Five MORE Tips for Nonprofit Copywriters

1. Cut the jargon.

Avoid industry jargon and buzzwords — stick to the facts and the benefits. Skip “capacity building” and “technical assistance.”

An easy way to weed out jargon is to think of your mother reading your copy. Would she get it? If not, clarify and simplify.

The exception? When you’re reaching other nonprofit professionals who know the jargon. In these cases, buzzwords are often crucial. Just make sure your key points don’t get lost in them!

2. Keep it brief and digestible.

No one has time to wade through lengthy prose these days. The faster you convey your program or service’s benefits to the reader, the more likely you’ll keep her reading.

Fire your “biggest gun” first by beginning with your biggest benefit – if you put it toward the end of your copy, you risk losing the reader before she gets to it. Aim for sentence lengths of less than 20 words. When possible, break up copy with subheads, bullets, numbers, or em dashes (like the one following this phrase) – these make your points easy to digest.

3. Use testimonials when possible.

Let your prospects know they won’t be the first to try your program or volunteer with your organization. Provide results-oriented testimonials from clients, community leaders, donors, volunteers and members who have benefited from your work. Include attributions with full names, titles and organization when relevant – and be sure to get their permission first.

A good example:
“It is always wonderful to see what we accomplish during our projects. We really feel like we make a difference by improving the land and beautifying the urban wilds,” said Matt Lynde, a Boston Cares project leader who works with EarthWorks Projects to spruce up and landscape wildlife sanctuaries in Boston.

4. Push the action you want.

Tell your readers what you want them to do – don’t leave them hanging. Do you want them to call or email for more information? Join or give now? Register for a workshop? Complete a brief survey? Think about what you’d most like them to do, and then ask them to act (ask a few times).

It’s amazing how many marketing materials I come across every day that don’t make it clear what the reader should do. If you write compelling copy, your reader may forget you’re trying to motivate him or her to act! Include your call to action (and an incentive to act now, if possible) and readers are far more likely to act.

Effective motivators:

  • Return your pledge today. We need to raise only $50,000 to meet our goal.
  • Register today. Only three seats left.

5. Have your copy proofread!

Great. Now have it proofread again. Don’t risk distributing any typos, misspellings or grammatical mistakes that will poorly represent your nonprofit. Hire a professional editor/proofreader (usually in the $25/hour range) to perfect your words and double-check your grammar. Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impession! Oops – *impression*.