Carefully crafted, smart copy can be the difference between an email that breaks records, and one that sinks without a trace.
But charities often overlook the power of words to motivate their audience. Writing effective copy is harder than most people realise — and that’s why it should be given the attention it deserves.
Whether you’re asking for donations, raising awareness, or recruiting volunteers, these six examples will help you create copy that inspires action.
1. Greenpeace: An email that does almost everything
This is a great email from Greenpeace UK. It’s short and snappy; it’s got urgency; it brings in villains and heroes; it has an engaging narrative that uses visual imagery; and it has a strong theory of change. By referencing the number of supporters the campaign already has, it also plays on social proof — a psychological and social phenomenon where people are more likely to take an action if they know others have already done so. It really is quite a feat to get all these ways to motivate readers to take action into so few lines of copy.
2. Reprieve: A powerful job ad
This Reprieve job ad is not your bog-standard recruitment copy. It uses a novel structure, focusing the ad around a really powerful narrative that both shocks and inspires. It is also laden with values statements and focuses on the reader, forcing them to decide whether they stand for or against these things.
This is you — reading your morning newspaper, trawling the headlines. Your eyes head to stories about abuses of government power. A democracy protester in Saudi Arabia is beheaded by the regime. A prisoner is tortured info a false ‘confession’ so that the police can say they solved the crime. An innocent man in Guantánamo Bay is so desperate he’s on hunger strike — and his force-feedings were caught on tape.
You believe abusing and killing prisoners is no way for democracies to handle crime, and you see how oppressive regimes use torture and the death penalty silence opposition. You think torture and drone attacks are both senseless and short-sighted foreign policy. You want to do something about it.
If this is you, we want you to join our group of Reprieve Human Rights Defenders.
3. Bernie Sanders campaign: An engaging fundraiser
This Bernie Sanders fundraising email is a great example of how to get supporters engaged and motivated. It starts off by grabbing the reader’s curiosity, telling them that they’re about to hear some truly shocking information. This encourages the reader to keep reading. For good measure, the opening line also throws in some villains (the “financial elite and political establishment”) to get the supporter fired up. The rest of the email is a perfect example of how to use fundraising targets, social proof, and deadlines to great effect.
An audacious goal
Sisters and Brothers –
I am going to share some information with you that will send shivers down the spines of the nation’s financial elite and political establishment:
Since the polls closed in New Hampshire yesterday evening, we have received more than 150,000 contributions from people across the country for a grand total of $5.2 million… in just 18 hours.
So we’ve set an audacious goal, but one we can reach together if everyone chips in:
Contribute $3 right now to help our campaign reach $6 million raised online since the polls closed last night in New Hampshire.
4. Wikipedia: A smart webpage pop-up
We’ve all seen the Wikipedia donate header. Lots of us have probably even donated off the back of it. There are so many things this copy is doing right: it’s got a personal, informal tone; it highlights the tremendous impact the organisation has across the world to show audiences that their donation would be a good investment; it has social proof and a really tangible ask. But it’s this line that really wins the day: “If everyone reading this gave £5, our fundraiser would be done within an hour.” It encourages the supporter to donate a particular amount, suggests the target is both reasonable and achievable, and adds an element of competition to the whole thing.
5. Obama campaign: Standout subject lines
These Obama subject lines are are seven years old now. But they’re still great examples of how to create subject lines that work for your voice and for your supporters.
“I want to do this again” — it’s curiosity grabbing — do what again, and why?
“This isn’t already illegal?” — it’s intriguing and has the element of scandal.
“Karl Rove sent you a message” — it’s surprising has novelty value — why is arch-conservative Karl Rove sending me, an Obama supporter,a message?
“Hey” — this works because of the sender: it’s Barack Obama saying hey to me!
“I love you back” — again, this works of the surprising combination of this very personal .message with the sender — President Obama(!)
6. British Army: Building a sense of belonging
This copy from the British Army does a great job at highlighting the non-tangible benefits of being in the Army. By framing the copy around belonging, they successfully create a sense of community, appealing to those who revel in camaraderie, as well as painting a picture of how enriching and fulfilling a career in the army can be.
The benefits of belonging in the army
A sense of belonging may sound like a small thing. Yet it fuels you as much as food and water, because it doesn’t just feed your body, it feeds your mind and soul.
The stronger the sense of belonging — the stronger you become.
Sure, you could look for belonging in a football team or club, but the sense of belonging you’ll find in the Army — well, that’s the next level.
When you’ve trained together side by side, learnt things no classroom can teach you and fought with each other, for each other — that creates a bond like no other. A bond that lasts a lifetime.
Belonging sees you through whatever life — on or off the battlefield — may throw at you.
This is belonging.
These are just a few examples of great copy that inspires action — there are so many more out there. Seen some seriously good charity copywriting? Let us by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.