What Can Charity Advertisers Teach Us About Copywriting? 

If you’re relatively new to the world of copywriting (like me), then you may be starting to review a variety of writing styles and different tones of voice to use.

All I can say is, adopting a one style fits all approach definitely won’t work.

Specialising in email marketing, I have a strong knowledge of email copy. However, I’m very much aware that this writing style differs somewhat from the text we see online and in various other types of published copy.

So, taking it upon myself to advance my knowledge further in this field, I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading an inordinate amount of stuff on the web.

I’ve also started to attend industry events related to the art of copywriting. In fact, last month, I went to an evening hosted by the DMA Copywriting Club.

The focus of this particular event was Copywriting for a Cause - and I certainly learnt a thing or two as we discussed a number of examples of different types of fundraising content. 

As with virtually all types of advertising, the core purpose of writing for this audience is to compel the reader to perform a certain charitable action – whether this is be the donation of a lump sum or attendance at an event to raise awareness.

However, in the case of traditional advertising, the response to a call to action usually results in the end user receiving something in return.

Charities on the other hand, operate on the basis that the end user gets nothing in return from making a donation.

Therefore, creative output relies on the assumption that the end user is happy to make a donation because it makes them feel rewarded for doing something good.

In the world of email, copy must be value adding.

When writing and reviewing email copy, I’m constantly asking what’s in it for the customer?

Because the likelihood is, if the value isn’t great enough, the individual is likely to lose interest.

So, as you can imagine, getting the copy absolutely right is a must for charities.

As a result, they have a number of ground-rules that must be followed...


Be Brave Enough to Ask (But Be Polite About It)…

We all know that charities rely on donations – and ask for them regularly.

But there’s a knack to this, and it’s all about politeness.

There’s also no need to ask straight away either. If you’re a relatively new charity, your first ask may simply be for the end user to get an understanding of who you are.

Then, further along the journey, ask for the donation or sign-up.

This sounds pretty straightforward – but we can all probably think of an occasion where a company has got off on the wrong foot with you.

You’ve probably heard the saying – “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

Well that couldn’t be truer for a charity.

So go for it.


But make sure you consider your audience, from the tone of voice to the timing of your message.

Make them feel valued and empowered - like Make A Wish have done in the example below... 



Tell a Story

People are suckers for a good story.

Something that has us hooked from the get go and leaves a lasting memory in our mind at the end.

Writing copy for a charity should follow the same structure.

If the story is compelling enough, it will move and inspire the individual to make your desired action.

Sounds easy enough, right?

The thing is, telling a great story is one thing, but when it comes to copywriting for a cause, it needs to be realistic.

Social proof is a key strategy I utilise when building email templates.

People are more likely to believe the story of an individual as opposed to a brand sharing how great they are.

This same strategy is often used appropriately in both the online and offline copy of a not-for-profit organisation.

Having a strong character to drive your story can take the form of a brand ambassador or an engaging individual who relates to the charity.

Take UNICEF, for example. Utilising high profile celebrities such as David Beckham has helped people sit up and take notice of the story they have to tell.


Focus on Evoking a Specific Emotion

Fundraising is all about tapping into people’s emotions.

Owning a particular tone of voice that resonates consistently throughout all the copy you produce is vital for this.

Naturally, the emotion you plan to evoke should be present in the story you tell.

Look at how the RSPB beautifully set the scene for spring here: 


It's designed to fill the reader with energy and excitement ahead of the changing of the seasons. Giving them the inclination to do something positive. 

Other organisations focus on evoking different emotions to grab your attention - like PETA, for example.

They're known for playing on the emotion of anger when promoting their stance on animal cruelty - always supported by eye-opening statements and hard evidence.

That said, it's all about ensuring you balance the emotion with rationale – starting with the emotional plea first.

Then, follow up with the hard facts and figures to nurture the reader into taking action.


And Finally... Finish with a Genuine Thank You

People appreciate good manners.

A thank you is a must, however it’s very often forgotten by many charities as it costs extra money that they simply don't have.

And companies often ignore this due to their short-term thinking.

A personal connection or engagement can often pay for itself, however – as connecting on a personal level with a genuine thank you can often be what encourages an individual to continue to support you.

A great example of a genuine low cost thank you is Mine’s Advisory Group’s (MAG) annual Thankathon day.

They shared a series of videos at the start of 2017 where their staff personally thanked all of their supporters from the previous year.

Low cost, but thoughtful and touching – and really highlights what charities should be doing to help maintain genuine relationships with their supporters. 

Anyway, let me offer my own thank you for reading this post.

Hopefully it’s the first of many as I continue to channel my learnings beyond my email specialism. With a few more meetings of the Copywriting Club scheduled throughout the year you might be hearing from me again very soon.

Until next time…  

April 19, 2018|

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