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Go on, go on, go on, go on! What charities can learn from Mrs Doyle

23 October 2018

 Ah, Mrs Doyle. Father Ted’s devoted tea lady, famous for her constant cuppas and deafness to refill refusals. Mrs Doyle might seem an unlikely muse for us charity comms people, but she had one key skill we can all learn from. She wasn’t afraid to ask.

Whether it’s your latest fundraising appeal or a petition on a thorny issue, chances are you’re no stranger to having to persuade people to lend their support to your cause. But supporters are inundated daily with calls to action – so how do we cut through the noise and get them on our side?

Here are some tips to help you write copy that not only moves people, but inspires them to act.

Decide what you’re asking for 

If you’ve ever been in the position of working on a campaign with a lot of stakeholders, you’ll know how easy it is to find yourself being asked to cram three or four calls to action into your copy. That’s never going to be as effective as having one clear, overarching ask. So lay the groundwork with your stakeholders and agree a set of core messages and CTAs before you start creating any materials.

Know your audiences 

The more you know about the people you’re talking to, the better you can make your case to them. From past appeal data to Facebook engagements, try to get a good picture of what makes your audiences tick before you start writing. If you’re able to invest the time and resources, user testing different creative approaches may help you feel more confident.

Tailor your asks

Factor in the need to adapt your copy to match your audiences’ preferences and the different platforms you’re using. While copying and pasting your DM letter into an email certainly saves time, it’s unlikely to be as effective as crafted a proper e-appeal, based on your recipients’ previous behaviours.

Don’t expect anyone to care

Harsh but true. It’s better to assume your audience needs to be convinced than that they’re just waiting for you to ask for their help. That goes for your warm audiences too, I’m afraid. They’re busy people and they probably don’t remember the ins and outs of your cause. So tell them again and make it feel freshurgent and personal.

Repeat yourself

This is where Mrs Doyle had it down. Don’t just ask once! It can be tempting to wait until the very end of your copy to make your case for support, but remember most people don’t actually read from start to finish anymore – especially online. I find this structure useful as a starting point to take your reader on a journey from mildly interested to fully invested:

  • Lay out the problem and make the ask – you need a strong set of headlines that cut to the heart of your issue and you need to show how this issue is relevant to your reader.
  • Tell your reader more about the issue and ask again for support – remember that your reader doesn’t need to know everything, they just need to know why it matters to them.
  • Present your solution with a final ask – if possible, be clear about what their support will achieve or, if not, what not acting would mean.

Keep it simple


Even the most complicated policy position or sensitive legal issue can and should be simplified. This doesn’t mean sacrificing accuracy; it means finding a way to explain things to your audience in language they’ll engage with. You can still be an expert and write in a way that’s accessible and interesting. Dignity in Dying does this incredibly well.

Be bold, be brave

Opt for short sentences. Speak plainly and directly. Show emotion. Use stats – but really good ones. Explain the urgency. Have an opinion. I love Unicef’s website for all these reasons.

Use real-life stories

You’re great at explaining the issues your charity is up against, but do you know who’s better? Those being affected by them. So let them speak (or roar, as you’ll see in a minute). Bring the issue into your audience’s lives in a way they can relate to. WWF’s Tiger Protector campaign did this brilliantly.

Tap on the funny bone

Charities shouldn’t be scared to use humour when it’s appropriate – it’s a powerful way to get our messages shared. Take Greenpeace’s ‘Barbie, it’s over campaign. By documenting the online break-up of our favourite plastic couple, Greenpeace was able to get Mattel to stop destroying Indonesian rainforests to make its packaging. It was witty, shareable and it got results.

Get testy! 

Testing is the best way to keep learning what works for you. Split-test email subject lines. Use different photos in your Facebook ads. Make changes to your campaigns as you go, take time for honest evaluation and if at first you don’t succeed, think of Mrs Doyle. Father Ted always had another cup of tea in the end.

Image: Giphy

Banner photo: Harry Cunningham on Pexels

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You had me at hello

Anna Pietrowski

senior content manager, Age UK

Anna has been working in charity sector communications for the past 10 years. She’s currently senior content manager at Age UK.