Is Your Copywriting Motivating Donors to Take Action?

  • by Shala Graham
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A hand giving money.
Copywriting for nonprofit organizations, especially when it comes to fundraising materials, is a little bit like a mystical science: You can follow a lot of guides, recipes, and formulas, but in the end you can't ever really be sure about what sort of result you're going to get until after you have already sent your marketing materials out.

Probably the most important thing to realize about the process, though, is that it's all about results: if you aren't motivating potential donors to actually take action, then you haven't really accomplished anything.

That's an important point, because a lot of nonprofit executives think that fundraising should be as simple as dashing off a well-written note and waiting for the checks to come in. Unfortunately, however, there's a very big difference between information, awareness, and action. If you only get the first two, then you'll have fallen short of your goal. Worse yet, you may not even ever know why, since donors don't bother to respond when they aren't going to send a gift to your organization.

With that in mind, here are three tested and proven elements you can use to turn your nonprofit’s fundraising messages into something that compels readers to action:


It takes a strong emotional appeal to get people to do anything. Advertisers understand this, of course, which is why they want you to think more about how a soft drink is going to make you feel than they do its price or nutritional content. As a nonprofit organization, you don't have products to sell, but that makes the emotional appeal even more important, because without it, you don't really have anything to offer at all.

The most important thing to remember about injecting a strong emotional appeal into your fundraising materials is that everything is personal. It's more touching to tell the story of a single child who has been affected by tragedy than it is to give 100 statistics about the affected region. Likewise, just a few images can say what dozens of headlines and bullet points never could.

When composing a fundraising appeal, start with a strong emotional appeal and then work the other elements in around it. It's not as easy as leaning on facts and ideas, but it is a lot more effective.


If emotion tells donors that they have to take action, then urgency is what tells them they have to do something right now. Make no mistake: One is as important as the other. Tens of millions of people decide every year to lose weight, quit smoking, work on their relationships, and so on, and yet few of these things ever happen. Why? Because even though they're all important, and have an emotional component, they feel easy to put off until later.

You don't want your fundraising letter to be easy to put off, or even something that a potential donor wants to set down for a moment. Instead, you want to give them a powerful reason to stop what they were doing, put aside other thoughts and ideas that might have been in their minds, and take immediate action.

If there is some kind of deadline or time component that would make someone want to give a gift today, then make that a prominent part of your fundraising message, and be sure to repeat it more than once.

Clear instructions

Never assume that your potential donor knows what you want them to do, what will happen next, or how they should proceed. For one thing, they may have never heard of your organization before, or even made a charitable donation of any kind. And for another, you may not have their full and undivided attention while they are looking at your letter, e-mail, or other message.

As simple as it might sound, having clear instructions for what you want your donor to do (and a preemptive "thank you" for doing it) can actually increase the response rate you get from any fundraising message. So, whatever it is you're asking people to do, spell it out for them.

Crafting strong and effective fundraising messages takes a lot of practice, but by asking donors to do something clearly, and giving them urgent and emotional reasons for doing so, you can make any communication you send out more likely to be answered.

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