Writing engaging charity case studies: the basics


“Our 65+ club provides older people with somewhere to go to meet new friends on Friday afternoons.”


“I live for Friday afternoons. I go to the 65+ club every week. I used to be stuck at home, but now I have new friends, Margaret and Betty. We play bridge, have a cup of tea and some nice cake, and have a good old gossip,” says 73-year-old Jane.

Which of the above is more effective in showing how great the 65+ club is? The second, I hope you’ll agree.

Using the voices of the people you help is the very best way to demonstrate your charity’s impact. They show readers how effective you are, rather than simply telling them.

Everything you write, from websites to annual reviews, magazines to brochures, should be packed with well written, powerful case studies showcasing these voices.

But how do you write a good case study? Here are the basics:

Include the three vital elements

Case studies are all about illustrating the change your charity has made to someone’s life. Supporters want to read about outcomes and impact, so make sure your case studies show them.

With illustrating change in mind, all case studies should include three, easy-to-remember elements:

  • The case study’s situation before they got involved with your organisation (I was broke, homeless and living in shelters).
  • How they got involved with your charity and how it’s helped (One day, I saw a sign on the shelter notice board offering training courses… I went along for a month and learned lots of new skills).
  • Their improved situation now (I’m now working part time and living in my own flat).

Check every case study you write has all three to create powerful copy.

Get the opening right

Your opening is the most important part of your case study. It’s your brief opportunity to grab readers’ attention and draw them in to read more – don’t waste it on background information!

Some attention-grabbing ways to open a case study include:

  • Start with the change in the interviewee’s life: “I used to be a bully,” says Lizzy. “I was naughty and had a problem with my anger. I don’t know why. It gets my feelings out. But now I’ve calmed down loads – 100%.”
  • Start with emotion: “I was suicidal and ready to give up on life.” That’s how Shakita felt 18 months ago. She was 15, sexually active and prone to violence, and had been excluded from school.
  • Start with intrigue: Alone, scared and lost, Aamir wandered the streets of Leeds. They were very different from the streets in Afghanistan. It was Aamir’s first day in the UK, and he was hopelessly lost.
  • Start by shocking your reader: Safia was just five years old on the day she struggled into her wedding dress.
  • Start with an odd statement: I may be deaf, but that didn’t stop me passing my grade eight piano exam.

Use any of these, and your reader won’t be able to help but read on.

Remember the ring of truth

The more real your case studies seem, the more they will impact your readers and prompt them to action. A good case study will feature lots of specifics and small details to make it compelling and believable.  Too many charities write generic case studies that look like they could easily have been made up.

For example, “I helped teach a class in the African school we visited” is much less effective than “I helped teach a class of 43 noisy seven-year-olds. We did a lesson on multiplication on the old, creaking blackboard. One little girl, Jenny, couldn’t stop tugging at my leg, wanting to impress me with her expert knowledge of the five times table.”

Edit quotes

“mmm, I’m not sure, let me think a moment…I definitely think the best thing about the hospice is absolutely the brilliant staff, they are absolutely, totally fantastic, in my opinion”

This is the kind of thing people say in interviews. You need to tighten it up when you write your case study (“The best thing is the staff. They are absolutely, totally fantastic”). As long as you don’t change the meaning, editing quotes is not a problem. If you’re worried about misrepresenting your interviewee, you can always ask them to approve the case study before it’s published.

Looking for excellent case studies for your charity? I’d love to help. Please get in touch any time.

What Anne Frank taught me about charity writing

Anne Frank made me want to become a writer.

I read her diary when I was 11. “Will I ever become a journalist or a writer? I hope so, oh, I hope so very much,” she wrote. Her moving, clever diary fuelled my similar ambitions. I dreamed of millions reading my work just like she did.

Anne Frank, April 1941

Last month, Anne inspired me again. This time, she made me think deeply about how to improve my charity storytelling.

I visited the flat in Amsterdam where she hid. For days afterwards, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The photos of Greta Garbo and Ginger Rogers Anne had plastered all over her bedroom. The pencil lines on the wall marking how she had grown from a little girl to a tall woman during her two years in hiding. The bookcase blocking the secret entrance she was dragged through the day the Gestapo found her, heaving with tattered 70-year-old ring binders.

The visit immersed me in Anne’s experience. Standing in her bedroom, I felt a profound connection with her. And an intense desire that we must never let something as terrible as the Holocaust happen again.

So how does that relate to charity writing? Well, it made me consider how I can immerse people in the charity case studies and features I write. So they think about what I’ve written for days afterwards. So they feel that deep connection with the person and cause I’m writing about – and a deep desire to take action and give support. That’s our ultimate goal as charity copywriters, right?

Inspired by my visit to Anne Frank’s house, here are four tips for producing charity writing potential supporters connect deeply with, remember and act upon:

Small details = big impact

I already knew Anne’s story. I already thought it was dreadful. But, for me, what made her come alive, what really drowned me in her world, were the little details. The height chart. The dog-eared, teenage-doodled tartan diary. Then battered old sink she washed in.

You can add a few carefully chosen descriptions of surroundings and the people you’re interviewing into your charity case studies and features to bring sharp images to mind, subtly make a strong point and add life to your writing. These details are known as reportage.

For example, this is from an interview with Kerry Needham, mother of Ben who was abducted as a baby in Greece 20 years ago:

“We sat in her living room where your eye is drawn to a picture of Ben, frozen in time at 21 months old, the gravitational pull at the centre of their lives. Despite her lack of sleep, she looked beautiful – she has a wise, sad stillness that comes to people who have endured and survived.”

Before the interview even begins, the writer has already created sympathy with and interest in Kerry. Reportage is a powerful tool.

Make readers relate

Another thing that made me feel strongly connected to Anne was imagining the pictures of Greta and Ginger could easily be The 1975 or the Hunger Games if she were alive today (although I don’t think Anne would ever have been uncool enough to be a belieber). In other words: I could relate to her.

A personal connection is often what makes people support a particular charity. “That could be me, my child, my family” is usually involved somewhere.

Try to make this connection in your writing. Think about details you can add to help people relate to and invest strongly in what you’re saying.

Instead of just laying out the facts, for example, “Typhoon Haiyan wrecked the home of eight-year-old Rodolfo Diaz and his family, ripping the roof off and causing flooding,” subtly let readers know there are perhaps similarities between them and who you’re writing about. “Typhoon Haiyan left the Diaz’s only family photo album floating in a foot of water on the living room floor. Rodolfo doesn’t know where his most treasured possession – his Manchester United top – is, because it blew away when the typhoon ripped his bedroom roof off.”


If you’re going to really touch people with your writing, it has to have verisimilitude, AKA a ring of truth. Just like walking through Anne’s house plunged me deep into her world, we want to plunge readers deep into the stories we write. And that won’t be possible if they seem a bit generic or made up. A good piece of charity case study or feature will have lots of specifics and small details to make it compelling and authentic.

For example, “I taught a class of seven-year-olds for the day” is much less effective – and convincing – than “I helped teach a class of 43 noisy seven-year-olds. We did a lesson on multiplication on the old, creaking blackboard. One little girl, Jenny, couldn’t stop tugging at my leg, wanting to impress me with her expert knowledge of the five times table.”

Look for inspiration in unusual places

We’re bombarded by stories every day. In newspapers, magazines, on Eastenders, at the cinema, in museums…

Every time I feel particularly moved by a story, I’ve started asking myself why – and if there’s anything I can take to put into practice in my charity writing. My trip to the Anne Frank house is the most obvious example, but inspiration is everywhere.

Why don’t you start doing the same?

Need help to tell your charity stories? Why not drop me a line?

Innovative charity annual reviews

Your annual review/annual report/impact report may well be your charity’s flagship publication. For many organisations, it has the biggest budget, takes the most time and involves the most people.

It’s important to get it right – but it’s easy to fall into the trap of churning out the same old format each year.

Below are some ideas to shake things up, with great examples from charities doing innovative and interesting work in the last year or two. 

Go small, go short

The best annual reviews are short and snappy. After all, bear in mind that your reader will probably only scan the publication. There’s no point having loads of text-packed pages. I like CoppaFeel’s short and snappy impact report, with lots of images and white space. 

Could you cut your usual 48-page publication in half? Or go for an A5 or A6 format? How about putting it on postcards? An unusual format will help your publication stand out. Blue Cross’s small format annual review is a good example. Or you could go really short like Welsh homelessness charity The Wallich, who produced a one-page infographic annual report.

Start by thinking about what you really want to say, and to whom. From there, you can pick out the best achievements, statistics and case studies to illustrate your impact to your chosen audience.

And remember: from getting funding and donations to selling your services, your annual review could have several purposes. But none of them should be “to boost egos and keep everyone happy by mentioning every single project and achievement this year”.

If you don’t want to go too short, could you produce a smaller summary publication alongside your main annual review, to give to readers not likely to read it cover to cover? WWF do this very well, as do Macmillan

Go useful

You may have slaved over it for months, but your impact report could well end up in a dusty pile with 20 others in a potential funder’s office. Stop this by making it useful for your audience.

Quarriers and The Brain Tumour Charity have published their annual reviews as calendars, which stayed on potential donors’ and funders’ walls all year, showing the charities’ impact and attracting support.

In 2018, The Brain Tumour Charity again went innovative, sending bags of coffee out with its annual review for people to enjoy while reading it.

Go digital

A beautifully presented print publication is difficult to ignore. But more and more, charities are focusing their efforts on online annual reviews – with fantastic results. Would that work for your audience?

At the simpler end of the scale, Diabetes UK has a series of webpages within its main site showing its impact, complemented by a PDF annual report. The MS Society, Catch 22 and Battersea have taken a similar approach.

However, the digital world really is your oyster, and many charities go for a full microsite. Some good examples are Barnardo’s, Crohn’s & Colitis UK and the Newcastle United Foundation.

Let the stories lead

Nothing illustrates your organisation’s work better than stories of people who are affected by your issues, who benefit from your work, or who are involved in actually doing the work. Case studies should have the most prominence possible in your annual review.

Could someone you’ve helped write the foreword, like in Mind’s annual review, which I worked on in 2018? I also wrote impact reports for Dementia UK and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust last year that feature stories at their heart. 

I like Sense’s annual report too – it’s short, simple and heavily focuses on four stories to show the charity’s impact over the year. 

Have a strong theme

Could you tie your year’s story together with a unifying theme that makes your annual review engaging to read and easy to follow?

I like the National Deaf Children Society’s ‘Every step of the way’ impact report, which shows how the charity supports children from birth to changing the world as teenagers.

I also like Great Ormond Street’s ‘Then, now, always’ impact report, which not only makes the impact the charity has had over the past year clear, but the past 100 years.

Make a video

How about ditching the written word altogether and telling the story of your year in the form of a video? Scouts Scotland did just that, and other charities including Dementia UK have created short infographic videos to complement their main publications.

Narrow your audience

“Our annual review is for everyone – funders, volunteers, staff, individual donors…” Sound familiar? Lots of charities produce an annual review for a very wide audience. And that makes it tricky to get the content spot on for the reader.

I like annual reviews aimed at just one or two key audiences, and that speak to them directly with strong calls to action. North Devon Hospice’s impact report is a good example, with six key calls to action for individual supporters. I like the way Marie Curie also speaks directly to this audience.

Be transparent

If there’s one element I would really encourage you to consider introducing into your annual review, it’s true transparency. Alongside all your great achievements, what hasn’t worked so well this year? What have you learned from it? And what are you going to do differently next time?

Charities, understandably, are often reluctant to focus too much on failure in a communication which is supposed to shout about your successes. But I think being truly open and honest breeds more trust, more engagement, more support, instead of less. And in this age of attacks every week on charities in the media, trust couldn’t be more vital.

Not many charities are doing this well yet, but the tide is turning. Clic Sargent did a great impact report in 2018, with a page showing what went wrong and what the charity is doing to improve.

Another example is Street League, who have an online impact dashboard updated every month showing their progress against targets, whether that’s negative or positive.

What if your organisation was brave, and followed their example?

Don’t produce an annual review

Of course, you don’t have to publish an annual review, just your formal annual report. Would your effort, time and budget be better spent creating a few more targeted and specific marketing materials than one big, all-singing, all-dancing annual review?

Annual reviews often try to do and be everything and can sometimes end up doing and being nothing. Don’t just publish an annual review just because that’s what charities do.

Need some help with your annual review/impact report/annual report? Drop me a line today.

A plain English checklist for charities

The Plain English Campaign believes that “everyone should be able to read, understand and act on public information after a single reading”. That’s surely something all charities should aim for too. What could be more important than making sure your charity writing is readable?

So before you start leveraging synergies to achieve world-class outcomes on key deliverables, stop and think. Here are six questions to ask yourself every time you write something for your charity:

1. Have you used long words where short ones would suffice do?

Why say “sufficient” when you could say “enough”, or “excessively” instead of “too”? Whenever there’s a short, everyday alternative, use it.

2. Have you used passive verbs instead of active ones?

Passive sentences clog up your writing. Make them active instead: the cat sat on the mat (active – it’s the cat that’s doing the action), not the mat was sat on by the cat (passive – the mat’s not doing anything, so why make it the focus of the sentence?) Instead of saying that a decision was made, tell us who decided.

3. Are you using nouns when you could be using verbs?

Look out for nouns like “completion”, “provision” and “reduction” – you’ll often find they’ve taken the place of perfectly good verbs (complete, provide, reduce).

By taking the doing element out of a sentence, they make your writing lifeless. Instead of writing there was an increase in our training provision, it’s better to write we provided more training.

4. Are all the words necessary?

Have you said something is “totally unique”? Stated the obvious by saying that “it goes without saying”? Described something as “new and innovative”? Stuck in the word “currently” to describe something that’s already in the present tense?

Go through every word you write, and ask if it really needs to be there. If it doesn’t: cut.

5. Could your sentences be shorter?

Long, complex sentences are hard to follow. Aim for an average sentence length of 15-20 words (fewer online) – though make sure you vary your sentence length too. Try to trim anything over 30 words – it might be better to make two sentences.

6. Is there any jargon?

Because you’re surrounded by the professional vocabulary your charity uses, it’s easy to forget that some words mean nothing to an external audience.

Look out for specialist language, and ask yourself if you’d have understood it before you began working in the sector. Could you imagine reading it in The Sun or hearing it on the ITV news? Would your mum understand it?

If not – make sure you explain what you’re saying. Or better still find a plain English alternative.

Can I help you edit out the jargon in your writing? Contact me today.

Charity writing: my 5 new year’s resolutions

I love new year’s resolutions. A chance to think about your goals for the year ahead, commit them to paper, to be revisited at the end of 2018.

As well as the usual personal ones, I’ve been thinking about my professional goals for the next 365 days. How can I improve my writing? How can you improve yours?

Below are the 5 resolutions I’m going to stick to for 2018. Perhaps you could try them out to improve your charity’s editorial work too?

  1. Exciting English

I am sick of hearing about the importance of ‘plain English’ in charity communications.

Of course, making sure your audience understands what you write, the first time they read it, is crucial. If they don’t, they won’t keep reading, and won’t take the action you need them to.

But we should all be aiming for so very much more than ‘plain’. We should be aiming for exciting, attention-grabbing and amazing.

We should all be aiming for so very much more than ‘plain’. We should be aiming for exciting, attention-grabbing and amazing.

So of course get the basics right. But then take another look and think how you can strive for excellence.

How about a brilliant headline? A box out with an engaging case study or some fascinating facts? A little colour writing? Just the right image?

  1. The short challenge

From web pages and leaflets, to annual reports and newsletters, there are very few charity communications that wouldn’t be improved by being shorter, snappier and more to-the-point.

No matter who your audience is, it’s best to think of them as reluctant, without much time to take in your message in among all the others bombarding them every day.

That means you need to be quick, landing your key message within seconds.

So challenge yourself. Start small. That web page you’re writing? Cut it in half. Then make your way up to publications like your annual review. Lots of organisations are going really short in format and word count – think about joining them.

  1. Get introspective

Set aside a couple of hours and look through some of your editorial work from last year. A bit of distance and perspective always throws up new ideas.

How could you make it better? What barriers do you face, and how can you get round them?

Even better, why not ask others – in your organisation and outside it – what they think?

Make a list (aim for five concrete actions) and refer back to it when you’re working on something similar in 2018.

  1. Come up with alternatives

When you’re writing for the same organisation, about the same topics all the time, you can risk your writing getting a little stale and repetitive.

So think about the phrases you use all the time. What alternatives can you come up with to enliven your writing? Note them all down and put the list where you and your colleagues can see it.

  1. Read widely

From the Metro newspaper you read and the Buzzfeed list you laugh at on your way to work, to the adverts you see all day long and reading the papers on a Sunday morning, editorial inspiration is all around you. Start looking out for it.

Read lots of newspapers, magazines and websites, and look for formats you can imitate. And of course pay attention to other charities’ publications – especially the big names with the big budgets. What are they doing effectively? Could you do something similar?

Does your charity need help with editorial work? From copywriting and editing to project management and training, I can help. Contact me and let’s have a chat.

Revolutionise your publications – in an afternoon

Keeping creativity high can be tough for charity communicators.

You produce the same publications, about the same subject, day after day. It’s easy to get stale.

But it’s also easy to inject some zing back into your communications. There are quick, simple and cheap ways to make your publications better.

Set aside just one afternoon on your own or with your team to do the four below – and start seeing the difference immediately.

1.30 – 2.30pm: Come up with alternatives

Do you find yourself trotting out the same phrases and clichés again and again in your charity writing? Do you have a stock set of stats and facts that end up in everything you write?

Stop being dull and repetitive. Write out the phrases you use frequently, and make a list of alternatives for each – creating your very own word bank.

One trick is to make your common phrases more specific. Why not turn “we improve children’s lives” into the more powerful, more detailed “we give children a chance to go to school – so they can have a brighter future”?

Another is to make your writing more relevant to your reader. You might write “60,000 square kilometres of rainforest are cut down each year”. But who really knows what a square kilometre looks like? Why not have the more relatable “each year, an area of rainforest the size of Ireland is cut down”?

Create a word bank document and put it on the wall. Remember to add to the list when you come up with a new alternative.

2.30 – 3.30pm: Go back to the basics: audience and purpose

Your new word bank isn’t the only thing to prepare for your office wall.

As a charity communicator, there’s one question you should ask yourself constantly. Before and while you’re producing a publication or writing an article.

“Who is my audience and what do I want them to do when they’ve read this?”

Write every word with this in mind and your publications will improve – guaranteed.

For each article you’re writing or publication you’re producing, take time to discuss it in depth. Then write an answer on a piece of paper and stick it above your desk, where you can see it at all times.

Be as specific as possible. For your audience, don’t just write “young people aged 14-18″, for example. Create an “average audience member” in your mind – give them a name, think about their lives and their likes and dislikes. You could even cut a picture out of a magazine to represent them.

3.30 – 4: Break

4 – 5pm: Do a mini publications review

Use this hour to read through your own publications. Come up with five specific things you don’t like about them.

Are your publications boring and repetitive? Are they irrelevant to your audience? Are they too text heavy? Do you have dull headlines? How is your design and photography?

Write a two-column list – problems, and how you’re going to solve them.

5 – 6pm: Steal ideas

There’s inspiration for your publications everywhere.

Start by looking at other charities’ publications – especially the big names with the big budgets. What are they doing effectively? Could you do something similar?

Go through mainstream magazines and newspapers too. Everything from the Sunday supplements to trashy magazines like Love it! will have a format you can steal, including new ways to present case studies and dozens of ways to structure features – from Question and Answer or FAQ to Ten Things You Didn’t Know… or 5 Ways To…


1. Regain your passion

Your best writing will happen when you feel deeply passionate about your subject matter. Keeping your excitement and interest levels high is important.

But it’s not always easy. With deadlines at every turn, a charity communications office can turn into a conveyor belt of case study after case study, feature after feature – with little time to immerse yourself in the story.

Take time to reignite your passion. Plan a day visiting some of your services and take your notebook and camera along with you. Speak to service users and volunteers about how they feel. Their passion, energy and enthusiasm will help breathe life back into your writing.

2. Ask people what they think

It can be difficult to be objective about your own writing and publications. So why not ask your readers what they think?

If you can gather some readers to discuss their thoughts for an hour, all the better. But even colleagues from a different department, friends or your family could give you some valuable insights.

Need some help with your publications? Contact me now.

Great charity speech writing: the five “P”s

Some politicians have you hanging on their every word while others lose you after the opening sentence. Ever wondered why?

I blame the speech writers …

Here are five top tips to help you write a speech or presentation that’ll keep your audience captivated.

1. Preparation

As with any successful piece of writing, you need to start by thinking about your audience and aims. Who is the speech for? What do you know about them? What do they already know about this topic? Then, most importantly: What do you want them to do/feel/think after they’ve heard you speak?

Picture someone who represents the majority of your audience. Create a quick profile of this person – their age, interests, motivations – and write as if you’re speaking to them.

Do your research. And keep doing it. Make sure you’re completely up to date on the subject, and have considered all arguments. You don’t want to be caught out by a topical question on the day.

2. Perspective

Think about how you can deliver your message in a way that’s original, relevant and inspiring. For example, could you tie it into the news or current affairs? What fresh insights or intriguing anecdotes can you share?

Well-written speeches “show” rather than “tell”. Paint a picture for your audience. Illustrate the issues through a personal story of someone your organisation has helped or a quote from a volunteer.

3. Polish

Once you’ve roughly drafted your speech, go back and refine your structure. Do you have a clear opening, middle and conclusion/summary?

Remember to include linking sentences that take you from one part of the speech to the next – they can very briefly say what you’ve talked about and what you’re going to look at next.

A quick extra “P”: proofreading. Get someone else to read over PowerPoint slides and handouts to help pick up any errors.

4. Practice

Read your speech out loud. If you stumble over complicated phrases or long sentences when you’re practising, you risk losing your thread – and possibly your audience.

You might find it helpful to add in “stage directions”, for example, “Pause for effect/laughter/to allow audience to read PowerPoint”.

5. Perception

Some people decide whether your speech is going to be any good before you even open your mouth. What can you do to alter this? Good biographical details in the programme and event’s marketing materials will help. So will how you’re introduced. Offer to write this blurb for the person organising the event.

Make sure your title is intriguing or catchy. A question can work well, so can an offer of insight. For example: “10 things you didn’t know about Charity X’s work in the UK”; “Can you afford to ignore social media?” or “How one hour of your time could save a life this Xmas”.

Need help writing a speech or presentation? Contact me today.

Reader-friendly fundraising bids

Whether you’re writing a grant application or a fundraising proposal, a human being will read your writing, not a machine.

As well as decent content and a strong case for funding, your applications should be filled with inspiring and engaging copy too. Good writing helps your reader understand what you’re trying to achieve and begin to believe in you and what you do.

Remember, there’s no rule against tugging on a grant-maker’s heart strings.

Here are a few writing tips to make your fundraising bids sparkle:

Get the basics right

You can write like James Joyce but if the content the funder has asked for isn’t there you won’t have much of a chance. Make sure you’ve done your sums, answered all the questions and have evidence of what you can achieve.

Adopt their language and approach

Don’t force your funder to play hide-and-seek with the information they need. Answer their questions and provide the information in exactly the same order they’ve requested it, using the same headlines. Repeat their language back to them. If they talk about “outcomes”, then you should talk about “outcomes”.

Identify their needs

Spend some time identifying the funder’s needs – what are they really looking for? What are the aims of their organisation? Once you’re clear, say how your project  will help them to meet those needs and aims. And then tell them how you will add value: what makes you different? What are you offering that is over and above what they’re asking for? Why can only your organisation provide that?

Start where the action is

Most fundraising applications begin with boring background about your organisation, when it was founded and what the management structure is. There’s a place for that but, if you have the opportunity, begin by writing about your impact and achievement. Talk about WHAT you achieve, before you talk about HOW you do it.

Write about benefits and outcomes

For every feature of your project and service (open 24 hours, qualified councillors, one-to-one sessions) write a benefit or outcome. What is the result of what you do? (Runaways get lifesaving support when they most need it, people with mental health difficulties quickly feel at ease talking to someone they can trust). Your methods are important in a fundraising application, but your reader is interested in the results too.

Add a human element

People like to read about people, so always include at least one case study and a number of quotes or testimonials from service users, other funders and supporters that add weight to your fundraising case. Try to use quotes that talk about the difference the organisation has been able to make. Back up the anecdotes with statistics and proof. Make your reader think: if they can achieve that change for one person, they could do so much more if they had my funding.

Add proof

Pepper your application with statistics, evidence, testimonials, awards and other official recognition that shows you know what you’re doing, and can achieve the outcomes you claim. The more detail you can provide, including the full names and titles of those who offer you testimonials, the better.

Cut the jargon

Have someone not involved in your organisation or project read your application and highlight anything they don’t understand. You need to rewrite every piece of jargon, looking out for things which you use in your charity every day, but which won’t resonate with anyone outside of your organisation.

Could I help you create a great fundraising bid? Contact me now.

Getting people to read what you write

The brutal truth is that most people aren’t that desperate to read what you write.

When your appeal letter drops through someone’s letter box, it’s easily tossed aside. On your website, you have just seven seconds to grab someone or they’ll move on. When a potential funder receives your annual review, they’ll just skim read it. Then add it to the stack from other organisations also looking for money.

You need techniques to make your writing “sticky” – to get people to read and take notice. Here are some top tips:

Make it useful

Say you’re trying to communicate with children’s services commissioners. Could you complement your core material (what you do, the impact you have) with something that is also useful for your audience? Perhaps a Top 10 Online Resources for Commissioners, or How to Save Time and Money When Commissioning Services report? Hook your reader with something useful and valuable to them, then use it as a lever to get your own messages across.

With every publication, ask yourself: is this interesting and valuable to my audience, or is it just what I want to say?

Grab attention

When someone flicks through your publication, you have just seconds to catch their attention. But how?

Headers and standfirsts (the line or two under the headline summarising the copy) are key.

Ensure your headline is striking, tells the audience what the piece has to do with them, and tells them why they should read on. Try to tell the whole story of your piece, including your call to action, across your headlines and subheadings. Skim readers need to get the message even if they don’t read the detail.

Ditch the puns

Those oh-so-clever headlines (“Government changes its tuna on fisheries policy”) you felt so smart writing in the office don’t often work when they make it into print or online. Your reader will at best be puzzled, at worst put off. Don’t kid yourself they will be so intrigued by the cryptic headline they’ll read on.

Leave the puns to the tabloid hacks.

Strong images with good captions

Strong images will draw readers to your work, but don’t waste your caption by simply describing the picture. They can see it! Instead, use the caption to relate your key messages, and attract the audience to read the rest of the copy.

Go short and simple

People will give up on your writing if it is difficult to read. Make sure sentences are short (try less than 30 words) and paragraphs brief. Eliminate jargon and acronyms – people should to be able to understand what you write the first time they read it.

Break it down

A page packed with dense copy to wade through will put many readers off. Break down your copy to make it easier to digest: use bullet points (but not too many), boxes, lists, A to Zs, top tips and other formats to make difficult information more digestible. Use lots of subheadings to break up text, particularly on the web. White space gives the eyes a rest, and makes your copy less daunting to read.

Use transition copy

“After the break, a BIG shock!” That’s what you hear on programmes like The X Factor to get you to tune in again. You can use this cliffhanger technique in your own copy to keep people reading.

“Transition copy” is the name for little phrases like “you won’t believe what happened next” and “the truth will surprise you” which, when read, almost compel the reader to keep reading. Drop a few in your copy, say every half a page, to give your writing pace and deftly carry the reader on to the next segment.

I can help you engage your audience – contact me today.

How to ask for money

No one likes writing about or talking about money, but for most charities the effective “ask” is the lifeblood of their organisation.

Here are a few tips to help with your fundraising writing.

Start with outcomes

Your donors want to know the impact that their money will have, so always start any writing about money with outcomes and achievements. Psychologists have shown people are much more likely to do what you want them to do if you give them a reason to do it. So never just ask for money without demonstrating – and proving – that their donation is an investment in the impact your organisation has.

Keep it simple

Your organisation may do 50 different things, but when writing about money concentrate on one area only. Too many options and ideas can breed procrastination. If you ask for this money, for this project, by this date, you present the reader with a simple yes or no decision to make right now.

Be honest about core costs

We all know asking for money to pay postage, lighting bills and transport isn’t a great sell. While you shouldn’t try to hide the fact you need to pay for core costs, you can weave them creatively into your fundraising asks.

Write the truth – that these costs are core to making projects successful – rather than an optional add-on you’d rather not talk about:

“Will you give £50 to help support Simon for a week? Your money will go on simple everyday things like milk, soap and electricity. The bus fare for his support worker. The stamps we’ll use to send his housing application forms. Simple things for you, life changing for Simon.”

Turn objections into a reason to support

Before you write, give some thought to the specific objections you might face. Don’t just pluck ideas out of the air; think about your audience, their life situation, their politics, their assumptions.

What reasons could they give for not supporting you? The financial crisis; they don’t trust charities; the Government should be paying for that; one person can’t make a difference; Christmas is coming and I need to buy presents?

For each objection, write a response into your fundraising copy, helping to remove barriers to giving before they’ve even arisen.

“In a multi-media age where suffering across the world has never been brought so close, it’s easy to think one person can’t make a difference. That’s not how Simon sees it. He knows the £50 you give could help him change his life forever.”

Be specific, not general

Adding little details and specific costs for things adds a ring of truth to your fundraising copy.

Not only does adding specifics make your writing more believable, it helps your donors to engage with the outcomes that their money could generate.


“Help us to train thousands of young people this Christmas.”


“Your donation could pay the £24 fee Simon needs by 23 January to register for the mechanics course at his local college.”

Write about partnership

Try to avoid phrases that foster the idea that you are doing something on behalf of your donor, with their money. Your donor wants to feel they are making a difference themselves, not outsourcing a problem for someone else to deal with. Use language of working together, partnership or make a direct link between your supporter and the outcome.


“Please give us £20 and we’ll put it to work helping people like Simon.”


“Your £20 will help support people like Simon.”

Have a plan

It is likely you will ask for money and write about how it is spent a number of times over the year, and there could be more than one of you writing fundraising material.

A simple plan will help prevent you making simple mistakes like having too many “emergency” appeals in a year, asking for money for a project you’d previously said was nearing completion, using the same case study too many times, or having to dash off your Christmas campaign in a frantic rush.

At the beginning of the year, plan what fundraising asks you will make each month, the amounts you will ask for, how you will ask for them and when you will put your fundraising writing together for them. Build in some flexibility, and get everyone who writes fundraising material to agree to the plan.

It’s a numbers game

However you write about money, however you ask for it, and however you say you spend it, someone somewhere isn’t going to be happy. When you communicate with a lot of people lots of times, you’re bound to get negative feedback.

If your fundraising writing generates the support you’re looking for, the fact that you’re offending or annoying a few supporters along the way shouldn’t put you off.

If you try to please all people, all the time, your fundraising writing will not be effective.

Need help with your fundraising copy? Contact me today.