Copywriting is crafting words that sell. Whether you’re a company selling fizzy drinks or a charity asking for funds, words are crucially important if you are to persuade, inspire and elicit a response.
But great copy doesn’t just happen. Some of the world’s best copywriters have trained for years, and their work is often the result of hours, weeks and even months of blood, sweat and tears.
So where does that leave us humble fundraisers? Most fundraisers in small charities don’t have professional copywriting training or the budget to employ a copywriter. And in a sector that is under more pressure than ever before, time is a luxury we simply don’t have.
The good news is that there are some simple changes you can make to improve your copywriting skills. Here are some tips to help you improve your copywriting skills:
1. Read, read, read
Good writers are prolific readers. Use every opportunity to read. Start to notice what works and what doesn’t; pick out words and phrases that are powerful or impactful.
Look at blog posts, read a novel, scan websites and brochures. And read people’s fundraising copy – direct mail, digital copy, thank you letters, invites to donor events. In short, if you can get your hands on it, read it.
2. Use a framework
It’s a common misconception that great copywriting is all about creativity. The best writers work to a framework, to give their writing structure and purpose.
AIDA is the most popular copywriting formula in the world and can work brilliantly for fundraising copy. There are other models you can use to help frame your writing. These include before-after-bridge, features, advantages, benefits, and the Four C’s. Using a structure that works for you, will help guide and shape your writing without stifling your creativity.
3. Ditch the jargon
Jargon is a big turn off for donors and funders. Yet many charities still fall into the trap of using jargon. I recently listened to the What Donors Want podcast which featured Philippa Charles from the Garfield Weston Foundation. She was very clear in the interview that jargon in funding applications is (at best) unhelpful.
Charities that are largely statutory funded are usually the worst jargon offenders. If you work with commissioners, social workers or health and education professionals, you may have picked up quite a bit of ‘statutory speak’ in your day-to-day vocabulary. The term ‘person-centred care’ for example is commonly used in local authority parlance. But does this mean to the average
4. Break up your text
No one wants to sift through large blocks of text. Research shows that most people scan a page before they do anything, subconsciously looking for words, phrases or images that are of interest.
Use headings, subheadings, images and captions wherever possible. This works particularly well with longer documents such as trust applications, legacy packs or donor acquisition mailings.
5. Prioritise readability
Someone once told me to write as though a 10-year-old was looking over my shoulder. This advice still sticks with me today. It reminds me use simple words, short sentences and lots of white space between paragraphs to make it easy on the eye.
Font size is also important. When the world revolved around printed media, most people swore by a 10-point font for body text. But the rules have changed. Most marketers and design professionals agree that the minimum font size for body paragraphs is 12-point. And if your audience are Baby Boomers, you may even want to go to a 14, as many in this population will have a mild visual impairment.
The bottom line
So, whether it’s a Christmas appeal letter, a donor thank you letter, an email to a major donor or a funding application, every word matters. Don’t waste a single word on jargon, acronyms or meaningless words or terminology.
And finally, learn from others. Ask friends, family and colleagues to read your drafts. And there is some brilliant copy out there. So read it, learn from it and incorporate it into your own work.