Copywriting for business is an altogether different endeavor than copywriting for nonprofits and higher education organizations. Understanding the nuances will help you produce crisp, powerful copy for your nonprofit clients.

There’s no shortage of writers out there. And all of them think they can write your client’s nonprofit copy. But finding a writer who knows how to craft words that move readers through the donor cultivation cycle (or even knows what a donor cultivation cycle is), that’s a precious find.

What You’re Selling

The first difference between business copywriting and copywriting for nonprofits is the most fundamental. Nonprofits and higher education are selling something completely distinct from their for-profit counterparts.

Many agencies get this intuitively. Unfortunately, most of them don’t think about it deeply enough.

For both nonprofits and higher education, you’re not selling a thing or even a service. You’re selling a dream, a vision of what the world could be like. For example…

  • If the donor gives to your client’s organization, they can help realize a world with fewer hungry children.
  • If they give to your client’s endowment, they could establish an educational legacy for generations to come.
  • If they volunteer, they’ll be a part of bringing about a more fair society.
  • If they give to your campaign, they can stick it to the man.
  • If they give a tribute gift, they can keep the memory of their loved one alive.

The audience of your nonprofit clients has dreams…

And as the marketer or fundraiser for your client, you have become a “dream broker.”

In the copy, you are promising them that the dreams they have – whether negative (angry, vengeful, compassion) or positive (faith, love, hope) – can come true because of their giving, enrollment, or volunteering.

This is why “crisis fundraising” just doesn’t work well in the long run. Fundraising copy like “Give now, or we’ll have to close our doors!” has very little weight behind it because most donors don’t desire for their charities to remain operational.

They want change. And they want to be a part of that change. So make sure your nonprofit copy is touching the deep desires of your clients for change – their dreams for a different world than they woke up in.

The Value Your Audience Gets Out of It

The “product” you’re selling to your client’s donors, prospective students, and alumni is fundamentally different than what for-profit companies sale on the marketing. That means that the value they get out of the “product” is also different.

In business copy, you can create value for the audience by talking up the product’s benefits, features, and other techniques like social proof. But with nonprofit copy, there are no physical benefits.

It’s an intangible transaction (A slight exception here would be with education copy to prospective students.). The donor, alumnus, or volunteer will not receive a widget or a needed service to save them time or make them money. So what value do they get out of their gift, labor, or time?

They get a feeling.

The value donors receive from giving is the feelings that come from their generous act. And there are so many emotions they can experience in giving!

  • They can feel vindicated.
  • They can feel redeemed.
  • They can feel safe.
  • They can feel relevant.
  • They can feel powerful (empowered).
  • They can feel meaning or purpose.

The copy or content you’re writing for your nonprofit client audiences must convey these majestic themes in a realistic, subtle way. Why?

Your copy and design essentially create the value.

How is a donor going to feel redeemed? You write it.

How will an alumnus feel safe about the ongoing legacy of their alma mater? You write those feelings into existence.

The marketing you create for your clients is the very thing that generates the value their audience will enjoy. This is what makes your work so valuable to your nonprofit clients.

But in a larger sense, your work is important for the entire philanthropic enterprise.

If you diminish your nonprofit copy to bare-bones features and superficial benefits, you’ll rob donors and alumni of the value they could have had. Which means they’ll probably not be giving a second or third time.

Knowing the differences between copy for business and copy for nonprofits will enable you to maintain the quality of the content you produce for your nonprofit clients. And when that happens, donor response can increase and be sustained over the long haul.