Copywriting Best Practices During COVID-19

Copywriting has become an increasingly effective tool for reaching and engaging a target audience. However, many organizations struggle to create and publish content that truly resonates with readers. 

Research shows online readers heavily scan material, with only an estimated 20% of page content being consumed. With this in mind, organizations must focus on how to get their key messages across clearly and concisely.  Luckily, there are many experts experienced in how to craft compelling copy that leads to action.

In October 2020, the third annual WE Prosper Summit was held virtually due to the pandemic. The event featured in-depth discussions on timely topics including copywriting, marketing, fundraising, and more. 

Designed for clients and partners, the summit is designed to provide knowledgeable insights for identifying and cultivating high-potential donors in any economy. Obviously, this year’s event featured a strong focus on how to adapt and plan fundraising initiatives in light of the repercussions COVID-19 has had on the world financial climate.

The 2020 WE Prosper Summit features keynote addresses with expert analysis and tips from authorities and peers from across the fundraising industry. One of those professionals is Tom Ahern, President of Ahern Communications, Inc. Tom sat down with Raj Khera, Executive VP and Chief Marketing Officer of WealthEngine, to discuss some copywriting best practices for COVID-19.

‘When You Like Your Donors, They Like You Back’

Tom describes his copywriting best practices as #Principles of Donor Communications. As principle number one, he believes: “When you like your donors, they like you back.” This finding is based on research conducted by the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy.

Easy, Consistent, Cohesive Messaging

When crafting content, it’s vital to make your messaging clear. “That’s, of course, what you always want to do, is to make communications easy for the target audience,” Tom advises.



The Power of Word Clouds

Demonstrating the power of word clouds, Tom points to a survey conducted by the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy, in which donors were asked just two questions:

  • How would you describe yourself using five or fewer adjectives?
  • When you think about your support of a cause, what five or fewer adjectives come to mind?

In this example, there may be some repeat answers from donors. “You get two word clouds, and where those two word clouds overlap is where your sweet spot is, where the best language is for you to use,” Tom adds.

  • What Are Word Clouds?

Word clouds are groups of words that are placed together. The more frequently a word appears, the bigger and bolder the word looks in the cloud.

The word cloud depicted above illustrates the power of this visual tool. Using the example of the survey mentioned earlier, each adjective given in response to the questions asked were placed in a word cloud. Each time a word was repeated, its appearance became larger and bolder.

Once all answers are compiled, you’re left with a word cloud that looks similar to the graphic shown. These visuals can help you succinctly communicate with your target audience.

Reaching Your Target Audience

For your sales copywriting efforts to be persuasive, you must have a firm understanding of your target audience and engage with them. In this context, a target audience is a demographic of people, or donors, who are most likely to be interested in your cause.


As the graphic above illustrates, a target audience consists of individuals who share similar traits. These groups of people are assessed using information such as:

  • Behaviors
  • Location
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Race
  • Age group
  • And much more

By accurately deciphering who your target audience is, you can gain valuable insights into how this group operates and what it prioritizes most.

Dave from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution

Dave is a volunteer for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. As COVID-19 hit his organization hard, Dave shares how he created the effective messaging seen on the institute’s website. 

A message featured on the site’s homepage reads: “You’re a part of our crew and crew members look out for each other. Watch a special message for you.” Following this text is a video that incorporates inclusive language to ensure donors that everyone is part of the crew and all contributions make a lasting impact. 

The organization found these words based on the same two-question survey originally developed by the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy.

Jen Shang’s Philosophy of Giving Behavior

Jen Shang is a psychologist specializing in the behavior of giving. “She’s saying, right now, your donors, because of COVID, feel paralyzed, confined, victimized, disarmed, powerless,” Tom notes.

Depending on the focus of your communications, Jen asserts your audience could feel “connected to a bigger world, cared for, listened to, part of something.” She also mentions they could feel capable, which is important for human well-being. “We need to feel like we’re doing something, and doing good for others is a wonderful thing you can do right now,” Jen adds.

Feelings Lead to Action

When Raj and Tom spoke for the first time, Raj asked a few very important questions: “Are major donors different? Do they speak a different language?” Tom’s simple answer was, “Not so much.”

“We are a social species. That urge to cooperate, all of that, is actually chemical. It’s in your brain and it’s there,” he observes.

Tom also discusses what inspires action for donors. He talks about an important discovery made by Dr. Donald Calne, a Canadian neurologist specializing in Parkinson’s disease research. In his findings, the doctor concluded that feelings lead to action. 

Tom summarizes, “Not reason leads to action, feelings lead to action. Reason leads to more thinking. Feelings lead to action.” 

Another important piece of information comes from neurologist and psychiatrist Dr. Viktor Frankl. After conducting psychological research, he concluded that humans need purpose. According to Dr. Frankl, “That’s what a charity can bring to me, through its communications, a sense of purpose over and over and over.”

WealthEngine’s WE9 comprehensive platform offers a variety of proprietary tools including Wealth Search, WE Analyze, and its Donor Pyramid Modeler for unmatched donor list segmentation solutions. To experience how WealthEngine can assist your organization, request a free demo.

Adapted from presentation by Tom Ahern.

Tom Ahern Bio:

In 2016, the New York Times called Tom Ahern “one of America’s most sought-after creators of fund-raising messages.”

Recent clients include Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University, USA for UNHCR (refugees), the Sharp Healthcare system in San Diego, Save the Children Global, Lollypop Farm (animal rescue, Rochester, NY), Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Junior Achievement, Teach for America and Chabad on Campus.

His specialty? Changing underperforming donor communications programs into major moneymakers, using the latest discoveries in psychology and neuroscience. He has authored six how-to books on donor communications and speaks internationally.

Donor Retention: What to do to Finish 2020 Strong

At WE Prosper Summit: 2020, nonprofit leaders discussed the latest trends and best practices including donor retention for finding donors during COVID-19. Two of these experts were Baily Benzle and Stu Manewith of Omatic Software. Their company has been around for 20 years and has more than 3,000 nonprofit clients worldwide.

Omatic uses data to strengthen relationships between nonprofits and their donors through correct messaging. Delivering the right message to the right donor at the right time is possible with data integration.

What is Data Integration?

Data integration is the consolidation of information from many sources. With centralized data, nonprofit organizations can better analyze information and make decisions. This data can help your organization target and engage donors.  


The 90-Day Window

Baily and Stu mentioned the 90-day donor window: Donors who make a second gift within 90 days of their first, are more likely to repeat their giving. To keep supporters, nonprofits need to communicate with them shortly after their initial gifts.

A new donor who doesn’t make a second gift in 90 days is unlikely to renew their support. If they do donate again, their support will likely continue. This is why donor retention is so important.

The retention rate for new donors is 20% and 61.3% for existing supporters. It’s harder to turn a new donor into a repeat supporter. To avoid donor fatigue, it’s crucial to begin relationship building with donors immediately and keep it up.

New donors who aren’t engaged, thanked and informed of where their gifts go are less likely to give. By integrating data to learn about your donors and how to best engage them, you’ll likely stay at top of mind. When donors feel appreciated and are engaged, it’s easier to compel them to give repeatedly.



When you retain donors, your organization saves money through lower attrition (the loss of donors) and raises more money. It costs more time, effort, and resources to attract new donors than it does to retain current ones. 

For a nonprofit organization to finish the year strong, you need to improve your retention rate. One very effective way of engaging donors is through storytelling for fundraising, sharing individual narratives showcasing the good that’s been accomplished thanks to your donors’ generosity. This approach appeals to donors’ sense of empathy and emotion while providing demonstrable proof of how their support is making an impact.

Why Donor Retention Rate is So Important

The key to building donor retention is actively cultivating relationships with supporters. A major component of successful donor retention is donor stewardship, which is based on frequent communication with your supporters to nurture their interest in your organization and its initiatives.

Your retention rate demonstrates how well your fundraising endeavors performed over the previous year. It also acts as a quantifiable metric of how your donors and supporters are re-engaged. If your donors are continually interacting with and engaging with your organization, they are considerably more likely to renew their support.

Donor retention rate is measured with a basic calculation: Divide the number of donors who gave during the current year by the number of donors who gave the previous year. The current year’s donors are the numerator and the previous year’s donors are the denominator. 

Calculate your denominator first and use it as the baseline by which everything is measured. The denominator is the number of donors who gave in the past year. The goal is to achieve a high retention rate.


The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) created the Fundraising Effectiveness Project (EFP) in 2006. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project helps nonprofits be more successful in their fundraising. The organization conducts research and publishes industry-recognized reports each year.

In 2019, the Fundraising Effectiveness Project mentioned that the donor retention rate for U.S. nonprofits was 45%. The retention rate for repeat donors in 2018 was 61%. For first-time givers, the retention rate was 20% or roughly one out of five new supporters.

The statistics of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project reveal how difficult it is to capture new donors. They show how important it is to stay on top of donors’ minds so they will give multiple times. It is possible to improve upon the low 20% average retention rate, thereby boosting the probability of donors giving.

Engaging your donors with a relevant message at the right time can improve retention rates. Instilling an urgent “the time to act is now” call-to-action is a successful strategy. For example, if you want to capitalize on Giving Tuesday and December year-end giving, you need to start in October.

Baily and Stu provide a great example of this successful retention strategy with a Wisconsin dance organization. The development director mentioned, “We are strong with donor retention at 75% for returning donors and 30% for new donors.” Compared to the 2019 fundraising average, that’s a 25% higher rate for returning donors and 50% higher for new ones.

For illustration, there were two grids: Grid A and Grid B. Grid A shows a donor retention rate of 41% and Grid B documents a donor retention rate of 51%. Grid A’s donors raised $675,000 and Grid B’s donors raised over $1 million.

Grid B’s retention rate of 51% resulted in donors giving for an extra five years before dissipating. With a better retention rate, these donors gave more than those in Grid A whose retention rate was 41%. Even the slightest improvement of donor retention can boost giving amounts.


The grid example illustrates the findings of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project’s research. These results show that the dollar amounts from retained donors increase by 3% a year. With a strong retention rate, an organization can raise significantly more funds. 

How to Boost Donor Retention Rate

How do you retain donors in the crucial 90-day window? It has to do with correct messaging. Here are three tips to try:

  • Provide timely acknowledgment and appreciation. 
  • Show the impact of the gift and how that aligns with the donor’s intent.
  • Repeat the solicitation method that resulted in the first donation. 

2020 has been a challenging year, but you can finish strong with a high donor retention rate. When you communicate with donors within 90 days of their first gift, you increase the probability of receiving a second one. Reaching ideal donors with a relevant message at the appropriate time will likely compel donors to renew their support. 

Adapted from presentation by Baily Benzle and Stu Manewith of Omatic Software.

Speaker Bios:

Bailey Benzle 

Bailey Benzlé is the Director of Pre-Sales & Sales Enablement for Omatic Software where she supports both internal staff and clients by determining the best solution to meet unique nonprofit needs. Her responsibilities include working with organizations of all types and sizes by providing evaluations, software demonstrations, answers to technical questions, and resources for any product questions. Prior to joining Omatic Software, Bailey held multiple sales roles at Blackbaud and in the Target Analytics division of Blackbaud®. She also spent seven years in the non-profit sector, as a marketing specialist and Raiser’s Edge end-user. Bailey graduated from Elon University with a bachelor’s of science degree in Biology.

Stu Manewith 

Stu Manewith serves as the company’s Director of Thought Leadership and Advocacy where he serves as Omatic’s nonprofit sector domain specialist and subject-matter expert. He is responsible for actively promoting and demonstrating Omatic’s position as the nonprofit industry’s leading partner in the areas of data health and integration. Prior to Omatic, Stu spent 13 years at Blackbaud as a consultant, solution architect, and practice manager.

Previously, Stu spent the first half of his career as a nonprofit executive, fundraiser, and finance director, working in both the healthcare and arts/cultural arenas of the nonprofit sector. He holds business degrees from Washington University and the University of Wisconsin, and he earned his CFRE credential in 1999.


Demystifying Predictive Analytics and Modeling for Fundraising

When it comes to fundraising, your most valuable asset is your time. Predictive analytics and modeling help determine which prospective donors to focus on so you can secure more gifts faster. However, the initial complexity of the process can seem overwhelming for those unfamiliar with it. 

This guide describes what predictive modeling is, why it’s important, and how to get started. It’s based on a workshop led by Eric White, a Senior Principal Consultant with WealthEngine, during the recent WE Prosper Summit. 

Click here for a replay of WE Prosper Summit, a virtual conference exploring trends and best practices for finding high-potential donors in the COVID economy. 

What is Predictive Modeling?

“Predictive modeling is [the] analysis that allows organizations to evolve from a subjective approach to fundraising to a data-driven approach,” explains White. Instead of ringing up every prospective donor and seeing who bites, modeling offers fundraisers a clearer picture of who has the highest probability of making a major gift.

“Modeling gives a numeric value to categorical data,” White notes. “The formula delivers a score for your constituents based on the desired behavior, such as making a major gift….A raw score is a number between 100 and 1000 with those near 1000 having the highest probability of, in this example, making a major gift.”

The 3 Things Needed for Predictive Modeling

  • Refine Your Question

“The first thing you need to recognize is a model can only answer one question,” observes White. “Are you interested in who’s most likely to give you a gift of $25,000 or more? Are you interested in someone making a monthly gift of at least $25 or more? Are you interested in finding individuals that will include you in their estate plan? You want to refine the question.”

  • Clean Your Data

Improperly selected or entered data can derail your entire model. Just ask the crew of Emirates Flight 407. In 2009, during a flight from Melbourne to Dubai, they accidentally entered the weight of the plane and 270 passengers as 262 metric tons. 

“Its actual calculated weight was 362 metric tons,” notes White. “This is the equivalent of not calculating the weight of 20 African elephants stored in the belly of the plane.”

While the plane eventually got off the ground, it was almost the worst civil air disaster in Australia’s history. The moral of the story: you have to be meticulous with your data to get the desired results.

  • Choose the Right Variables

Predictive modeling involves plugging data into a formula. Each part of the formula is known as an independent variable, or the unique traits of the individuals being screened.

“For predictive models in the fundraising space, you need eight donation variables,” advises White. Those include:

  • First gift date
  • First gift amount
  • Largest gift date
  • Largest gift amount
  • Last gift date
  • Last gift amount
  • Total number of gifts
  • Total amount given

Depending on the type of giving you’re focusing on, you may need to include additional variables. For example, the age of donors is important to know when modeling planned giving over several years. You also need the data of at least 200 individuals in order to have a stable model. 

The 5 Steps of the Modeling Process

  • Model Design

White and his team spend time discussing what the client wants to achieve with predictive modeling. Knowing the end goal allows them to design a more accurate model.

  • Data Preparation

This is the process of gathering, cleaning, and inputting all the data into the model. “Paying the price on the front end and cleaning the data positions us on the kinds of returns on investment we’re all looking for,” advises White.

  • Model Building

“That’s when the data scientists come in and they start reviewing and working with the data,” explains White. During this step, they determine which of the included variables are most important for the model.

  • Performance Analysis

White’s team carefully checks that the model is accurate and effective. “We want to make sure that it’s a good fit, that it’s a robust and viable model,” notes White.

  • Modeling Scores

At the end of the process, White explains, “You get two things, a raw score and a major gift decile, along with best practices and continuing consulting issues around the best way to implement the scores and ratings.” A raw score is a number between 100 and 1000, while a decile places prospects into groups. 

“Let’s say you give us 100,000 records,” explains White. “We’ll score everyone from the first person to person 100,000 with a raw score and then we’ll rank order them and divide them up into 10 equal deciles. The individuals in decile one are the ones that scored in the 90th percentile or the highest level of the model.” 

Predictive Modeling Drives Results

To cap off the talk, White shared a case study of a university his team worked with.

“They gave us over 100,000 records for us to screen,” he recalls, “and we built them [a model] that predicted individuals most likely to give at least $100,000.” 

The result was a list of 220 individuals that were likely to give at least $100,000 to the organization. The major gift officers selected 10 random people from the list who had never given to the university and called them. 

“All 10 took the call,” notes White. “Out of those 10, three said, “Let’s talk.” Out of those three when they met with them, one of them said, “What took you so long to call?” They ended up working with this individual who had never given to the university.”

The story doesn’t end there. The organization put together a proposal asking for $150,000. The donor ended up giving even more than that. The university’s partnership with WealthEngine paid for itself several times over. 

Want to learn more about how WealthEngine can help you achieve similar results with predictive modeling? Get in touch at or click here to schedule a free demo.