Non-Profit Copywriting: These 7 Tricks Will Help You Create Impact and Motivate Donors

June 19, 2019 – Imagine it’s Christmas season, buying and gifts abound, and many are consumed with thoughts about what they will buy for so-and-so. Shopping malls are more than crowded and plans are busily coming together for festive dinners.

And then, we are hit with this picture: a child has dug himself a home out of a discarded computer box – presumably, the remains of a luckier child’s gift. This all takes place in a crumbling graffiti alley.

Image credit: Covenant House Toronto

What’s happened to viewers in the few seconds they are viewing this ad?

Hearts have been captured and viewers feel a sense of loss; many likely want to do something to fix this situation. Hence, a direct connection has been built with Covenant House. This is the start of a relationship that, if nurtured well, can result in significant short- and long-term returns.

Non-profit copywriting, or cause marketing, is built on relationships. Relationships are central to the non-profit sector, a landscape characterized by communal action directed towards a common or social good. The sector relies on the cultivation of powerful and persuasive relationships that generate trust, loyalty, charitable action – and yes, revenue.

Here are 7 powerful strategies to cultivate strong relationships and generate results through non-profit copywriting:

1. Understand Audience

Most of us want to get to know someone before developing a relationship with them. We find out their likes, dislikes, values, how they spend their time, how they feel about us, and a great deal more. This helps build us meaningful connection with them.

First, define your target market and then seek to thoroughly understand them. Gather demographic data and information about their interests, needs, and preferences. You may want to consider developing donor personas. Put yourself in their shoes and figure out what’s in it for them. Assume that they have limited time and attention to devote to your cause. You need to meet them where they’re at in order to most effectively reach them.

As with marketing in general, it’s important to emphasize the benefits of giving or involvement over the cause itself. The worthiest of causes don’t automatically gain attention from your audience. Highlighting benefits shows your audience what they will gain and how they can make a difference. By getting involved, for example, they can help someone in need, fix a looming problem, give back to the community, create something wonderful, work together with others, feel a sense of belonging, get recognized. These are just some of the benefits that non-profits can promote to their audience.

2. Use Storytelling

Once we know our audience, storytelling is a powerful way to reach them. Take the example of the Covenant House ad. Through a single image, it draws viewers into a stark and gut-wrenching story. Our minds are blown, our hearts are tugged, and many of us are compelled to action.

Stories are a well-researched, powerful marketing tool. As humans, we are hard-wired to tell and hear stories. It’s what we’ve been doing throughout our lives and throughout history. We inhabit stories – our own and those belonging to others and the world.

Stories are how we connect to each other and to life outside ourselves.

Through stories, we communicate ideas, feelings, problems, and experiences. Stories are one of the building blocks of a relationship. They enable us to enter into the minds and hearts of characters and experience realities that are not our own through an imaginative space. Through stories, we can feel moved beyond words and experience empathy – and feel motivated to take action.

Stories provide non-profits with an opportunity to attract readers to their cause, to join in solidarity to alleviate a troubling situation. In so doing, readers have the opportunity to be a key player in a larger story in which they can be a hero.

Learn how to tell a good story about your cause to your audience. There are many resources available to help with this.

3. Use Emotion

As we’ve seen, one of the reasons stories are so impactful is their emotional gravity. Stories lead us on an emotional journey from immersion into another world to mounting conflict to final resolution.

The feelings and emotions we experience through stories invoke feelings deep in our core. Viewers feel indescribable pangs for the child who just longs for a home for Christmas. It makes them want to do something.

Emotions are a powerful force that builds connection and inspires action. They make characters and problems relatable. And they’re a catalyst to building and deepening relationships.

Non-profits can tap into this emotional dynamic throughout their copywriting. Infuse emotion into your website content, the stories you tell, social media, donor appeals, and annual reports. Make emotion relatable, authentic, and resonate with perplexing problems facing our world today.

If wielded well, audience members will find it difficult to resist wanting to learn more and want to get behind your cause.

4. Communicate Effectively

Good communication is foundational for any relationship. We need to be able to communicate our needs, interests, and experiences well enough to be heard and understood. Even the best stories need to be communicated well.

Effective communication requires quality content and strong delivery methods. It also needs to be rooted in a passion and a connection to a cause. In a copywriting context, every word and image counts and has the potential to make or break a donor relationship.

Here again, knowing your audience is crucial. Aim to be audience-centred throughout your copy and continually ask yourself what’s in it for them. Make it as easy and attractive as possible for your audience to learn about your cause and get involved.

Much can be said about crafting good copywriting, but a few guiding principles will set you well on your way to creating impactful, quality copy:

  • Aim for Readability. It’s worth bearing in mind that your readers will have limited time and attention to devote to reading your copy. All text should be short and readable. Use short, impactful sentences and concise, accessible language. Headings should be catchy and informative. Aim to capture readers’ attention with a compelling statement or image and place all essential information at the top. Ensure that the voice and tone is consistent throughout.
  • Use Clean Formatting. Formatting of text and images should be simple, clean, and polished. Formatting should also be consistent, with sparing use of features such as fonts and colours. Don’t overcrowd text and images on a page and make effective use of white space. It should be easy to quickly scroll through and retrieve information.
  • Use Persuasive Techniques. Keeping your audience foremost, make your copy personal by addressing one person instead of a generic audience. Make sure that one person accurately represents your audience and aim to attract their interest and buy-in. Persuasive structures are a helpful way to build your copy around your intended audience goal. Always emphasize the benefits.

There are many excellent resources and guidelines on charity copywriting.

5. Establish Legitimacy and Trust

Charity copywriting relies on audience trust. The best stories, emotional appeals, and copy need to be backed by trust. An audience needs to trust the work your charity does and how you do it. They need to trust the information you provide. They also need to trust that funds are being handled well.

Charities have been under increasing scrutiny and spotlight for their legal and ethical behaviour. We all know of charities that have been caught in scandals and suffered a resulting collapse in public trust. Audience members need a brand they can trust, or they will find another.

How do you establish trust, and maintain it?

Two key ways are through ethical rigour and evidence-based proofs.

Apply rigour to the work you do. Make sure all the information you provide is accurate and fact-checked thoroughly by multiple parties. Be prepared to be transparent to donors and stakeholders about your work and your methods. In donor portals, clearly state how funds will be used and that they will be handled securely.

Trust and legitimacy are also garnered through evidence. Audience members feel more assured about a charity that has a proven track record. Highlighting past successes and using numerical data are an effective way to display competence. Testimonials are a form of storytelling and powerfully demonstrate impact. Testimonials are an example of social proof, a form of persuasion that aims to capture participation by emphasizing that others are doing it.

Donor and stakeholder relationships need trust in order to flourish and these techniques will support your organization to gain it.

6. Include a Clear but Enticing Call-to-Action (CTA)

A call-to-action (CTA) is a crucial aspect of non-profit copywriting. It can be seen as the climax of the messaging – the point in the story where the action culminates. The big ‘ask.’ This is where the audience is told to take action to tackle the identified problem.

The CTA is best outlined in clear and concise terms and in a compelling manner. An effective CTA builds upon the storytelling techniques outlined earlier and capitalizes on the emerging audience relationship.

Placement of the CTA is important. Ideally, readers are guided through a momentum-filled journey of suspense, emotion, and discovery leading to the desired action:

Partner with us to save our planet. Purchase a goat to help a family start a business. Chip in $10 to get our campaign broadcasted. Click here to learn how we are developing a cure.

These are examples of CTAs. This is the big-ticket moment that charitable dreams are made of. If readers take the desired action, it signals that they are interested in learning more, getting involved, and furthering their relationship with the cause.

While a good CTA is critical, it is supported by an organization’s work with storytelling, emotion, communication, and building trust. Your efforts in all of these areas pay off in that pivotal invitation to act.

7. Nurturing the Relationship

So you’ve managed to get your audience to take that coveted step. Now what?

It’s not over.

It’s not about a one-time act, or a single date. This is where a casual encounter with a cause can turn into something bigger and better, if nurtured well.

This takes hard work and strategic efforts, one valued donor or audience member at a time. Ongoing communication and connection are needed to further this relationship. Donors need to be acknowledged for their contributions. They need to learn how their funds were spent and about your continuing work. Keep telling them stories and make them feel like they were a valuable part of your story. Make it clear how they made an impact.

Invite audience members to continue their participation and bring along others they know. You may consider asking for their feedback and asking them how you can do better. Keeping social media portals active helps audiences stay connected and provides platforms for continuing involvement.

These relationships drive the success and growth of your organization – and ensure its continuance. They need to be valued and nurtured.

In Summary

Non-profit copywriting and cause marketing are, at heart, relational activities. Relationships are essential to any marketing, but they enter a deeper level in the non-profit sector through commitment to a cause. This comes from a belief that although many problems exist, we can somehow work together to make the world better.

Non-profits can tap into this powerful dynamic by getting to know their audience, storytelling, emotional depth, calls-to-action, communication, trust, and continual nurturing.

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