5 ways the nonprofit community can win with words (Hint: It goes beyond fundraising)

Published by on May 5, 2024

Have you ever struggled to answer a basic question about yourself, like when you meet someone and they ask about your work: “What made you want to work there?”

The answer is on the tip of your tongue, but sometimes articulating it into words is harder than we think. You’re not alone.

I spend my days as a copywriter for nonprofits, so I live and breathe this stuff. But let me tell you, so often people involved in nonprofits—staff members, volunteers, donors—tell me their mind goes blank when they’re put on the spot to talk about the cause they care so deeply about.

What follows is that deflated feeling after the window of opportunity has passed where you might think to yourself, “Argh, I really didn’t say that well… It probably sounds like I don’t care.” 

But you do care! Look, it’s often a words thing.

And this is why words matter so much for nonprofits. 

Here are 5 ways the nonprofit community can win with words.

Inspire donors

This is the most obvious one. Powerful words play an enormous role in moving a donor’s heart to give. When a person stops what they’re doing to hear what a nonprofit has to say, you need to make it count. This is your chance to share the kind of story that’ll move the reader to tears

You can make people want to stand and shout, “I want to do something about this!” 

Emotive storytelling and compelling calls to action are big factors in fundraising copywriting. Words are part of the whole donor journey—from asking for that very first gift, to making donors feel good with an authentic thank you, and providing heartwarming updates about the impact of their generosity. 

Here’s an animal charity example I wrote to update and thank donors (it certainly warmed my heart!): 

Alt text: Close-up photo of a smiling dog, saying “I wag my tail because of you!”

It’s about building a meaningful connection with donors. And it’s even better when a donor feels so inspired by your mission that they’ll tell their friends, family, and co-workers about your organization—with powerful words that you helped them hear in the first place!

Align leadership and staff

Clear messaging is essential for getting the ‘behind the scenes’ people on the same page. I’m talking about the people on the ground every day—staff teams and leadership. 

Powerful writing articulates the organization’s goals, values, and impact, providing clarity and direction for everyone involved. When every person speaks the same language, it sets the tone for collaboration, productivity, and morale within the organization.

It’s also important for staff members to be able to talk about their work using everyday language that people outside the organization will understand. But you might be surprised to hear how difficult it is for many people in the nonprofit world to break free from internal jargon. Another important part of copywriting is simplifying language to build a bridge between a nonprofit’s expertise and the everyday people supporting that work.

I wrote this example for Mary MacKillop Today, who do a brilliant job of aligning their leaders and staff teams by regularly talking about why their work began:

Alt text: 150 years ago, Saint Mary MacKillop said we should “Never see a need without doing something about it.” She and the Sisters of St Joseph bravely ventured across the Australian outback, driven by their belief that education could break the cycle of poverty.

Engage volunteers

How wonderful are volunteers?! People who give up their time to offer skills and effort for a mission they care about. Effective copywriting can attract and engage volunteers by highlighting the meaningful ways they contribute to the cause. With the right words, you can help people feel needed and appreciated (we all want that, right?).

But what happens when these volunteers, no matter how dedicated they are, can’t find the right words to talk about why their volunteer work matters? These are people who could be amazing advocates for nonprofits. They’re people who love what your organization represents and want to be part of it. Help them sing your praises by giving them beautiful words to share!

I work with Community First Development and love how they articulate their volunteer work with First Nations’ communities across Australia: 

A close up of black text

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Alt text: We meet together to listen, yarn, plan and connect skilled volunteers with the community to get things done. Projects are always determined and led by community.

Strengthen community ties

Nonprofits are often deeply embedded within their communities. Powerful copywriting can strengthen ties with community members, businesses, and other partners by communicating the organization’s role and impact in a way that makes people think, “Wow, I love that this work is happening in my community.” 

I enjoyed writing this website homepage headline for The Khmer Temple Foundation in Cambodia. The words made me feel the connection between this organization’s work and the generations of community members who grew up meeting in these temples.

A ruins of a building with trees in the background

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Alt text: Photo of an ancient temple falling apart with the words, “Imagine the stories these temples could tell.”

Create a sense of belonging 

Words have the remarkable ability to unite people around a common cause. Whatever their connection to a nonprofit, when people resonate with the organization’s mission and values, they feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. A sense of belonging and community—much like a tribe

I’m working with Reel Recovery, based in the US. They run fly fishing retreats for men impacted by cancer. When you read their testimonials, you can feel the strong bonds these men form when they go on these retreats.

The men share words like these:

A screenshot of a chat

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Alt text: Quote 1: “I discovered, while fly fishing, I was in another place. In this place, there was no cancer, no pain, and no fear.” Quote 2: “I have never in my 71 years been with such a loving and giving group. This has been one of the most eye-opening and fulfilling experiences I have ever encountered.” Quote 3: “I went to the Retreat a man ready to give in to my despair and desperation, and now, two months later, my life is full of promise, hope and the support of new, cherished friends.”

You see, there is so much power in words. It’s a little easier for people to understand this in a fundraising context for speaking to donors. But what about all the other people involved in nonprofits? 

We all need to be able to say things in a way that makes sense in our brains—and reflects what we feel in our hearts.

Powerful words are a vital tool for community-building in the nonprofit world. We’re a community built on shared compassion and determination to see positive change. This is why I love being part of The Nonprofit Hive and getting to speak to other people in the sector. 

So, as you get back to your important role in the nonprofit space, I encourage you to take a moment to consider how you’re using your words. Make them count. And if you need help with this, I run a writing and editing business called Kind Word. We love words!

Have you joined the Nonprofit Hive? If not, you are missing out! Join today 🐝

Fundraising Copywriter and Co-Founder of Kind Word

Madeleine has worked as an in-house Fundraising Manager for nonprofits in Australia—both large and small—across all sorts of causes. She ‘gets’ what it’s like to be on the inside. 

Seven years ago, Madeleine started her own business as an independent writer specializing in fundraising communications. 

Today, she lives in North Carolina and works with nonprofits around the world, mostly in the US and Australia. 

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