Insights to Power Social Good

3 Tips for Writing About Your Nonprofit

Posted by Ethan Kotel on Apr 20, 2017 7:00:00 AM


How to Write Effective Copy



If your job is to write, you are a writer. This may seem obvious at first, but it is with alarming frequency that I meet people who, although they make their living writing and publishing content, do not view themselves as a writer. While there’s nothing wrong with this, and writing certainly isn’t everyone’s strong suit, framing your copy around how to write effectively will make a massive difference in the efficacy of your communications.

Are your social media posts not getting the engagement you’d like to see? Are your email open and click-through rates lower than you’d hope? Writing effective copy will not only lend your nonprofit extra credibility and professionalism, but will also better convert your audience into active supporters, donors, and volunteers.


1) Ask Yourself Questions

If you’ve been following the mGive blog for awhile, you know that we are all about asking yourself questions. Asking the right questions helps you to focus your goal, and make sure that the right people are finding your writing at the right time.

The first question you ask yourself should always be “who is my audience?” This question is paramount: it informs how you write, how you format your writing, the content you include, the offer you include, and everything else about your content.


You’re looking at an example right now. I am writing this post for people who read blogs. Knowing that most people will read a blog post in a similar way that I would, I am formatting this post to be easily skimmable.


Everyone skims everything these days. By separating paragraphs into smaller, individual lines, and by bolding certain lines for emphasis, I can make it easier for my skimming audience to get the gist of this post without being inundated with too much information.


Writing for your audience takes many forms, and can be aided by techniques such as segmenting your email list.


Instead of writing one email and blasting it out to your entire list, consider splitting your list along whatever boundaries you have available, including age, geography, gender, or any other parameters you can think of. Write one basic email template, and then change it according to which part of the list you are sending to.


Personalizing an email based on something like age group or geographic location allows you to run a much more targeted campaign, and will raise your conversion percentage by making people feel as though your email is specific to them, since it basically is.


By segmenting your list and writing for your audience, the right people will hear your message at the right time, and will be more inclined to engage with you when they feel that you took the time to write them a genuine appeal.


2) Avoid the Boring and the Being

This is just some basic writing advice, but is crucial to remember as you pen correspondence for your cause.

The easiest way to turn a boring and uninspiring collection of words into an effective donation ask, marketing campaign, or event invitation is to use exciting action verbs.


Verbs are the most important part of speech to your cause. They are what instruct (not tell) your donors what to do next, inspire (not produce) action, and command (not invite) attention. Using powerful verbs over their boring and cliched cousins is key to writing effective copy.


Which reads better to you? Which makes you want to click?

“If you’d like to learn more about Youth on Record, look at our website here.”


“If you’d like to learn more about Youth on Record, explore our website today!”


Ooh. An exploration. That sounds like something I’d like to go on, wouldn’t you? Using exciting, forceful verbs will allow you to add that much extra “umph” to your writing.


A crystal clear direction to click will also help inspire the donor by adding an extra sense of urgency, rather than timidly leaving a link behind, hoping they’ll click it of their own volition.


Another general piece of writing advice is to avoid “being verbs.” These verbs are annoyingly easy to use, as evidenced by the fact that this article is riddled with them.


However, whenever possible, it is a best practice to avoid being verbs completely, as they get in the way and slow down the reader.


Consider this example. Which sounds like a stronger ask to you?

“The best way to engage with us is to donate today.”

“Donate today. It’s the best way to engage with us.”


I don’t know about you, but option B is much stronger to me. The ask is separate, clear, and difficult to miss.

Strong verbs will increase the potency of your writing, and make your copy much more compelling. Don’t skimp on strong nouns or adjectives either! It is crucial that every word in your post motivates the reader to take decisive action when it comes to your cause.


3) Use the Right Amount of Detail

We live in a perplexing age, one where our attention spans are being outclassed by goldfish. Many people overcompensate for our now-reduced attention spans by devolving all of their messaging into short and easily digestible sound bites.


Is this really necessary? Does the simple fact that we live our lives in a more fast-paced way preclude us from needing detail when it comes to spending money or volunteering our time?


I don’t think so. In fact, I staunchly oppose the rush to make everything as short and trivial as possible. Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but the fact that any of our politicians inform us of policy matters via 140-character tweets drives me absolutely insane.


I’ve written before that the next generation of donors craves authenticity. It is extraordinarily difficult to write an authentic ask when you are artificially limiting yourself according to arbitrary generalizations regarding people’s proclivity for succinctness.


Woof. After writing that last sentence, I’m starting to see the other side of the coin. There’s a right and a wrong way to use detail in your writing, and using fifty syllables for what could be said in ten is just sloppy.


Let’s rewrite that sentence, keeping all of the detail, but reducing the length and making it easier to read.


Let’s start by reducing some of the largest words into shorter, but equally strong ones. This may increase the overall length of the sentence, but will make it more readable.  


Before: It is extraordinarily difficult to write an authentic ask when you are artificially limiting yourself according to arbitrary generalizations regarding people’s proclivity for succinctness.”


After: “It is incredibly hard to write an authentic ask when you are restricting the complexity of your writing based on generalizations of people’s desire for short sound bites.”


Well, it’s certainly easier to understand, but there’s still quite a lot of trimming to be done. Next, let’s remove any useless modifiers, combine some words, and reorder the sentence a bit.


Now: “It’s hard to write an authentic ask in the form of a short sound bite when you’re restricting yourself to the simplest words and ideas.”


We’re getting close! Finally, let’s condense the sentence a little more, and take a final before and after comparison.


Before: It is extraordinarily difficult to write an authentic ask when you are artificially limiting yourself according to arbitrary generalizations regarding people’s proclivity for succinctness.”


After: “When writing an authentic ask, don’t restrict yourself only to the simplest words and ideas.”


Boom. From 59 syllables to 25, while maintaining the exact same content and idea. People still crave detailed writing, but that doesn’t mean you need to bury your point under an avalanche of overly complicated verbiage.

When deciding how much detail to use in your writing, remember to consider your audience. If this article was being published in MENSA’s newsletter, I wouldn’t have changed that overly long and complicated sentence at all, since it would fit in with the rest of the magazine.

Wrapping Up

And there we have it. If writing is your job, you’re a writer. It’s a simple matter to take your writing to the next level, and adds a much needed air of credibility and professionalism to any materials you produce for your nonprofit. By considering your audience, avoiding boring and ‘being’ verbs, and using the right level of detail, you can craft more effective donation asks, pamphlets, social posts, and anything else you may need to write!


Get out there and get scribbling. I’ll see you soon!


Yours sincerely,


Topics: nonprofit, Strategies and Tactics, Fundraising Ideas, Mobile Engagement, Fundraising, SEO, Writing

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