We have all received a fundraising appeal that went right to our heart with its direct language, touching stories, and a call to action we could not resist.
So who does that writing? A small army of people could be writing for a nonprofit, from copywriters to grant writers, to people specializing in social media content. Today's nonprofit writer has to cover a lot of bases and be technically proficient as well.
Here are some guidelines, tips, and samples that you and your staff can draw on to make the best pitches to the people who support you.
What Types of Content Should You Write?
Content for a nonprofit may resemble the same types one might write for a company or other commercial business. It's all about persuasion, after all. The four "Ps of marketing," product, price, promotion, place" still hold sway. The difference is that in the case of a nonprofit, that persuasion might be more difficult.
In business, there is usually a tangible product or service to sell. You can tick off the features, the price, the benefits. Money is exchanged; the customer gets something back. With nonprofit content, you must persuade the reader to support a more intangible product, such as helping another person, group, animal, or social movement.
The benefit is not something the reader can order and then enjoy. The outcome will likely not be certain. Instead, the benefit is a good feeling, satisfaction at helping others, and to demonstrate that one is a good person and cares about the social good.
Thus, although the nonprofit writer uses most of the same methods as a business to reach readers, the results are quite different, as is the content of the message.
Writing Content for Your Nonprofit Website
Nonprofits, like businesses, should start with their website as a content hub. Websites have changed marketing for good. We now have "content marketing." That type of marketing may also be called "inbound marketing," but it is all based on that central hub, your website.
Today, even the smallest charity can afford to create a website. Some website services are even free. Others are reasonably priced and simple to learn.
What should be on your website? First, pay attention to the basics such as name, address, list of staff, and board, as well as proof of tax exemption.
You'll need an "about" section that explains who you are and what you do, who's on your board, a list of staff, and your organization's history.
Consider creating a blog where you can write frequent posts about your activities, post fundraising results, and news about the people or animals you serve. Don't forget to add profiles of your fabulous volunteers.
A blog also takes your website from "static" to "dynamic." When you frequently post on your blog, the search engines can find you and keep you top of mind for potential online visitors.
Email Writing for Nonprofits
One of the most efficient ways to market anything is through email. Email is useful for newsletters, fundraising appeals, and even thank-you notes.
Email was the earliest social media and remains one of the most useful tools for marketing, whether commercial or nonprofit. One source says that the ROI of email is $38 for every $1 of investment. Furthermore, email continues to outperform many other social media platforms, with more than 90% of the U.S. population using it regularly.
Newsletters have almost all gone from print to email. Email newsletters save money and allow you to reach even more people. But emails are not just for fun or saying "hi." They should make people want to take action by donating, volunteering, or attending an event.
If you have not already become familiar with the rules governing email, brush up with a refresher on the CAN-SPAM Act. Adhering to all the standards is a serious business, and those rules apply equally to commercial and nonprofit emails.
Charities can quickly build an email list by requiring visitors to their websites to leave their email addresses whenever subscribing, donating, or volunteering. Email services provide cost-effective and easy to understand programs for writing a newsletter and then sending it to your list. Typical services include Constant Contact, Vertical Response, and Emma.
A Note on Writing Press Releases
The term press release may seem a bit old fashioned, recalling a reporter with notepad raptly listening to a source. But press releases continue to be relevant and an excellent way to get your organization's news out to the media, whether that outlet is in print, online, or broadcast.
However, press releases have gone digital. You'll send them by email and post them on your website in an online press room. The form of the press release has not changed much, though, just the means of delivery. Follow the standard format and then follow up with individual media outlets to encourage them to make use of your information.
Fundraising and Grant Writing for Your Nonprofit
Fundraising is the center of your nonprofit life. Most donations are made by individuals, not companies, not foundations. Individual giving represents nearly 70% of all charitable giving. Being able to reach your donors' hearts makes all the difference to your organization's financial stability.
The fundraising letter or solicitation is at the core of person-to-person fundraising. That letter can be sent by email, but most are still sent in the mail. No matter the delivery method, the persuasion remains the same. Fundraising letters must be personable, specific, and easy to read.
The fundraising letter writer should understand a bit of psychology to make headway with various types of readers, and know what turns a donor away or keeps him reading. The writer of fundraising solicitations must also be a superb storyteller. It's stories that will capture the hearts of the readers, much more than just data.
Assuming the letter asking for a donation results in a gift, it is crucial to thank the donor often and well. Thank yous generally are delivered in the same way as the solicitation. A donor who responds to a mailed letter should receive a mailed thank you. Donors who respond to an emailed solicitation should receive an emailed thank you.
Besides writing fundraising letters and saying thank you, nonprofit writers may well find themselves becoming grant writers. Most successful charities do include grants in their fundraising plans.
Writing an effective grant proposal is both an art and a science.
The successful grant writer must be superbly organized, be familiar with all the parts of a successful grant proposal, and understand the various types of proposals from the full proposal to the Letter of Inquiry, to the letter proposal.
Writing Social Media Posts for Your Nonprofit
The nonprofit that doesn't use social media today, beyond email, may lose out on the ability not only to raise funds but to interact with their supporters at a deep level.
One study ranked the world's most-used social media and found that Facebook was number one, YouTube second, and WhatsApp third. But also popular were Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Which social media your nonprofit chooses depends on the demographics of your audience. According to Pew Research, adults (including those 65 and older) tend to use Facebook and YouTube, while Instagram and Snapchat are popular with young adults, 18-24.
Gen Z, our youngest social cohort, uses most of the social media that other generations do, but the difference is that they use all of it more often. Social media has become ingrained in their lives.
Whatever social media a nonprofit uses, it must start with a social media strategy. That strategy can begin with setting up a social media committee, creating goals and objectives, and deciding how you'll measure results. Finally, develop social media policies and select your social media channels.
Which channels you choose will depend on not only the ages of most of your donors but also their education level and socioeconomic status. Unless your audience is unusually uniform, you'll want a variety of social media to reach everyone.
Do be careful, however, not to overstretch your staff, time, and energy. Start with one or two primary social media platforms and slowly branch out from there. Some social media is more demanding than others. Facebook may need a couple of posts a day, but Instagram demands photos that you'll have to produce and then incorporate into a steady stream of engaging content.
An upside to social media is that you can repurpose content across channels reasonably easily.
The Bottom Line
Good writing turns out to be essential to the success of any nonprofit. And that writing must live across channels, from direct mail to social media. All that good writing may take a village of writers who are organized, talented, and technically proficient.