The art of copywriting for charity
Whether you are creating a webpage, blog post, online ad or an email campaign, the words you use have a powerful impact.
From the attention-grabbing headline to the persuasive call-to-action, every word matters. While most copywriting advice applies across industries, there are certain tips which are particularly relevant to charities.
Rule number one: address your audience
If you are writing for a charity, you are likely to be writing for different audiences at different times (e.g. donors, fundraisers, researchers, sponsors, etc.)
When you sit down to write, make sure you are holding the image of your target reader firmly in mind. Is a prospective donor for your charity young and liberal or more mature with a conservative approach? Do they respond to straight forward, to the point language or will expansive flowery prose appeal to them? If you have audience personas, refer to them before you start writing.
Write powerful headlines
The headline is always a critical part of any piece of writing because this is usually what persuades a person to spend time reading the rest of your message.
Effective charity-related headlines might highlight a shocking statistic, point out a surprise fact or ask a profound question. Some charities use a positive message of gratitude, thanking the reader for their generosity while others push the guilt button by pointing out unacceptable situations.
It is up to you which approach you prefer as long as it makes an impact.
Tell a story
Charity websites and newsletters are full of stories and for good reason. Storytelling is a shared cultural activity, helping us to connect with other people and understand our role in the world.
As with all good stories, you will want to write about the characters involved, their goals, their challenges and how they overcame them. To engage with your reader, you have to place them as the hero/heroine of the story. Whether they are a potential donor or a volunteer, it is their action that can win the day (and you are just offering them the tools to make it happen).
Repeat your key message
The power of repetition to drive home a message has not been lost on our politicians as the run-up to the General Election makes clear!
Charities can also use repetition to powerful effect and a great example of an organisation which does this well is the RNLI. If you look closely at their marketing, you will see the phrase 'save lives at sea' crops up time and time again.
Asking questions is a great way to engage with your audience and prompt action. At the time of writing, the WWF website invites readers to assess how green their lifestyle is by asking, 'How big is your environmental footprint?' before taking them through a series of simple lifestyle questions. At the end, the reader's impact on the planet is weighed against the global target and various actions are suggestions.
Use social proof
People are inherently social and will take a piece of writing more seriously if they can see proof that other people are in tune with the underlying message. Testimonials are one common source of social proof as are quotes from respected individuals (scientists, doctors, researchers, etc.)
Simplify your CTA
If the headline is essential to get readers to engage with your writing, the call-to-action (CTA) is equally important because it persuades them to take the action you require of them.
Ideally, every piece of writing should have one clear CTA so as not to confuse the reader.
Some tips for writing an effective CTA include making the person feel special (using words such as 'exclusive offer,' 'secret deal' and 'special gift') and instilling a sense of urgency (using 'hurry', 'act now' or 'closing soon').
The big picture
For maximum impact, your copywriting, imagery and layout should all work together to reinforce one clear, compelling message aimed at meeting your charity goals.