Copywriting Tips For Year-End And Beyond

How do you inspire your supporters to give?

From Giving Tuesday to the end of the year, you’ll be communicating with your supporters a lot. How can you make sure your messaging is compelling and inspiring? Check out our session with Otis Fulton, Ph.D, from Turnkey

Watch the Full Recording Here

Top Takeaways

  • Use “you” more than “we.” Focus on the supporter and the good they’re doing
  • Consider adding a #ThankYouWednesday after Giving Tuesday
  • A lead gift may be a better option than a match, to stand out from the crowd.
  • Use words like “kind” and “compassionate” in your copy
  • Segment communications to make them more personal

Transcript: Copywriting Tips For Year-End And Beyond

Megan Donahue

Hello everyone and welcome to The Responsive Weekly. I’m Megan Donahue from Virtuous, and I’m so glad you’re here today. Couple of quick things before we introduce our guest. Make sure your chat pane is set to everyone so that your colleagues can see your questions and comments. If you have questions and comments, put them in the chat. We’re having two conversations here, one that goes on on-screen between me and the guest, and one that’s going on between you and your nonprofit peers. I try to jump back and forth between each one to moderate success. but make sure people can see your comments. The session will be recorded and a recap will be sent afterward. Stay tuned after the session for a demo of Virtuous, or if you can’t stay, want to see virtuous one-on-one sign up for a demo yourself at And finally, I know it’s year-end, October’s ticking away. You’ve got a lot to do, but you decided to be here. And I’m grateful. I’m glad you’re here. So, meet Otis. Hello, Otis Fulton, who’s joining us from Turnkey. Nice to see you.

Otis Fulton:

Thank you very much, Megan. Appreciate it. Good to be here.

Megan Donahue:

Great. Otis is here to talk with us about copywriting for year-end and beyond, good end of year copywriting tips. But before we do, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and Turnkey?

Otis Fulton:

Sure. Turnkey is a consultant. We’ve worked with just about all of the top 30 peer-to-peer programs in the United States. But we branched out. We do all kinds of services now, provide consulting. And I’ve been writing copy for about eight years. I’m a social psychologist. my Ph.D.’s in social psychology, and so I try to bring a lot of psychology to our work. And I’ll talk about some of that today.

Megan Donahue:

Fantastic. So let’s jump right in. I know you have some slides to share. We can transition.

Otis Fulton:

I do.

Make sure this comes up. Okay. Okay. Can you see that? Good? Yep. Okay. Well, as you know, as Megan said, don’t worry about taking notes or screenshots if you’d like something or I’m sure you’ll be able to download this presentation. So what I’m going to talk about today is, and I get a lot of questions about Giving Tuesday this time of year. So I’ll talk a little bit about Giving Tuesday and the research and psychology behind that. I’ll talk about what I think is one missed opportunity and then we’ll just kind of go through the takeaways. So I’ve tried to cram as much into 30 minutes as I possibly can. 20, 20 to 24 minutes probably. So let’s kind of jump right in. So, you know Giving Tuesday matters, you know, I like the idea of Giving Tuesday really very much.

There needs to be a day, actually more than one day dedicated to giving. And you know, with this Giving Tuesday, it sets a tone for end-of-the-year campaigns. And various sources have told us that about 31% of annual giving occurs in December. So it’s really important to get off on the right foot. And, you know, Giving Tuesday’s big. How do I know that? I took a look back at what happened to my email inbox during giving Tuesday 2021. And here’s what happened. Monday before,  I got about 11 prep messages. Now, you know, I subscribed to a lot of different nonprofits. I contribute to quite a few. But the day of, I got 42 solicitations. You know, that’s a lot. And probably more than a normal person, but that tells me that most people are going to get a lot of solicitations.

And the day after, also, notably, I got one match extended and three thank yous. So not so much there. And that day, by the way, I made one donation. I made a hundred-dollar donation to the Richmond SPCA, where I’m a monthly $50 donor. So really nothing that I got in my inbox really moved me. I just made a little bit more of a contribution to the SPCA, something I was already involved in. And, you know, looking back on it told me that I think that there’s a huge missed opportunity here. I call that Thank You Wednesday. #ThankYouWednesday. Don’t Google it. If you Google it, nothing will probably come up. ‘Cause I just made it up. But you know, Giving Tuesday is really loud.

It’s noisy. A lot of stuff is coming through. A lot of messages I didn’t read most of them, you know, Wednesday was quiet and it’s a good time to message your supporters just to thank them. So I wrote what a little thank you might look like. So here’s your example. Hashtag Thank You Wednesday copy. Now. 

So dear first name, this is just a short note to thank you and the entire (whatever your nonprofit) XYZ community for your support. Yesterday the organization raised however many dollars on Giving Tuesday. If you donated yesterday, thanks! If you didn’t, I want you to know how grateful we are to you year-round because of you and our wonderful community. whatever it is, feeding the homeless, feeding the hungry, clothing the clothesless, whatever animals get saved, et cetera, every day of the year.

Caring, compassionate people like you make amazing things happen. Sincerely, Otis Fulton. 

PS- Yes, no one person can change the world, but you sure change a little part of it. 

So a couple things about this message. I didn’t put a subject line in. I usually shoot for a subject line of about six words. That’s where the research says the sweet spot is. Over six words, you start to lose it. So six words is usually what I shoot for. I almost always put a PS in my messages. There’s research on how people read copy. They don’t read it from beginning to end. What they do is they read the very beginning, then they jump to the bottom. So when I’m writing copy, what I’ll often do is I’ll, I’ll write the whole piece and then I’ll see, well, what’s one thing that’s important that I want people to read?

And I’ll take it out of the body and I’ll put it in a PS. So I’m very big on using PS. Some copywriters call it the second first paragraph. So it’s much more likely to be read. So you know, this piece, you’d only send this to people on your list who didn’t donate on Giving Tuesday. Donors would get your standard thanks for donating message.There are of course many fewer that would get this message. And you know, what this message does is it suddenly tells people that it’s okay that they didn’t donate because they’re great year-round. And this is the message that can set you up for your end-of-the-year campaign, which you’ll start in another week or so. 

We had a client that last year organized their volunteers and kind of an interesting way to use volunteers. On the Monday before Thanksgiving, they set up a phone bank and they called, they had the volunteers call their top thousand supporters. And they didn’t ask for a donation. 

They just said, “Listen, we just want to thank you and you know how much you mean to us.  I’m a volunteer.” Ther person said, “You know I’m a big believer in the organization just like you are. Thanks for hanging with us together and we’re doing great things.” Didn’t ask for a donation. Their end-of-the-year campaign increased by 42% over the year over the prior year. And the only thing they did different was that Thank You Monday as they called it. So, little things like this can have significant impacts on revenue and make people feel a lot better about supporting your organization as well.

Okay, let’s just talk about the psychology here because I’m a psychologist and that’s what I like to do. So, you know, as I looked back over what I got last year, the subjects lines and the messages that I received, they talked about when to give, you know, emphasized it was Giving Tuesday, but not why. When you do that, what we find is you don’t raise new money. You tend to cannibalize a lot of revenue that you would’ve received later anyway. And the data tells us that about two-thirds, 63% of revenues from a single additional communication, they’re not new revenues. So you don’t want to contribute to that by making your primary pitch the time of the year rather than the good that the gift can do.

I wrote a blog in Non-Profit Pro. I talked about transactionalism. It was this same idea. You certainly mention that there’s a tax incentive, that the contribution’s tax-deductible. But don’t make that the primary thing. The tax-deductible thing is kind of a, “Oh, and by the way, it’s tax deductible.” You know, what do your donors care about? You always want to make that the pitch. No matter the time of year doesn’t matter because those are the kinds of things that sustain.

As we get into end-of-the-year fundraising, you need to look at the bigger picture. Does it hurt to remind people that it’s the season of giving? Absolutely not. But you don’t want to make that your primary message. It’s not about the time of the year. It’s about the impact that they can have. 

So let’s think about Giving Tuesday, You know, by its lonesome, it’s just a gimmick. So what’s a gimmick? “gimmick, a trick or device intended to attract attention, publicity or businesses.” I can’t remember some dictionary or Wikipedia I found this definition for but it’s pretty accurate. Now don’t get me wrong, as a copywriter, I have total respect for gimmicks. I use them. They’re very useful. But, you know, in terms of nonprofit world, here today, gone tomorrow, fundraising gimmicks are emotionally shallow and, people can sense shallow, you know, people can smell that out.

Yeah. So at least tell me you missed me if I didn’t respond on Giving Tuesday. You know, again, that Thank You Wednesday. It’s pretty quiet. It’s a good time to say, “Hey, we missed you. You’re important to us.”

So, you know, here’s the big gimmick that nonprofits use. We have a lot of clients that do this. So I kind of schooled up in the research behind this. In matches. There is certainly academic research that supports the idea that matches work. The mere presence of a match increases the revenue per solicitation. And it does so significantly, by about 20%. And offering a match significantly increases the probability that an individual will donate by about 22%. And this research has been done over the last 15 years.

But now just about everybody has a match especially in Giving Tuesday. So in an effort to stand out in a noisy messaging environment with, you know, you got Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday. So many organizations have picked the same tactic. My issue with matches is this: yes it does raise additional revenue. But I’m worried about what some psychologists have called the Men’s Warehouse Effect. you know, whenever you see an ad for Men’s Warehouse, you see that buy two suits, get one free. You know, I mean, how can you forget? It’s ingrained in my mind. So why would you ever buy a suit at regular price without getting a free suit?

It’s the same idea here. There’s definitely a danger that you’re going to train your donors to respond only to matches. There’s, there’s some research that suggests that matched gift kind of scenarios can hurt giving in the long run. There’s a psychologist named David Meyer. About 15 years ago, he found that when matching donations were stopped the contribution rates decline with people. He did a couple of field experiments that really suggested very strongly that people can be conditioned to expect a match and they’ll reduce their giving without one.

One thing the research tells us is really, really clear that double, triple, 10-time matches don’t work any better than one-to-one 100% matches. So, you know, these multiple matches are just a waste of resources.

The other thing about it, Megan and I were talking the other day. When you see, and I have actually seen these in my inbox, “Make a contribution and it will be matched 10 times.” You know, there’s just kind of a, “Thiis is too good to be true” Kind of a sense about that. Psychologists call this,  it’s got low face validity. It just doesn’t feel right. It seems so transactional. But again, the research tells us that the one-to-one match performs just as well as a five-to-one match or two-to-one match. So there’s no reason if you’re going to do a match to do these big multiples.

Finally, you know, matches tend to work really for active donors. people that have donated in the last 12 months. Lapsed donors and people who haven’t donated, they still respond better to appeals as to why they should give, the impact that they can have.

So I’ve got four rules of thumb here. And this goes not just for Giving Tuesday, but if you match any time of the year you know, you want to: segment your donors who have given to previous matching campaigns and message them. Make sure you tell them what last year’s matching gifts made possible. You want to keep all your donors informed of the progress of the match how much has been raised, et cetera. This is important, when a donor makes a gift to a matching thank them and report the total amount of their gift, that reflects the match as well.

That’s really important. I’ve seen that a lot of times people will give $50 with a one-to-one match and they’ll just be thanked for doing that, rather than be thanked for a hundred-dollar donation, they’ll be thanked for a $50 donation. And that’s confusing to people. Finally, when you reach the goal, cut it off and tell folks that it’s been reached and explain that,” Hey, you know, we’re still taking donations and this is how your funds will be put to use.” When I get done here, I’m going t  put it in the chat cause I’m afraid of messing things up right now. Let me, let me see. I can do it, Now there’s a really good article from the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy that talks about matches.

I am a student of the ISP in the UK and I will put it in right here. This is a great article on matches. So it kind of sums up some of the things that I’ve been saying. Okay. So what’s an alternative to matching? I really like this. It’s the lead gift. What’s a lead gift? It’s where you say a generous donor has already funded part of the program and we need your help with the other part. Now there’s some evidence that talking about a lead gift works better than a match because some people count the match as part of their gift and give lower average gifts. It’s some pretty solid research and researchers think that matches have a bit of what psychologists call a crowding-out effect.

Let me explain what that is. Donors feel like their $50 is actually a hundred dollars. So they don’t need to make their donation of a hundred dollars that they might have made anyway to have the impact that they wanted to have. And this is consistent with a bunch of research. So, what do you make of all this? Again, there’s some evidence that simply stating that a lead gift has been made can increase what, again, psychologists call the anchoring effect and support this idea that the program’s worth funding, without the potential negative secondary effects of crowding out the donations, you know, kind of driving the donation down. And lead gifts appeal to what psychologists term people’s completion bias. You know it’s easier to raise money at the end of a campaign than at the beginning.Giving tends to pick up as people get closer to the goal.

So you never want to start out at zero. So here’s gimmick number two for today. Okay. This is what we’ll call Otis’s Gimmick. Because again, I made this one up. So this is something you might want to try out. Now, I  have not field-tested this. Again, this is something I just made up. So on Giving Tuesday, you might want to send out “Don’t get donate to my nonprofit today. So it’s Giving Tuesday, but don’t donate to xyz. Instead, start a Facebook fundraiser. Show your Facebook friends why you are a caring, compassionate member of the XYZ community. You show your love all the time for whatever your mission is. Share it now on Facebook. It’s easy. Just click here to go to Facebook’s XYZ fundraiser link. And then you link to the organization’s Facebook fundraiser page.

You know, I haven’t tested this one. When you think about subject lines, the subject line’s job is to get people to open the email So, you know, I think, “Oh gosh, I got somebody who says, don’t give. Why would that be?” I have  a big national client that I twisted their arm finally and I got them to send out a Valentine in June. And it had a huge open rate. And then just basically said, “You know, you’re the kind of person that should get a Valentine in June because you show love for our children all the time.” So again, you might A/B test this one. If you’ve got 20,000 supporters, send this to two or 3000 instead of whatever your regular Giving Tuesday message is and see what happens. That’s the great thing about digital fundraising is you can try out these things on smaller samples and figure out what it is that works the best.

Megan Donahue:

Yeah. You could also segment further if you know there are people within your database who the next best ask for them might not be a Giving Tuesday financial contribution. Like, if you’ve got a bunch of, say, college students who are $5 a month donors or a segment like that, or your monthly givers that you don’t want to tap again because you’re coming up on your year-end , but then could send something like this, giving them a different way to participate, still bringing them in. And it avoids that ATM, all I ever do is ask you for money kind of thing. 

Otis Fulton:

I love my favorite word segment. Segment, segment.

Megan Donahue:

I’m a big fan. 

Otis Fulton:

Absolutely right. Now, notice in this I primed another psychologist word. The words caring and compassionate. I do that a lot.  Dr. Jen Shang at the Institute of Sustainable Philanthropy, this is her work. There are nine adjectives that Americans associate with being a moral person. So I use these words a lot, right before I ask to donate, people to volunteer, whatever totrigger or prime their sense of moral identity.  I do this because, what do moral people do? They support nonprofits. And so it reinforced this idea that you are the kind, compassionate person. And Shang’s research showed us that when appeals use these two words, kind and compassionate, women increase their giving on average by 10 to 15%.

And since the average donor in the US is a 65-year-old woman I write to 65-year-old women a lot, which is useful ‘cause I’m a 65-year-old man. So, anyway, never thought about that. 

So let’s just kind of quickly talk about some fundamentals. What motivates supporters to respond? You know, we used to think that it was the emotion of an appeal that we had to make them feel a certain way. And you know, it’s true many first donations are based on emotions. For many first donations, it’s an impulse buy to satisfy the supporter in some way. But it turns out that research tells us that emotion isn’t what sustains giving, sustained giving is based on the supporter’s identity and their goals. So identity. Are they a steward of the environment, the women’s rights advocate, and an animal rights supporter, you know, whatever it might be?

And you know, their goals. The supporter wants to make something happen. It’s important that they understand the impact of the support. It’s about what they can do. And this dramatically changes the way you message people to motivate them to take action. So this is how I say how most non-profits talk. I call it “you- whatever” language. “We did this, we did that. We were amazing. And by the way, thanks.”  Organizations do this because they think that informing others about their work will lead to them supporting them. But you know, when you do that, it puts you in competition with I don’t know how, 2 million other US nonprofits. The purpose of nonprofit messaging is not to inform people. It’s to make them feel something that they’re taking action and making something happen.

So we know that research tells us this raises much more money. I call this you-centric language. “Because of you, all these amazing things will happen. Without you, they won’t.” 

The word you is the most important word in an appeal. I was just reading, I think it was Fast Money. They did an aanalysis of Apple’s iPhone ads,  iPhone 14 ads. And they found that they used the word new 13 times. And the word you 83 times. It’s all about what you can do with it. What is it for you, what’s in this for you? My rule of thumb is I use three you’s or your to every us or our. So I talk about the supporter three times as much.

The most successful campaigns that I’ve written the focus is on you, the supporter, not us, the organization. And I’ll just finish with these three magic words for the holidays. I love you, but no, “because of you.” In nonprofit messaging, my three magic words are “because of you.” Use because of you often, and your copy will perform well. So today’s takeaways from a little short webinar. Giving Tuesday is just one small part of your EOYmessaging strategy. It kicks it off. It can help you or hurt you. Thank You Wednesday. I made it up. But I think it’s a big opportunity.

Megan Donahue:

I love it.

Otis Fulton:

And make the primary message about what the gift can do, not the time of the year. That’s super important. Super important. It’s not about tax time, not about the end of the year. It’s always about what good the gift can do. Because that’s what’s going to sustain people’s support throughout the year.

Megan Donahue:

Absolutely. So I saw we had a question and there was some discussion in the chat. One person writes that they were starting their end-of-year campaign right before Giving Tuesday. They had planned to send one email on that particular day, but the executive director wants to send three. Our friend feels like that’s too many Giving Tuesday messages. What do you think?

Otis Fulton:

You know, it really depends what the messages are about. You know, the typical sequence of nonprofit messaging is: to ask, to thank, and then to report. So it really depends. There’s some great work by Donor Voice that shows that sending emails in bunches is preferable to just, you know, this drip, drip, drip steady through throughout the year. So, I think that you don’t want to have all of these as an ask. You might tell people that– for example, I’m writing a campaign right now for an organization and it’s a series of five emails that are going to go out around Thanksgiving and early part of the year. And my first two emails, there isn’t an ask at all. It’s just reinforcing a person’s identity as a supporter of this organization and thanking them. So, three messages, not necessarily too many, but they shouldn’t be these hard-ask messages.

Megan Donahue:

Yeah. I think three hard solicitations in a day is a lot.

Otis Fulton:

Yeah, it is a lot.

Megan Donahue:

That’s good too, to think about it in the context of the whole campaign. What’s the conversation you’re having? I think this is often the case when we talk about what is the ideal number of emails. The real question is what do you have to say?

Otis Fulton:

Megan you’re absolutely right. You know, whenever I start out with an organization, I do an audit of their communications and I rarely find they’re sending too many emails, there are too many messages. They may be asking too often but they’re usually not sending enough messages out to their supporters. There’s some real interesting research came out five years ago about why people stopped donating. And they looked at a hundred thousand folks who had donated multiple years, 250 to $2,500. So it was fairly significant donors to a single organization, but then stopped. And the first reason that they stopped was they weren’t acknowledged for a previous gift. The second reason was that they weren’t asked to donate again. The very last reason, and it came in way, way, way las,t was solicitation overreach, they were asked too often. We often think that we’re asking people too much and there’s going to be burnout and so on and so forth. It’s just not the case.

Megan Donahue:

Yeah. Especially if you have those other pieces in, where you are telling people about impact and you are thinking people and having all of that going, then it isn’t too much asking.

Otis Fulton:

Yeah. You know, my clients that raise a ton of money are the ones that get very good at thanking and reporting. 

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