I’ve written before about communicating benefits to your audience, but there is another, very specific way of keeping your audience at the centre of your nonprofit copywriting.

When trying to draw in your reader, there is a simple tactic you should employ. Actually, it’s just a word: ‘you’. Use it in your copy. Often. Every time you are about to write ‘we’, ‘our’ or ‘us’, consider whether the thought can be expressed in a ‘you’ statement instead. What better way is there to connect with readers than by speaking directly to them?

Nonprofits have a tendency to write at length about ‘our mission’, ‘what we do’, ‘our programs and services’, etc., but too much of this can dilute the effectiveness of each communication. Although nonprofits face the challenge of often writing for a mixed audience of donors, clients, and other stakeholders, if you are on the lookout, you will find many opportunities to up the ‘you’ ratio of your copy. Some very obvious examples include materials written for volunteer recruitment, program promotion, donor solicitation and donor accountability.

Looking around, I found two excellent examples of the use of ‘you’ on Evergreen’s website:

  • Tagline: ‘Imagine your city with nature
  • Program description: ‘Cities need nature. With our resources, support and funding, you can make a difference where you live.’

Awesome. Instead of speaking in generalities about what they are up to, they put the reader right into the copy.

How many ‘you’s are enough?

A few years ago, I attended a workshop presented by veteran copywriter Steve Slaunwhite. Steve went so far as to recommend a ratio: for each occurrence of ‘we’, ‘our’ or ‘us’ there should be three ‘you’s or ‘your’s. While Steve wasn’t directing his talk to nonprofit communicators, he sold me on the value of working toward a high ‘you’ ratio.

Do a quick little exercise to test out your organization’s copy. Look at a block of text and count the number of times ‘you’ appears, versus ‘we’, ’our’ or ’us’. Have you hit a 3:1 ratio? 1:1? 1:3? 0:20 (yikes)? Figure out your ratio, identify missed opportunities and get ‘you’-ing!

Marlene Oliveira

Marlene Oliveira

Communications advisor and copywriter at moflow
Marlene Oliveira is communications consultant and copywriter at moflow and founder of the Nonprofit MarCommunity blog. Having worked in the nonprofit sector since 1999, Marlene specializes in working with capacity building and grant-making organizations, advising on communications strategy, and writing stories and other content.
Marlene Oliveira
Marlene Oliveira