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5 Nonprofit Copywriting Techniques to Create a More Meaningful Connection with Your Donors

Published by Riley Landenberger

To be honest, I thought I knew all the nonprofit copywriting techniques that I needed. I mean it’s not that complicated. You just get straight to the point and throw in some emotional words to make it engaging, right?

Okay, I recently graduated college so by default I guess I think I know everything now.

It wasn’t until I took the “Copywriting for Online Fundraising” class that I realized writing with a specific goal in mind is a lot more technical and much more thought out than I originally assumed.

This copywriting course is taught by Amy Harrison, a copywriter-extraordinaire and trusted partner of NextAfter.

Amy’s goal for this course was to create simple yet effective techniques that you can use right away in your own copywriting.

And let me tell you, that’s exactly what she did.

As I said, Amy helped me understand that copywriting should be much more complex than you think. Don’t panic though (I sure did at first).

While writing the best copy to see results in your online fundraising requires close thought and a few more steps than I’m sure you’re taking now, it’s actually really simple when you’re equipped with the right, proven techniques.

So here I am, having learned from my own misconception to share with you 5 key copywriting techniques to use to create a more meaningful connection with your donors that can lead to more conversions, more donors, and more revenue for your organization.

I wanted to create this as a reference for you so you can look back on it each time you’re writing copy (heck, I wish I would have had this while writing this blog post).

So here it is.

Here are 5 key copywriting techniques.

1. Know who you’re speaking to

Not only knowing who your audience is but knowing what motivates them is crucial to writing copy that is going to compel them to give and, moreover, to continue engaging with your organization.

Something that Amy touches on in the course is how beneficial it is to create a detailed copywriting profile before you begin writing.

A copywriting profile is very similar to a buyer persona and helps you to really focus in on the donor’s world.

From there, you can use what you know about your donor to present the problem you’re trying to solve in a much more effective way.

Amy explains that when you talk about the symptoms (what causes the problem) of an issue and not just the issue itself, it becomes more vivid, makes it stand out to the donor, gets them engaged, and helps them feel the importance of solving the problem.

So, you can use 7 symptom prompts to write copy that aligns with what your donors want and how they feel about your issue.

Symptom prompts help describe the problem to the donor in a way where they can visualize it first-hand.

Think about your issue and how it shows up in relation to the donor with these prompts.

The 7 prompts include:

  • Location – where is the problem happening? how is the atmosphere?
  • Relationships – how have relationships changed as a result of this problem?
  • Emotions – what is the emotional toll of the problem? how do the people experiencing it feel?
  • Performance – how does this problem affect personal or professional performance?
  • Time – how does this problem affect time? OR how is time affecting the problem?
  • Money – is the problem causing some sort of financial stress?
  • Pain – is there some sort of physical distress as a result of this problem?

Focusing on one or a combination of these personalizes your message to donors and is the first step to creating copy that will make your connection with them more meaningful.


2. The packaging

Any gift you receive is much more enticing when it’s wrapped up in some colorful paper with a big, shiny bow on top rather than being stuffed in a brown paper bag. And the same goes for your copy.

Now I’m not saying to send emails with all sorts of fancy graphics and chock full of images.

We’ve actually learned the opposite (learn more about that in our Email Fundraising Quick Reference Guide).

But how exactly are you grabbing your donor’s attention?

Here are 3 simple ways to do so:

1. It’s all about the donor.

Your copy should have a lot more of “you” and a lot less of “us”. Explain to them what they’re getting, not what you’re getting.

Some evidence of just how effective this language shift can be to increasing donor conversions is in experiment #16355 in our research library.

We treated a donation page with the “you” centered language and saw an 85% increase in conversions. Not too shabby.

2. Use curiosity.

By creating a sense of mystery, your audience will want to learn more. You can easily do so by doing two things: violating their expectations and highlighting a valuable information gap.

Amy shares a great example of both of these:

Why Best-Practice Marketing Kills Conversion Rates for Non-Profits

This line of copy accomplishes both key techniques for creating curiosity.

It violates expectations by explaining “best-practices” as a negative outcome (something that isn’t expected) which, in turn, highlights a valuable information gap by making the reader feel they will miss out if they don’t read the post to follow.

3. Create urgency.

By doing so you will help readers concentrate their focus on making a decision. In the course, Amy presents 4 simple ways to create urgency.

  • Present a goal deadline
  • Emphasize a loss of benefits if they don’t act now
  • Urge that action is needed NOW
  • Explain that the problem is going to get bigger

Using one or a combination of these tactics will encourage people to take action right away.  


3. Prepare to write your copy

Your copy needs to provide enough value to your audience for them to even consider taking whatever action you want them to take.

But how exactly can you do that?

Amy shares a really cool tactic to communicate value called an impact table. This table can help you focus your copy on the transformation that takes place as a result of the donor’s action.

Here’s what it looks like:

Feature/FactsWhat can someone DO with this?What is the EMOTIONAL IMPACT?
A basic detail of what you offer.What will this transform?How will this transform?

Ultimately, this table will help you to fill in the blanks of your value proposition – “We do [what] for [who/where] by [how].”


4. Create a compelling call-to-action

Okay so you’ve figured out how exactly to write the copy that’ll be most valuable to your donor, but now how do you get them to take action?

Your call-to-action is the final hurdle they must get over before they make an action, so it’s important that it is effective.

Here are a few key things to think about when writing your call-to-action:

  • Align with what the donor wants and is interested in.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask more than once.
  • Strip away any mystery and make it clear.

Ultimately, make it clear what people should do and why they should do it.


5. The odds and ends

Lastly, and what I think is most important, is this: “Are all of your elements cohesive?”

Yes, you may just be writing copy for one element, but for all of the other elements or clickable actions that it may lead to, is the messaging consistent?

If your copy is in an email, does the subject line grab their attention?

For your blog posts, do the headlines hold value and entice them to keep reading?

On your landing page, do readers know exactly what they’re getting and what it will do for them?

An example of tying together these other important elements is experiment #7176.

We wanted to know if treating a donation page to have a focused value proposition, consistent with a program-focused email, would increase donor conversions for visitors coming from that email.   

Well, it did. In this case, there was an increase of almost 272% in donor conversions and a 420% increase in revenue.

Focusing on these small copywriting techniques can have a huge impact on your ability to reach donors, increase conversions and build revenue.

Conclusion

For a more in-depth exploration of nonprofit copywriting techniques, I highly encourage you to take Amy Harrison’s course through the NextAfter Institute.

As I said, I took it myself and while I’m not crafting copy for donors, I am crafting copy for awesome people like you.

The course helped me really narrow my focus, drop the formality, and make each piece of copy a one-on-one conversation.

Learn more about Copywriting for Online Fundraising >>


About the author:

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Riley Landenberger