How To Write a Donor-Centered 3.0 Caption Using ideas learned from Identity-Based Fundraising Research

Tom Ahern

Pat Bradley at CrisisAid shared some very good news from Ethiopia. He sent a photo of Asha’s newborn via email. I thought: “Perfect! I wonder what a donor-centered caption on such a photo might read like.” And here’s what emerged: a quick tutorial (fingers crossed!) in caption writing.

Above: Just the facts. Which is 1/2 the AP formula for good photo captions. The other half? Relevancy to the reader: Why would I care?

In this instance, I would care because I’m a long-time donor to CrisisAid. Meaning I’m a long-time admirer. I know Asha from the newsletters. She’s a figure in the ongoing CrisisAid narrative.

And now she’s had a child (major cuteness-factor alert!) … a healthy child in safe surroundings in Ethiopia!!! Oh, happy days. Welcome, Asha’s newborn: my hope springs ANEW!

Above: Added the word “you,” which instantly makes the caption about “me, the donor.”

Then added the word “blessedly” for two reasons: (1) because CrisisAid is a profoundly faith-based charity, so this will resonate positively with many donors; (2) it’s warm, even if the donor (like me) isn’t there primarily for faith-based reasons.

Above: For added relevancy, tangentially dragged in the thing dominating the world’s news: the Covid-19 crisis.

It’s made everyone VERY uneasy about “the future.” (You see how that works?)

But newborns are icons: they represent hope and rebirth. The calming message: “Wallow in this newborn little miracle for a few seconds: you’ll feel better.”

Above: Added enthusiastic thanks (the explanation point! does the heavy lifting).


Above: Added even more thanks. And why not? You simply cannot OVER-thank your core, your base, your family, your truest of true believers.

Don’t be stingy thankers. “Always deliver more gratitude than expected.” It pays.

PLUS the caption thanks people for being “exactly who you are.” You’re bestowing grace and approval. Your donors don’t have to be any different than they are. They don’t have to change. They are exactly right, right now.

  • Tom Ahern