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?

A Passion for Persuasion!

People said we were crazy to send you this (fill in the blank). “You can’t do it – (organization) will go broke,” doubters said.

That letter opening is my nemesis. It has been around for 25-30 years and has been used by at least that many organizations.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been convinced some well-written test would be the new control …

I thought of that recently as I reread Robert B. Cialdini’s classic, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. (initially published in 1984; updated release in 2007).

Cialdini cites six “weapons of influence” that support persuasion, at least three of which are in that opening paragraph.

  • Reciprocation – the free gift creates an indebtedness that needs to be repaid.
  • Social proof – obviously those doubters didn’t know what they were talking about; there are a lot of smarter, more honest people (like you and me) around!
  • Authority – We knew we were right!

The other three weapons are in the letter as well.

  • Liking – the tone of the whole letter is very folksy and down-to-earth. We prefer to say 'yes' to someone we like.
  • Consistency – we tend to stick with a prior decision. If you can get agreement to an initial small request, you’re more likely to get a greater commitment later.
  • Scarcity – people more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value. (If you don’t respond, we’ll lose .)

Cialdini illustrates and supports his case with an array of very interesting research. He also gives tips to sidestep the automated response ... but you’ll have to get your own copy to learn about those!