How Copywriting Has Played a Pivotal Role in Raising Money for Charity

We’ve all experienced how some of the big household names in charity use hard-hitting subject matters and psychology to grab our attention.

In fact, as of September 2017 there were over 167,000 charities in the UK, each wanting to get their voices heard.

We explore charity copywriting methods including active voice, building connections and powerful call to actions (CTAs) in order to convert readers to donators. And, how excellent copywriting can inform and even save lives, while at the same time nudging readers towards allegiance with the charity and raising money.

How UNICEF leveraged its social influence

In 2013, the Swedish branch of UNICEF used a somewhat controversial message to encourage its large social media following to take action and donate. Its ‘Likes don’t save lives’ campaign highlighted the rise of ‘slacktivism’, saying ‘Like us on Facebook, and we will vaccinate zero children against polio.’

As well as these adverts, four video ads were also distributed through social media. One of the most powerful was a direct address to the camera from a 10-year-old orphan. The clever copywriting in the script used a sarcastic tone to get people thinking, with the boy saying:

“Sometimes I worry that I will get sick, like my mom got sick. But I think everything will be alright. Today, Unicef Sweden has 177,000 likes on Facebook.”

The result of UNICEF’s application of impactful psychological wording was a huge increase in donations. In fact the money raised was enough to vaccinate 637,324 people against polio. Likes alone can’t fund UNICEF’s work, but leveraging those likes with smart copywriting can.

Oxfam asks the underdogs to work together

The tagline of Oxfam’s ‘Even it up’ advert portrays an injustice that the everyday person can relate to, brought in the form of a heavyweight statistic:

‘The world’s 85 richest people own the same wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest people.’

This statistic draws on the readers’ knowledge of the wealth disparity in the UK – much touted in the press – while also putting it into perspective. That’s because the image portrays a child in a third world country wearing whatever clothes he can find, who is far worse off than the average Brit.

Readers are encouraged to visit Oxfam’s website through use of the inclusive wording ‘together, we can end extreme equality’ and ‘join us at www.oxfam.org.uk/even’. Once there, you’re asked to sign a petition that’ll be sent to world leaders, through the use of further astute copywriting.

After explaining Oxfam’s belief ‘that everyone should have a fair say, pay their fair share of tax, have equal access to good healthcare and education, and decent wages.’ The final CTA is a question that again signifies working together and implies that everyone else will be signing the petition: ‘The world is ready to act, are you? It’s time to Even it up!’

RNLI – saving lives and increasing engagement

For the fourth year of the RNLI’s ‘Respect the Water’ national drowning prevention campaign, the charity has launched cinema and radio ads, as well as cleverly worded and laid-out social ads that engage on a number of levels.

One of the slogans used in RNLI’s social media ads is:

‘Extend your arms, legs and life expectancy’

This succinctly and directly explains what to do if you fall in cold water. The wording shows how a simple action has a profound effect.

Another tweet uses the acronym F.L.O.A.T. to give full instruction on what to do, in an easy to remember way.

Using the overarching message ‘Float to live’, the copywriting primarily has the aim of informing and saving lives, rather than actively encouraging donations. However the ads promote understanding of the good work that the RNLI does, encourage social engagement through the hashtag #RespectTheWater and direct people to their website, where they can learn more and potentially donate.

The Respect The Water webpages contain videos, challenges and expert opinion, ending in the CTA ‘hear about our lifesaving work, keep in touch’. And when people hit keep in touch the orange donate button is looming in the top right.

Leaving legacies to The Donkey Sanctuary

In 2013 The Guardian released data on the top 1,000 charities in the UK ranked by donations received; and there were some surprising rankings. In fact, the Donkey Sanctuary received more donations than The Samaritans, which was due in large part to legacies.

So we took a look at the legacy pages on their website to see how they were encouraging people to leave money to the charity in their wills. Leaving a legacy is one of the four main ways of giving to The Donkey Sanctuary provided on their ‘ways to help’ page, in addition to various forms of donation. Incidentally, we also liked the way that the section was called ‘ways to help’, which is a far less pushy title than simply ‘donate’.

Headed with the words ‘Leave a lasting gift’, the main legacy page encourages action in a traditionally effective way – by flattering readers. It says:

So here’s to those who change the world.

The selfless devoted ones, the compassionate ones, those whose conviction protects the abused, the overworked, the unwanted and unloved.

The CTA on this page is a very direct ‘email us’, which works due to the effectiveness of the other pages in the legacy section, such as a ‘How to leave a legacy’ information page and a testimonial from a benefactor. The content on these pages allows the reader to make a firm decision about leaving a legacy while on the website.

As well as showing that others are leaving legacies to the Donkey Sanctuary, and thus encouraging donation through a feeling of inclusion, the wording on this testimonial page highlights that legacies of any amount are gratefully received:

I’ve decided to leave The Donkey Sanctuary a bequest in my Will. My family will come first, but then I’m planning to leave what’s left to charity.

However small my contribution, I am made to feel that ‘every little bit helps’.


It’s clear that charities can use a number of tactics to encourage people to donate, from the forthright to the subtle. Knowing the way your potential supporters feel and how to persuade them to get involved is key in creating effective copywriting for charities.

For more advice on charity copywriting that leads to support, contact us.

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