Copywriting for nonprofits is no easy task. Not only are you trying to persuade people to act altruistically, but you’re also asking them to empathize with something that may only exist thousands of miles away from them.

But don’t despair. If you’ve been tasked with writing effective copy for a nonprofit, the good news is that there are some simple (and proven) tips that can help set you up for success.

To help you on your way, here’s our pick of the 6 most powerful copywriting tips for nonprofits.

Let’s dive in!

1.   Tell stories people can connect with

A good story is one of the fundamental pillars of good copywriting in any sector. But stories are arguably more impactful in the not-for-profit sector than anywhere else.

Telling stories people can connect with provides two key benefits:

  1. First, readers will become emotionally invested in the story, and this investment will carry over to the cause. When someone chooses to donate time or money to a nonprofit, they are usually thinking with their heart, rather than their head. As such, donations will only be given to causes that people are emotionally invested in.

  2. Then, emotionally-invested benefactors will want to share your story with others, on social media for example. This kind of activity helps a story gain traction and, in turn, increases your reach. The result? Even more readers become invested and want to share your story within their networks. People love to feel connected, so providing a means to do that will garner a lot of the right kind of attention.

2.   Write with emotion and passion

The physics of passion tells us that one person’s passion can have a profound effect on another’s.

When working for a charity, it’s natural to develop a strong sense of support for the organization’s cause. Being exposed to the good work a nonprofit has done, and the impact it continues to have, will no doubt lead to an emotional attachment to the work –  even if you didn’t support, or even know about, the cause before joining!

For founders, this passion and emotional attachment will be rooted deep in their consciousness. And that passion is infectious.

But whether it’s a founder or a junior creating the copy, an ability to convey passion for their nonprofit’s work is incredibly powerful. Readers respond to, and share in, the writer’s energy and are more likely to want to support the cause as a result.

One more thing on emotion: Behavioural Economics suggests that positive impact storytelling is more motivating versus messaging which requires sympathy, or indeed empathy, from its audience. Studies have even shown that positivity establishes longer lasting donor relationships.

So, double check the emotion you are conveying; if you’re sharing a story which tugs at the heartstrings, in a potentially saddening way, see what you can do to reframe it. True, nonprofits and charities often have to tackle sensitive topics in their copywriting. But remember: your audience wants to feel inspired to donate, rather than guilt-driven.

3.   Address the reader

You need to speak directly to your reader as an individual, rather than overloading them with the magnitude of the incredible work you’re doing. By all means, promote the results of your nonprofit’s work, but avoid making this the sole focus of your copy.

Addressing the reader and telling them what they can do to help will make your copy feel much more personal than simply writing a list of your achievements and then asking for a donation to continue your efforts. This approach will still get results, but if you can connect the dots for people and explain exactly how they can help and the good that will come from their support, you will be much more successful.

Ultimately, your audience will be interested in how they can be involved, and what they can do to help. So whilst it’s sometimes appropriate to share your internal mission statement and 5 year plan, you should do so judiciously.

4.   Set bigger expectations

This one is straight out of Negotiating 101 – essentially it boils down to asking for more than you expect, so people can meet you somewhere in the middle.

Let’s say the average donation made via a nonprofit’s landing page was $10 last year. Rather than making this the default amount, the organization could choose to make $20 the default and provide options on either side of that, say for $10 or $30. In doing this, when the majority of people choose to go for the lower amount (and they very likely will), the organisation still achieves a higher average donation than the previous year.

It’s also good to get people thinking bigger in non-monetary terms. Sharing stories about volunteers who dedicated weeks or months to your cause will raise people’s perceptions of what is expected.

If your audience is multi-generational, they may be seeking different levels of involvement with a charity or nonprofit. So, illustrate a range of options for financial donations and other types of support.

Don’t be afraid to challenge your readers. Assuming they have bought into the cause through compelling storytelling, they are no less likely to make a commitment when faced with larger expectations.

5.   Avoid jargon and information overload

Industry-specific terms are a big no-no in most copywriting, unless you are writing for a very specific audience. And as a nonprofit, you likely want to widen the appeal of your copy as much as possible. The wider the appeal = the more people you’ll connect with.

Similarly, when it comes to graphs, tables and data in general, too much can really put people off reading. Not because they don’t care, but because it’s hard to understand.

If you simplify the message, you will retain people’s interest for longer.

To lean on Behavioural Economics again: facts and figures can be overwhelming and confusing for an audience. It’s hard – and unpleasant – to imagine the scale of people suffering as a result of famine and poverty. Focusing your copy on one identifiable character can be far more motivating for donors.

6.   Do the little things right

The last tip is about those little scraps of copy that litter any website: from headings in a sitemap, to the titles of blog posts, to the text on a mailing list sign-up button.

Consider “click here to join our mailing list” against “get free updates on this story and others like it”. The first is an outright ask, but the second feels like a worthy exchange for the reader. They give over their email address in exchange for inspiring stories like the one they ’ve just read. Which is more likely to get a response?

Also, and more specifically for nonprofits, is the tagline. Everyone is “changing lives” or “making a difference” --- think about what your organisation is doing differently or better and use this in your tagline copy.