Since you work for a nonprofit, I imagine the following sounds familiar:

Get me 800 signatures by Friday!

We need 250 people OR MORE to register for that conference.

If we raise $5000 in the next 24 hours, we have a donor who will make a matching gift.

For our nonprofit organizations to meet any of these goals, we need to create a bright, bold, beautiful call-to-action. We need to bring on the glitter and bring in the shine.

But how?

Creating an effective call to action: tips from the community #NPMC Click To Tweet

I asked nine other nonprofit communicators how they craft calls to action, and here is what they said:

It’s Personal.

“In this day of constant media input, the importance of crafting an effective call to action is personal. Your constituents want to know you are talking directly to them. They want to feel your call to action, they want to know who you are, and they want you to know who they are. Ignore everything you learned in school about writing in the third person – this is personal! Use second person language. Write directly to ‘you.’

“Action-oriented verbs that speak right to your reader are the most effective, like discover, learn, find, download and take action. You are trying to get them to take action, so tell them, directly, what you want them to do!

“You empower your reader to make this their own – and isn’t that your goal?”

~ Joy Wright, Development Director for Life Span


Inspire and include.

“For a call to action to be effective, nonprofits must inspire the audience. Typically, a CTA [Call to Action] button doesn’t motivate someone to act. It’s the content and messaging surrounding the CTA that creates excitement and urgency. To get the action, whether a donation, a subscriber, or a volunteer, nonprofits must create a sense of inclusion in the ask, with words like ‘join us’ and ‘Help’ instead of ‘give,’ ‘donate’ and ‘sign up.’”

~ Bill Skowronski, President of Sharing the Good, Inc.


Be Social.

The whole point of a call-to-action is that we cannot do this – whatever “this” is – alone. We need each other, and our supporters need each other, which we sometimes forget.

“Ask the person to connect with two other people. Social transformation work is really hard to do in isolation. One other person makes it easier, but get three people together and it becomes easier to speak up and it’s more likely you’ll be heard. It’s also much easier to build momentum.

“Use your calls to action to break the isolation so many of us feel. Connecting with others improves our lives!”

~ nikhil trivedi, Web Architect at a museum in Chicago

'Use your calls to action to break the isolation so many of us feel.' #NPMC Click To Tweet

Unleash your personality. Use your voice.

“Much is made of making sure that one thinks about the audience of the call to action, and while this is great advice, it is equally important to think of ‘the voice’ in a call to action. Does it sound like a human being, a real person? Or does it sound like corporate/jargon speak? Is there an emotion to it?

“A call to action is part of a thought process. Can the reader/listener follow that person’s thought process or are they just jumping from data point to data point, without reacting?

“The best calls to action come from a place where a reader or listener can feel the personal investment. People will care if they believe the person making/writing the call-to-action really cares.”

~ Gil Zamora, Development Manager for HealthConnect One


Consider length, clarity, attention, affection, and outside help.

“Your call to action needs to be written with great care. Too long, and your audience’s attention will wander before they convert. Too short, and you won’t adequately explain why people should value what you’re offering. Too vague, and people won’t know what action they can take, how it meets a specific need they have, and why it’s relevant to them. Too boring, and you’ll miss the chance to grab their attention and earn their affection. Too pushy, and you’ll be perceived as annoying, untrustworthy, or even manipulative. Too formulaic, and you’ll lose out on a subtle yet important opportunity to elevate your brand voice.

“A professional copywriter and user testing are keys to getting the content of your call to action just right.”

~ Lauren Girardin, Marketing and communications strategist, copywriter, and trainer for Lauren Girardin Consulting


Align calls to action with mission and strategy.

“There are three types of Calls to Actions at First3Years: Sign Up, Donate and Please Take Action.

“These align directly with our mission to educate, advocate and collaborate to advance the healthy development of infants and toddlers. They also align with our different distinct (and sometimes blended) audiences: early care professionals, donors/ funders, and the broader First3Years community interested in monitoring policy changes related to babies and toddlers.

“We have an amazing team to support communications and community engagement that spans our membership, advancement, and marketing teams, both implemented by staff and stellar social media interns (we love interns and volunteers!). Our communications plan guides our key messages, calls to actions, and streamlined hashtags like #First3YearsEducates #First3YearsAdvocates and #First3YearsCollaborates!”

~ Soudary Kittivong-Greenbaum, Director of Advancement for First3Years


Consult internally.

“Use your resources, aka all the great minds already at your organization! Use staff outside of your marketing department and volunteers to help brainstorm new calls to action – they’re your greatest ambassadors and have insight on what makes them take action. Folks are driven to action for different reasons and those reasons change – using your current resources is a great way to consider multiple perspectives. Plus, they’re a great audience to test calls to action on.”

~ Lindsey Powell, Marketing & Communications Associate at Rape Victim Advocates (RVA)


Be tangible and relevant.

“Be tangible and relevant.

“At nonprofits, we have a wealth of stories available to support our causes. However, a strong call to action, particularly in email and social media campaigns, will go beyond that to resonate with the people interfacing with you in real time.

“Be immediately relevant: Review recurring topics from website and social media inquiries and phone calls. For example, a cancer organization seeing a spike in questions about lung cancer should focus their ask around that. If they are receiving a large number of inquiries about pediatric cancer research, showcase that.

“Be tangible: Constituents want to see how their actions, even if small, have impact. Provide brief, concrete examples to support this: ‘Your donation provides two rides to treatment,’ or ‘Your phone call will guide your local legislator for this specific bill, helping families within your community.’”

~ Tracy Jensen, Marketing Consultant with Frizz Marketing


Be clear and concise.

“My top tip to crafting effecting calls to action? Use WIIFM, the ‘what’s in it for me’ factor, and craft your message from the viewpoint of your audience. Of course, to do that you have to have really nailed down and identified your audience, which should be the first step in any communications. Make your call to action clear, concise, and easy. Your audience shouldn’t have to work to understand what you’re asking of them. Do they need to register, reply, or donate by tomorrow or the end of the month? Is it clear how? Don’t bury the information. Strike a balance between brevity and creativity. You can be compelling while getting straight to the heart of the ask. In fact, I think as nonprofit professionals finding this middle ground is our superpower!”

~ Elana Ilott

'Your audience shouldn't have to work to understand what you're asking of them.' #NPMC Click To Tweet

What are your top tips for creating effective calls to action?

What would you add? What are your top tips?

Note: if you’re reading this before Thursday, August 31st, join us for the #NPMC Twitter Chat on this topic from 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. ET (that’s HIGH NOON for my Chicago peeps), using the hashtag #NPMC.

RoiAnn Phillips

RoiAnn Phillips

Communications Manager at HealthConnect One
RoiAnn Phillips manages HealthConnect One's website, email, print, and social media communications - advancing respectful, community-based, peer-to-peer support for pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and early parenting. After-hours, she is also a performance poet and avid blogger on parenting, transracial adoption, and LGBTQ families.
RoiAnn Phillips