6 Tips for Writing Nonprofit Marketing Copy That Works

  1. Be reader-centered, not writer-centered. Write for your audiences, not for your colleagues, board or funders. Content has to be accessible.Many web sites, e-news and direct mail I see from nonprofits is focused on how great their services, staff, programs and organizations are. Hello?
    Audience, anyone?Your reader’s lens is always “What’s in it for me?” or “What’s my connection here?” And you’re likely to lose him when your marketing copy doesn’t make those answers clear and easy to digest.

    If you can, speak with some of your current donors, volunteers, members and clients and ask them 1) why they are involved with your organization, and 2) what they get from your program, service, volunteering or giving.

    HINT: To instantly make your copy more reader-focused, insert the word “you” frequently. Speaking like a human works every time.
  2. Focus on the benefits – not just the features. The fact that your program, service or giving and volunteer opportunities offer a lot of neat features is great, but describing these features isn’t enough. Instead, focus on specific benefits and the value these benefits provide to your audiences. Let’s say your organization provides health services to the uninsured, and to Medicaid and Medicare patients. Feature/benefit pairs to highlight in marketing content might include:
    Feature: Access to healthcare services for everyone.
    Benefit: You’ll be healthier, feel better and have more energy. As a result, you’ll miss less time from work and family responsibilities.
    Feature: Appointment times guaranteed within 15 minutes.
    Benefit: You have to take off less time from work and can accurately predict when you’ll return.
    Feature: Medical staff is skilled in environmental health problems in the local community.
    Benefit: Peace of mind. You can rely on the medical team’s skill in diagnosing and treating health issues that are unique to your community.
  3. Draw audiences in with a whammo headline. The first line your reader sees means the difference between success and failure. Most leads are clever headlines that play on words. They’re cute, but most of them aren’t effective.There are many ways to get attention with a headline, but it’s safest to appeal to your reader’s interests and concerns. And again, remember to make it reader centered.Blah: “Nonprofit Leadership Center Offers Unique New Accounting Training Program.”Better: “Turn Your Nonprofit’s Finances Around in 60 Days!”
  4. Use engaging subheads. Like mini-headlines, subheads help readers quickly understand your main points by making copy “skimmable.” Read through your copy for your main promotional points, then summarize those ideas as subheads. To make your subheads engaging, it’s important to feature action. Bad: “Our Organization’s Success Stories.”Better: “Meet Three Clients Who Won Their Legal Battles With Our Help.”
  5. Be conversational. Write to your audiences like you talk to them. Don’t be afraid of using conversational phrases such as “So what’s next?” or “Here’s how you can join today.” Avoid formality and use short, simple words. Even if you think your copy can’t be misunderstood, a few people won’t get it or take the time to decipher it.
  6. Design an air-tight editorial process, and stick to it.. Before you send content around for review, put it aside for a day or more. Then, when you come back to it, simplify; aiming to cut by 1/3 or more (Word’s word count tool is a great help here), and strip out the jargon. Next, pass the copy on to your jargon-hating editor (a willing spouse or colleague out of your department works best as objectivity is a must) for review. Revise and cut again, then distribute for approval. In the long term, crafting a specific style guide (including a jargon defense strategy) for your colleagues and training them on it is the best way to ensure your org’s content will be on target all around.It’ll take some time but will generate real ROI. Promise.

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