Does the phrase "tax deductible" kill donations?

Does 'tax deductible' kill radio fundraising appealsLast night my flight home to Maine was cancelled, presumably due to the manhunt in Boston. So I got to spend more time in NJ. While there, I turned on WDHA, a rock station in New Jersey.

In the midst of a commercial break, I heard an add about an organization that helped people get employment. It was a compelling story and when they said, "Your generousity makes this possible", I realized the organization was a nonprofit.

But I think they blew it. Here's why.

  • They started strong
    The story was great. They started with how hard it is to get a job in this economy and even harder in NJ. But because of this organization, people were putting their lives back together.
  • They made it clear they were donation funded
    I loved the phrase "Your generousity makes this possible." They had me. "Wow. I make such a difference in people's lives just by giving?! Tell me more!"
  • Then it fell apart in 1 sentence
    The last sentence must've been written by committee. It said something like "To make your tax-deductible donation and to learn more about The XYZ Nonprofit, go to"

    I felt jilted.

Don't stop the emotions

I was on a journey and all of a sudden they through the 5 syllable phrase "tax deductible" at me. That one phrase got me out of my emotional brain into my analytical. I started realizing why it was impractical for me to make a gift.

Then they added the "or to learn more." What? Did they not really want my gift? It was a little confusing but I started to feel I was off the hook.

Finally they just gave their website. This is bad for two reasons.

  1. If they really want my donation, don't make me work to give. Tell me what page to go to. It would've been far better for them to say, "Go to" That would reiterate the message and make it easier to give.
  2. They'll have no clue if that radio ad is working. They could've said, "Go to" The radio station was saying their call letters incessantly. It felt like they repeated them multiple times every minute. Since listeners are used to that, why not use that to your advantage? Then you can track whether that ad is driving traffic and donations.

    You could also use a page like "donate1" or use "donate" for the WDHA ad and "give" for another ad.

Tax Deductions are not a fundraising appeal

Survey after survey shows that people don't primarily give for a tax deduction. So why lead with that as an appeal?

More importantly, if you're taking your donor prospects on an emotional journey designed to make them act, keep them on the journey through making the donation. Don't jilt them. Just make it ridiculously easy to give.

Now my flight is about to board so I'll end there. Do you agree?

About Marc A. Pitman

Marc A. Pitman is the CEO of The Concord Leadership Group, the author of Ask Without Fear! and director of The Nonprofit Academy. A coach to leaders around the world, Marc's expertise and enthusiasm engages audiences and has caught the attention of media organizations as diverse as Al Jazeera and Fox News. Marc’s experience also includes pastoring a Vineyard church, managing a gubernatorial campaign, and teaching internet marketing and fundraising at colleges and universities. He is the husband to his best friend and the father of three amazing kids. And if you drive by him on the road, he’ll be singing 80’s tunes loud enough to embarrass his family! You can connect with him on Google+, on Twitter @marcapitman, and like "Ask Without Fear!" on Facebook.
To get his free ebook on 21 ways to get board members engaged with fundraising, go to


  1. Jim Dietz-Kilen says:

    Spot on!

  2. This is really insightful. This is like the salesman who does everything right and then fails to close or get a commitment when the customer's already ready to buy. Don't close beyond the sale.

    Also jives with this section of Dan & Chip Heath's "Made to Stick" where they talk about an experiment in positioning a charitable appeal:

    "The results [of pitching with a primarily emotional appeal with an analytical detail] are shocking. The mere act of calculation reduced people’s charity. Once we put on our analytical hat, we react to emotional appeals differently. We hinder our ability to feel." - p.167

    Thanks for this post!

  3. Thanks, Marc! I'd forgotten about the Heath's book!

  4. Oscar Griffin Jr. says:

    The last sentence was not needed anyway. Most I deduce when a contribution is tax deuctible. The sentence only wshws away the compassionate request.

  5. Bob Kelly says:

    Egads! How many times have I used "tax-deductable"? Loved Tom Ahen's suggestion "donors want to imagine their gifts at work."

    Thank you Marc you consistently providing great insights.

What would you add?