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Copywriting for fundraising - Avoiding Common Pitfalls

copywriting for fundraising - avoiding common pitfalls

A fundraising team will send out thousands of messages each year, but how many charities really think about the words they use to generate income? Direct mail, maybe. The rest? Fundraisers are usually left to get on with it. This article explores why compelling copywriting for fundraising is an important niche skill and how to avoid some (surprisingly) common pitfalls.

What is copywriting?

Copywriting is re-arranging words to make things sell better. There is nothing embarrassing or awkward about ‘selling’ your cause; every brilliant project must be paid for.

The case for support is key

The bedrock of copywriting for fundraising is - or should be - the case for support. Simply put, this is your investment prospectus, your key marketing tool. It’s a straightforward document that tells your ‘story’ and explains to potential supporters what their gift will allow you to accomplish. It should form the backbone of information and messages for the whole charity. It is then tailored to specific donors and audiences, and various written materials.

No pain, no gain

The process of hammering out a case for support, and from it your specific approaches, is a very valuable, if sometimes painful, process. It should shift your perspective from ‘inside looking out’ to ‘outside looking in’, which is vital for recruiting and communicating with your supporters.

Pitfalls to avoid

With fierce competition for funds, here are a few common pitfalls:

Fundraising is about money – copywriting for fundraising is about turning words into money whilst maintaining your values and voice. Charities uncomfortable with this write bad copy.

What purpose? - why are you writing this? Be specific, and then even more specific. Charities everywhere have cupboards full of materials they never use and documents packed with information supporters don’t want to read.

Audience is king – writing to ask dedicated supporters to run a marathon dressed in a gorilla suit is one thing. A letter to a high net worth prospect who has never heard of you is quite another. Feel and tone matter. Write for your audience, what do they need?

Don’t be shy – ask for what you want, with your purpose and audience in mind: ‘we are writing to ask if you would consider making a donation of £35,000 to prevent disadvantaged young people being permanently excluded from school.’ Your work has value, so it’s OK to name it.

Don’t assume – it is, alas, not self-evident why anyone should understand or care about what you do, let alone give you their money. Don’t assume the ‘vital benefits’ of your work are obvious, they’re not. Explain what you do, and what those benefits are. Don’t confuse outputs with outcomes.

Short and snappy – don’t use a comma when a full-stop will do. Say exactly what you mean. Then say it with fewer words. Don’t be vague, and don’t waffle.

Don’t hide your light under a bushel – if you are the first, biggest, best, or the only, then say so. If you have a good track record, that’s important. If you achieved brilliant things, say what they are. Don’t lie, or exaggerate, but do present your achievements and ambitions in the best possible light.

Avoid acronyms – let’s say you have a project that is universally referred to in-house as TEEPEE, your staff all know what TEEPEE is. All the reader is thinking about is a big pointy tent. Spell it out.

Facts vs emotion – if you’re writing to introduce yourself to a corporate CEO, with the aim of securing a meeting, then cut down the emotion and keep it business-like. For trusts, a pithy case study can convey the humanity of what you do, without turning it into a tear-jerker. For private donors, it’s good to use some emotion to make a point.

Overblown language – this is a modern curse. Don’t say ‘incredibly’ when you mean ‘very’. Unless your work inspires awe or incredulity, it’s neither ‘awesome’ or ‘incredible’. Try to avoid clichés and annoying management bluster like ‘robust’. Read it out loud, if you feel silly saying it, delete.

Get help when you need it

Creating a case for support and compelling fundraising copy that gets results can be a daunting task. If you need help with this or would like a free chat to talk through your options, please call us on 01785 663600 We’ll be happy to advise!

There is further information about our copywriting service here.


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