tactics. The sweet spot for case studies is three-ish to five-ish, but more or fewer can work if you've got great examples. Make sure that case studies are apples to apples with your organization in terms of company size, industry, and programs... This helps demonstrate that your org can achieve the same type of success. Sites like Charity Navigator can help you get started with researching organizations to highlight.

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Harnessing the 6 Powers of Persuasion to Modernize Your Nonprofit


Did you know that the more you like someone or find similarities between yourself and that person, the more influence they can have over you? As such, the more you like someone, the more likely you are to say yes to whatever they're proposing. By the way, this is the reason for all those Girl Scout cookies you still have in your freezer...

We digress. So, how can this work for you and help you make a case for change at your nonprofit? Find a common thread. Like attracts like, so finding the common thing that connects you and your team will help significantly. The most common thread you'll likely share is $$$. Yep, money makes the world go 'round. And you should know, your job is bringing in the dough daily. If you can make a case that whatever new initiative you're campaigning for can help raise even more funds, then you're off to a good start.

Try this: Dig into your donor data. Don't have a donor analytics program and still organizing your data in Excel spreadsheets? Then you're definitely doing the right thing in getting on board the tech train!

Use your fundraising revenue for the past few years to determine year-over-year growth. Then, compare that to online giving data like the M+R Benchmarks and 2018 Giving Trends report to make some good 'ol projections about how your nonprofit could benefit with new digital fundraising programs such as peer-to-peer or automatic recurring giving. Seeing where you're at and where you could be is a great motivation for change.


We're hardwired to listen to experts when we want to make an important decision. If your love language is stats and facts, then you know what we're talking about. That's why speaking with authority is one of the most effective forms of persuasion. Coming armed with facts about why your proposed solution is the best for your nonprofit will do wonders to drive your point home. Theory is great, but hard data is better.

When making your case, demonstrate authority by presenting well-researched information to your team and speak with confidence and authority (it may be a no brainer, but we're all about gentle reminders). The more you know what you're talking about (or at least fake it till you make it), the more well-received you'll be. Also, when you're the one presenting this information, it makes it a lot easier for people to buy-in because you've already done all the due diligence, so your team only has to give you a resounding yes.

Try this: You may be noticing a common thread by now—it's data. Data is the most persuasive thing you can use to back up why you want to do what you do. In addition to numbers, qualitative data can help you drive your point home. Find an expert or influencer whose specialty is what you're trying to get buy-in for and refer back to their key messages. There's a reason we trust doctors and people with lots of letters after their name. They've spent a lot of time doing the work so you don't have to.


We've all fallen prey to the scarcity trick. Get this for a limited time only! Sign up now or miss out foreva-eva, etc., etc. While these tactics work well for businesses selling products and services, how can it work when trying to "sell" your team on a new way to work? The most effective approach to this tactic is letting your team know what will happen if you don't make changes now. This comes full circle from when we were talking about bringing the good info first.

Scarcity leads with the bad and the ugly. While you don't want to spout hyperbole, you do want to be realistic in what your nonprofit may lose out on if they don't get with the times and start making changes ASAP. No one wants to be left in the dust.

Try this: Paint a picture of where your nonprofit wants to be in 3-5 years using your strategic plan, but flip it and reverse it. Show your team what it would look like if you don't fall in line with the times and start modernizing to meet your goals. Manual data input, revenue loss, staff cuts, etc. Whatever is realistic and a real pain point for your nonprofit. Don't scare 'em too much, but being realistic about what staying stagnant looks like is necessary.

Now that you're armed with these six tactics of persuasion, we hope they'll help you get exactly what you need. Getting teams on board to make big changes can be challenging, but growing and modernizing your org is worth it. Keep calm and fundraise on, nonprofiteers. We got your back.

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