7 Web Copywriting Tips for Your Nonprofit Site

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The state of the world has made us want to connect with more of you, more often. For the rest of 2020, the Campbell & Company Communications team is sharing a new article every week that explores a topic in case development and fundraising communications, drawn from our work.

Whether it’s thinking about how to approach fundraising communications against the backdrop of current events or tackling an evergreen challenge we see time and time again in nonprofits across the sector, these articles focus on practical tips to empower fundraising leaders in their day-to-day work. Subscribe to the series here.

Your website is a one-stop shop where people can learn about your mission, see examples of your work in action, and give to your organization. This is what makes it the most important communications channel for most organizations.

Yet the marketplace for attention is fierce, and it can be a challenge to make sure your organization’s message is heard amid the noise. By employing web copywriting best practices, you can make your most essential information stand out—and fast. Whether you’re refreshing your “About Us” page, creating a new page for a fundraising campaign, or drafting a blog, the following tips can help you along the way.

1. Less is more.

One of the most common faux pas in web copy is writing too much. A dense block of text that might work well in a grant proposal can serve as a mental roadblock online. This can cause your reader to disengage and move on before they have the chance to truly absorb your message—even if it’s something they care about.

Wherever you can, try to reduce copy and streamline your messages. The more quickly readers are able to reach your intended takeaway, the more likely they are to connect with and retain what you have to say.

Here’s an example of a sentence I drafted in a report several years ago:

To truly maximize the potential giving of its prospects, the organization must anchor its relationship management activities in an overarching fundraising strategy that targets specific goals and metrics, rooting them in best practices.

Yikes. Not my best work.

Here’s a streamlined version of the same ideas broken out into more manageable sentences:

Anchor relationship management activities in an overarching fundraising strategy to maximize prospects’ giving. Set specific goals and track metrics based on best practices.

As a general guideline, strive to keep it to a maximum of around 20-30 words per sentence and four sentences per paragraph. Always ask yourself: “How can I make this point in fewer words?”

2. Employ search engine optimization (SEO) strategies. 

Before someone can engage with your website, they first have to get to your website. Perhaps the most important SEO strategy in 2020 is simply producing quality content that people are looking for. Research high-demand topics that your organization can speak with authority on and keep a running list of ideas.

There are a lot of technical, behind-the-scenes SEO strategies you can use to enhance the discoverability of your website, too. We recommend diving into some of the great free tools at Moz’s SEO Learning Center to get started.

3. Make liberal use of headings and subheadings.

Headings and subheadings in web copy essentially serve as a skimmable outline of your content, creating a hierarchy of your top-line messages that could stand alone to tell an abbreviated version of your story. This list is an example—even just glancing over subheadings 1-7 helps to give you a sense of this post’s content at a high level.

Compelling headings also help to get your reader’s attention, setting expectations for the information contained within the supportive text and inviting them to engage more deeply with your material.

4. Line breaks are your (and your brain’s) friend.

You’re probably going to read this.

And then you’re more likely to move on to this. That’s because copy that is broken up into “bite-size” pieces feels more accessible and manageable for readers. In other words, line breaks give readers the sense that your material will be easy to read—especially on smaller screens where dense blocks of copy can seem daunting—and therefore makes your copy more appealing.

Think of line breaks as giving your reader’s brain some breathing room between ideas.  

5. Use simple text formatting to draw attention to key ideas.

Text formatting can make your copy more readable and help guide readers in capturing the most important details that you want them to know. Bolding key ideas, italicizing for emphasis, and using different text colors and sizes can all be effective ways to visually reinforce your most critical information and messages while also making your copy more visually dynamic.

But be careful not to overdo it—too much formatting can have the opposite effect.

Imagine a college student highlighting most of their textbook chapter and then forgetting which of the highlighted ideas are actually important to remember for their final.

As the old adage states: “If everything’s important, nothing is.” Be strategic when making decisions about text formatting to strengthen your web copy. 

6. Write in active voice.

Writing in active voice carries greater conviction, taking ownership of your organization’s impact. And as a bonus, it typically uses less words than passive voice (hello, tip number 1!).

Take a look at the following example and determine for yourself which feels like a more powerful statement:

Passive Voice:

Reliable housing was secured through our services for over 400 families last year.

Active Voice:

Over 400 families secured reliable housing last year through our services.

7. A picture is worth more than a thousand words.

Powerful images can help to underscore a compelling message. They’re also an essential component to any digital communications strategy—images radically boost the likelihood that users will engage with your content.

Use images that adhere to your organization’s brand standards; align with your diversity, equity, and inclusion objectives; and are high quality and interesting to your audiences.

If you don’t have a strong collection of images on hand—build it! Committing time and resources to images that will inspire and intrigue your audiences is well worth the investment, helping you to shape memorable messages and stories that speak to your community of supporters.   

Smart web copywriting is a quick and cost-effective way to immediately strengthen your organization’s website. Implementing the tips listed above can increase engagement with your material and make sure your message—and your mission—will reach more people.