So I read a pretty good call to action written by one of my favourite clients the other day. It said:
“If we act now, we can save them.”
The strengths of the line include its brevity, the use of short powerful words, the urgency and the fact that it is a call to action. (There is still a lot of direct response writing where calls to action are apologetically buried so deep it’s hard to find them – despite the clear evidence this has a negative impact on response.)
BUT, for mine there are three points of weakness in that line:
“If”, “we” and “can”.
“If” suggests that not acting is a reasonable option.
“We” is impersonal. It’s not specifically and uniquely about the reader. It also presumes that others might be doing the acting, so therefore the reader doesn’t have to. This approach weakens the responsibility and power of the individual.
“Can” is a monumental pain in the collective neck of fundraisers and there are times we just have to use it. In this instance there is no (real life) guarantee of saving, so it’s misleading to say “will save”. However, in a line like this, you can dispense with the “can/will” problem altogether.
A stronger line would be: Take action now to save them.
Personal and direct. And active. If your not-for-profit direct response writing doesn’t have these vital characteristics, you’re probably missing out on opportunities to fix the world.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of weakening language. Scan your copy for these OK-but-not-that-powerful examples:
“Let’s all act now …”
“But if we do …”
“Why not donate today and …”
Use these softer asks occasionally in some circumstances. But most of the time – I’ll take a stab and say at least 75% – go for personal, direct and active.
Especially in short form copy on facebook posts or banner ads or reminder emails.
Especially in activism work. When I read half-hearted copy, it makes me think the organization is half-hearted about the work it does. “We really wouldn’t mind if you could take the time to consider fixing the planet a little bit” doesn’t exactly flag passion and drive.
And especially in emergencies. Think about it. In real life you don’t say “Oh! The child is on fire. Shall we get together and do something to help?”
So how do you fix impersonal, wishy-washy and/or flaccid writing? You find ways to make it more personal, direct and active. Or at least two of those three things.
Instead of saying “But if we act now…”
Write “Please act now…”
Will you act now… Personalised?”
“Take action now to …”
“The child/planet/animals will continue to suffer/die/be slaughtered by narcissistic dentists if you don’t act now.”
Finally, a quick word on collective action. There is undoubtedly something powerful in the idea of joining a group of other people who care about the same stuff as you, and have a good chance of forcing change through collective action. It’s a good thing to remind donors/supporters/prospects of this fact.
But again, write it so it is personal and direct and active. Let’s have another crack at “But if we act now” “We can do it” etc. etc.
Try these more personal, direct, active options instead:
“Add your name now, Personalised, and become part of a powerful lobbying force.”
“By taking action now, you will build an influential …”
“Sign the petition today to join other outraged activists from around the world and put an end to this …”
Sometimes weak writing comes from a place of squeamishness about asking others to do something.
The work our sector does is positive and powerful. If you’re writing to get support so you can do more of it, you’re giving your readers a magnificent opportunity to make a personal, direct and active impact on their world.
Mary Anne Plummer