Inspiring Calls to Action from Top Non-Profits


Share on LinkedIn

For non-profits, explaining why a donor should give may be second nature. Your marketing and messaging strategy may include compelling facts about the people you serve, the programs you run, and why your cause is more important today than ever before. But, what will prompt the reader or viewer to take out his wallet or key in his credit card within minutes? That’s where these calls to action come in.

“Donate now” is simply not powerful enough to ensure that your non-profit stands out in a sea of communications today.

What is an Effective Call to Action?

A call to action (or CTA as it’s often called) needs to be clear, simple, direct, compelling, and appropriate for the media. A CTA is not necessarily just a request for money. Perhaps your organization is also looking for volunteers or looking to build its newsletter subscription base. But don’t give the recipient too many choices or make them work too hard to figure out how to get involved.

Graphic media has become increasingly important in our communications-intensive world, so making your CTAs bold, visual, and appealing will make them easier for the donor to find.

The Reason Why

A non-profit mission statement and CTA go hand-in-hand. Donors and volunteers must grasp at a deep and meaningful level why your organization exists. This list of statements from some top non-profits shows how mission ties to action.

Urgency and specificity are among the attributes of many of these CTAs. Note too that some utilize words that relate to “community,” ensuring that donors feel like part of a larger movement.

Feeding America: “Advocate to end hunger.” A pop-up on the website home page encourages immediate donations and makes donating simple.

American Red Cross: “Help those affected by disasters.” Not only does this non-profit state its mission at a high level, but their current home page also varies, based on where the immediate need is the greatest. For example, a request for blood donations was tied to a program with the NFL. Donors could “win” a visit to the Super bowl.

Habitat for Humanity: Together we build better lives. Like many effective non-profit fundraising efforts, the website shows photos of the people helped by donations.

American Heart Association: “Saving lives starts with you.” Highly personal, the ask also provides an overview of how dollars are being spent. See Personalized CTAs, below.

Planned Parenthood: “Abortion is under attack. We need you.” This CTA is bold and direct and conveys a strong sense of urgency.

Food for the Poor: “Feed a child like Ensnayder for only $6.08 a month.” In addition to personalizing the ask, the organization’s site gives prospective donors clear options for donating money and time.

Program-Specific and Personalized CTAs Can Be Highly Effective

Yonkers Partners in Education was building a new college center for disadvantaged middle school and high school students. Rather than just asking donors to contribute, they created a campaign that was very specific and tangible. Donors could “buy” items that the center needed. The non-profit’s ask was supplemented by a fun and engaging viral video, produced by the students themselves. Knowing exactly where (and to whom) one’s dollars are going can be a compelling form of fundraising.

Having a loved one’s name incorporated into the “Stand Up to Cancer Plane” was the incentive for donors to give $25 to that cause. Run in conjunction with American Airlines, the campaign was highly-visible and effective. Celebrity spokesperson Tim McGraw helped spread the message via Twitter. See below on how media must match messaging throughout fundraising campaigns.

Tuesday’s Children ran a one-day “sale,” a matching gift program with one of their largest donors. Creating a sense of urgency in a CTA will compel people who are on the fence to take immediate action.

In short, the more specific, timely, and action-oriented a CTA, the greater the chance of immediate participation.

Different Media Calls for Different CTAs

Your non-profit website is the cornerstone of your organization. Visitors will often check it out prior to donating or volunteering. Don’t make them search to find information. The call to action should be direct and easy to find. Intrusive pop-ups may look cool, but if they block the core information about your organization, they’ll be annoying rather than inviting.

Social media has become a huge communication boost for non-profits who are often working with limited marketing budgets. Videos, Instagram stories, and Facebook groups have all become common campaign tactics to engage donors and volunteers. Visual media has become a key component of the social media marketing mix and these examples of non-profit Instagram CTAs are powerful and colorful. Social media fundraising must also make sharing messages fast and easy for viewers and donors.

Direct response advertising is very much alive and well, as are other forms of print media. But “conventional” media must still drive donors to digital media (website and Facebook page, for example) because how people choose to interact with a non-profit depends on their own media preferences.

Personalization of CTAs delivers a 202 percent higher response rate, according to Hubspot. What that means is that marketing-savvy non-profits not only target specific media and messaging to different demographic or donor groups but that they also tailor their CTAs based on factors like specific target market or previous donor actions. Incorporating technology-based analytics into understanding your donor behaviors and communicating with different groups in different ways will become commonplace over the next five years. A “one-size-fits-all” marketing message plan will ultimately be obsolete.

Test and Learn

Experimenting with different CTAs will help you hone in on the most effective approaches. Look to other types of businesses (including those in the for-profit world) to gather ideas for wording and targeting. When possible, conduct A/B testing to uncover which CTAs work best with different population groups and fundraising needs.

Above all, ensure that the person viewing your site or receiving a direct mail letter knows exactly what you want or need them to do. Remember, the opposite of action in call-to-action is inaction or procrastination. And no non-profit wants or needs that.

Brittany Evans
Organized and diligent operations professional who thrives in fast-paced environments and excels when handling varied and diverse tasks. Strong ability to identify opportunities for improvement and a deep understanding of all aspects of business, customer requirements and service expectations.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here