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11 / 10 / 2023

How to Craft Headlines, Titles, and Lead-In Copy That Encourage People to Donate


It was the lead-in copy that grabbed my heart and turned my stomach….

“Newborn Babies & Their Mothers Held Hostage. What if this was you and your child?” Immediately upon reading these words in an Instagram story, I felt simultaneously outraged, physically ill, and curious. 

The questions floating around my head in the split second while the full post was loading were, “where are these mothers?” “who is doing this to them?” “newborn babies...that can’t be real.”

The story that followed broke my heart and left me with tears rolling down my cheeks, as I held my credit card out for this organization I had first encountered less than 5 minutes prior.

With two simple sentences and a photo, they had taken me from a total stranger to their cause and organization to a donor, all because their headline and lead-in copy on an Instagram story struck a deep chord within me.

And then it hit me, DANG. That was some good marketing copy. 

As I explored their website further and pondered my experience, I realized that my donor journey is not unique, it’s the process every donor goes through (although, admittedly, the majority of people don’t make that journey in 5 minutes). 

So I “put my lab coat on,” as our CEO likes to say, and began to dissect what just happened — running through my thoughts, emotions, feelings, and actions — noting causal relationships and correlating actions. 

What I found held true to what my experiences in digital marketing for non-profits have been teaching me over the past few years. 

Here’s the gist of it: you have only seconds to capture a person's attention, bring them into your story, and elicit enough emotion to drive them to take additional action. If you don’t nail the first impression, they’re gone.  

You might be thinking, “Okay, great — but how do I capture those people?” Glad you asked! Let’s dive in.

You’ve Got 8 Seconds to Grab Your Reader’s Attention. How Do You Spend It?

While not a hard and fast rule, most marketers would agree that your ad lead-in copy, email subject and preview, web page headline, etc...has 8 seconds or less to impress and captivate your reader, before they’re moving on. 

Additionally, if you do in fact get a person to click (or keep scrolling), the average reader will only scan and consume 20-28% of the content on your page. For a 1,000 word blog post, that’s only 200-300 words. 

This is good news and bad news. 

The good news is that you can still very effectively attract, capture, and delight a reader who will only consume one-fifth of the content you put out. The bad news is that every word counts and perfecting the art of eliminating dead words in favor of copy that engages takes practice.

With that, here are my humble, need-to-know tips for crafting first-impression copy that will encourage people to donate:

Know Your Brand and Know What Story You Want to Tell

Your organization’s brand is the personality a donor interacts with. It’s the person relaying stories, presenting needs and challenges, and ultimately, asking for a donation. 

Your brand is the hinge that your marketing success rests on. Without authentic and streamlined branding (aka brand integrity), your prospective donor will be left underwhelmed (at best) and confused (at worst).

Branding offers guidelines for every element of copywriting, from headlines and voice to tone and style, to the types of stories you tell. If you really want to craft compelling content, train your writing to take on your brand’s voice. 

Why does brand integrity matter so much? Because every interaction a prospective donor has with your brand is an opportunity to draw them closer into a relationship or to lose them in a sea of competing voices. 

Writing great stories takes two things: honesty and creativity.

Every communication (think ad, blog post, email, etc…) is a chance to tell a great story, and to put the donor at the center of the story you’re telling. 

If you want to use your lead-in copy to kick off your story, you need to do two things: lead with honesty and captivate with creativity. 

Today’s prospective donors are constantly bombarded with content and it has made them experts at sniffing out disingenuous and weak stories. Strong stories make a personal appeal that is surprising and delightful, and taps into the donor’s emotions. 

Why emotion over logic? Because people are compelled to give with their heart, not their head. 

Here’s a pro-tip: instead of simply telling your reader about the problem, invite them into the story as the hero — a central part of the solution.   

Focus 50% of Your Effort on Titles, Headlines, and Subheadings

Here’s the deal. You could have the very best story to tell, spelled out through the most beautiful copywriting, but if your title, headlines, and subheadings don’t grab my attention and compel me to care — I’ll never read it. 

Remember, the average reader is only glancing at your title and headlines for 8 seconds or less before deciding if they want to move on. And, if you do convince the reader to engage with your blog/email/webpage, they will likely only skim 20-28% of it. 

This means that you need to be able to tell a whole story through the title, headlines, intro copy, and subtitles — ALONE. 

If all your reader looks at are these elements, they need to be able to gather a good sense of what’s going on. However, at the same time, your headings shouldn’t offer a full description. 

Titles and headlines that are bold, exciting, and slightly elusive will steal your reader’s attention, but then leave them wanting more — encouraging them to read the rest of the copy you spent time crafting.

Here are some examples of section headers from one of our client’s blogs, The Mission Post by Divine Word Missionaries: 

Intentionally leaving gaps in your writing will encourage your readers to go searching for more answers, which increases their session time (time spent consuming your content) and raises their familiarity with your brand.  

And, ignoring my unusual experience with MamaBaby Haiti, the more time a person spends with a brand, the more likely they are to donate. 

Make SEO Your Best Friend (Or Find Someone Who Knows SEO Really Well)

SEO (or Search Engine Optimization) is the process of structuring your content to give it the best possible chance of appearing at the top of Google’s search results. 

Why does SEO matter? 

Because organic search traffic brings in free, new website visitors, who are frequently highly qualified prospective donors. In other words, getting a prospective donor off of an optimized blog post or webpage is pretty much as good as it gets.

Learn More: Read how we helped one client leverage their organic search to increase campaign donations.

So how does it work?

When Google’s bots crawl your pages, they are looking for “keywords” — things people are already searching for on Google. By incorporating these keywords into strategic places in your content, like the title, headlines, and page meta descriptions, Google is more likely to rank your content favorably

When Google finds these keywords, it uses an algorithm to determine how authoritative the page is on the keyword/topic and this calculation determines the page’s search result ranking. 

Using a powerful SEO tool, like SEMRush, provides you valuable insights like monthly search volume (how many people are googling the term per month) and keyword difficulty (how hard it is to show up in the first few pages of Google search results). These factors help you determine if you should construct a story around a particular keyword in your efforts to be found on Google.    

Pro-tip: If SEO has you scared or stumped, reach out to our team — we love the challenge and have helped several organizations find a home on Google’s first page of search results. 

Lost? Here’s an example of how SEO-forward titles work:

Say your organization helps to end child hunger in Africa. You have a blog and are making next quarter’s content plan. What if you could strategically plan the blog titles and headlines so that they pop up on the first page of Google results, bringing fresh leads to your organization?

With a tool like SEMRush, you can find the keywords people are searching for, along with how difficult it will be to rank for a particular keyword. Check out these results:

Right at the top, the term “hungry kids in africa” has a great search volume per month (2,400) and a reasonable keyword difficulty (75.9) — a winning combo. 

When our clients have used terms that meet these criteria in a blog post or landing page and featured that keyword in the title, a heading, the meta description, and a few other key locations, we’ve seen amazing organic search growth.  

The more organic search growth you experience, the more brand visibility you have and the higher your likelihood of attracting new donors.

Bottom Line: Compelling, Creative Stories Convince People to Donate

The art of encouraging people to donate to your organization is a combination of form and function. It’s where the creativity of storytelling, the skill of knowing your reader, and a data-driven SEO strategy come together to increase your brand visibility and build your army of advocates. 

Now, more than ever before, donors are looking for worthy causes to rally behind — especially the next generation of donors. So get your brand in front of them, grab their attention from the start, and tell them a story that resonates with them and invites them to step in as the hero.

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