Year End Copywriting Basics


Every organization has its own unique story.

But every year end appeal — regardless of the nonprofit — has some similar ingredients available to add urgency and increase response rates. Here are a few of the tried and true year-end rules we see generate returns:

  • Provide a Deadline. Do you need those dollars to start the next year strong? Is there a project that will go unfunded if you don't raise a certain amount by a certain date? Share that information in an authentic, honest way without giving a boy-who-cried-wolf vibe and trust your donors to step up.
  • Provide a Dollar Amount. Building on the previous idea ... If there's a dollar amount that will allow your group to hit budget, help another family or shelter another animal put it in your copy. Our minds are wired to latch onto specifics. Giving donors a tangible goal helps in that department.
  • Provide Outcomes. Testing has shown that donors aren't as interested in the myriad programs your organization has as much as the nitty gritty of real outcomes and real people/animals/etc helped by their investment in your work. Be clear and to the point — and make it plain as day their contributions are the fuel behind every kind and life-changing act.

What are your go-to copy standards for year end?

Checking It Twice...

I recently came across a link to the infamous (to me, anyway; I first read it many years ago!) David Ogilvy memo, "How to Write."

It's a classic ("Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well.") in which he offers 10 helpful "hints" to colleagues.

It was particularly gratifying to see #7 ("Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning—and then edit it.") and #8 ("If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.")

We make it a practice at M&C to always have someone other than the original writer review a piece of copy before it goes out.

There are a couple of obvious reasons.
  • A fresh set of eyes is far more likely to catch a missing word, a typo, or other easily-overlooked error.
  • An outside perspective is also more likely to stumble on a lapse in logic, a confusing construction, or a misplaced modifier ... and if a fellow writer stumbles, I can almost guarantee you other readers will as well. As with typos, it's better to catch these before the client, and allow the client to maintain a more strategic focus.
 But over the past 25+ years, I've seen some other, even more significant benefits as well.
  1. Editing forces you to sharpen your own writing. It's a built-in self-improvement program; watching for "mistakes" in others' writing also helps you become a bit more critical of your own (critical in a positive way, not as self-deprecation).
  2. It's great cross-training for the team. Each client has a unique voice; familiarizing multiple people with that tone helps ensure we're more than one-person-deep on any account. If the primary writer is out – such as with my recent surgery – another writer can step in almost seamlessly. (That's a stronger benefit for service providers, obviously, but can also be applicable within an organization: for example, could your media relations person cover the blog for a short period, if needed? Or volunteer tweets?)
  3. Editing teaches humility. And not just in learning to graciously accept input. A good editor learns that there is more than one way to say something, and is able to let that happen. That involves learning to rise above your own pride/ego/vanity ... those very same self-imposed barriers to listening. And better listeners make better writers. Curb your ego, and I think you'll find it far easier to let a story tell itself.
If you're not currently having someone review your writing, I encourage you to try it. You may just find your own capabilities improving!