To Move People to Action—

You must look at the world through their eyes

When I was working on an e-newsletter for a non-profit that serves teen-age girls, some of the people within the organization wanted the focus of the newsletter to be on reports about adult-oriented functions, such as recruiting and fundraising events. This would have created copy written from the point of view of the organization creating it. When your writing needs to move people to action—in this case, to donate or volunteer—you must look at the world through the eyes of your readers.

Gold Rush-era Schoolhouse

Customers and clients don’t buy products or services. What they buy is what the products or services will do for them. When we are involved in a company or organization, we tend to focus on the features—the facts and figures—of what we have to offer. For a company that sells computers, features would be the hardware and all its specifications (lots of numbers and letters). What that company’s prospective customers really want to know is—if we buy your computers will it help us make a profit, increase our market share, and give us a greater competitive advantage? Those are the benefits. Your readers want to know how your company’s products or services will solve a problem for them and make a difference in their quality of life.

There’s an old story that marketers like to tell to illustrate the difference between features and benefits. When you go to a hardware store to buy a ½-inch drill bit, you aren’t really buying a ½-inch drill bit. What you are buying is a ½-inch hole. The drill bit is the product, the feature. The ½-inch hole is the benefit. To take the story even further— the true benefit is the warm and fuzzy feeling you get after you've drilled the hole, affixed a picture hook and finally get to hang a picture of your child’s smiling face on your wall. People take action on emotions and needs. Needs that motivate them include: to be liked, to be attractive, to make money, to save money, prestige, comfort, and better health.

To make the non-profit e-newsletter effective, I needed to identify the readers and what would motivate them to take the action to support the organization. The readers were current and potential donors and volunteers. Their motivation was the satisfaction they received from helping other people. Helping others is a deep human need. The newsletter needed to show the readers that their support made a difference. To do that, the focus of the stories became the girls and how the program was helping them learn academic and life skills.

My personal reward for using this strategy came when I was introduced to a woman at a social gathering and she recognized my name as the writer of the newsletter. As I stepped forward to shake her hand, she said, “No, no! A handshake won’t do. I want to give you hug.” The reward for the organization came when another reader, a volunteer who wasn’t currently as active as she had been in the past, called the office and said, “The newsletter keeps me up-to-date on what’s going on. I’m impressed and want to make a donation.” It was a substantial gift.

When it comes time to write your next newsletter, advertisement or update your web content—take the time to get inside your readers’ heads and figure out what benefits your product or service is really offering to them. Then write about those benefits. If you speak to your readers’ needs, they will respond.

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