Naturally, this varies depending on the kind of charity in question. An animal care charity would not use the same tone of voice as a men’s mental health charity, for example. As such, it is important for tone of voice to reflect brand purpose – i.e. the reasons why an organisation exists in the first place, or its core aim.
Surely most charities do this, you’d think? Surprisingly, many tend to get caught up explaining how the public can do their bit – and forget about explaining the reasons why they should.
This if often why a lot of charities suffer from ‘donor apathy’, with an increasing number of consumers feeling pressure to part with their money rather than a natural or instinctive desire based on an emotional connection. A study by the Charity Commission found that just 19% of survey respondents describe the relationship they have with their chosen charity as ‘engaged’.
So, which charities excel when it comes to explaining purpose and engaging consumers? Here are a few examples that I think do it well.
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Mind provides help and support for anyone suffering from a mental health issue. Emphasis on the word anyone, as Mind hammers home the message that poor mental health is an every day and very real occurrence for people from all walks of life.
The charity’s tagline, ‘for better mental health’, perfectly sums up this overarching purpose, with much of its copywriting designed to show warmth and compassion, while being unafraid to talk about difficult topics.
Research by Mind previously found that formal language was preventing people from truly engaging with the charity. Phrases like ‘mental distress’ and ‘Mind’s services’ were coming across as almost clinical – something that is already likely to put off a person from visiting their GP or seeking help elsewhere.
Using more personal, empathetic language means that the charity is able to better connect with those who might be struggling, and convey that it’s okay to seek help.
Instead of referring to Mind in the third person, it uses ‘we’ and ‘our’ wherever possible to show that it is a team of caring and compassionate individuals, not a faceless organisation.
Another way it conveys purpose is to tell the stories of others, continuously reminding sufferers that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that with help, they can reach it too.
A few years ago Matt was homeless with unstable mental health. Now he’s taking on a drumming world record for Mind > https://t.co/uem0noU4q4 pic.twitter.com/njShNhIcZc
— Mind (@MindCharity) August 11, 2017
Whether you’re suffering from cancer or know someone who is, it’s obviously a very hard subject to talk about. For cancer charities, it can be similarly difficult to strike the right balance between emotion and rationale.
On one hand, tapping into its emotional aspects can help campaigns to resonate, as well as raise awareness and drive fundraising. On the other, a lot of people look to charities for straightforward and helpful advice – not pity or over-the-top empowerment.
Macmillan tends to get the balance right. It does a great job of talking about cancer in an upbeat and positive way, without sugar coating the problem or giving false hope. Its purpose – to provide support for people affected by cancer from the moment of diagnosis – shines through in all communication.
Describing itself as a charity that ‘helps people live their lives’ might sound a bit broad, but it sums up how most people dealing with cancer probably feel about the situation. Ultimately, it’s a massive disruption to normality, so anything that can help people deal with every day life – be it through financial, practical, or emotional support – is what’s needed.
This tone of voice also extends to its fundraising efforts, asking people to help support its initiatives without veering into scaremongering or being overly sentimental.
The RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) aims to save lives at sea. In fact, this is its tagline – so there’s certainly no doubt about what its purpose is. It’s often a little easier to promote a purpose for charities that deal with specific issues, however, it can be a challenge to convey both purpose and urgency.
Think about it this way. You might agree that saving lives at sea is important, but you might naturally also question just how many people get into trouble at sea – and assume that it’s not that common, or an issue worth your support.
RNLI uses copywriting to cut through these assumptions, reinforcing the motivation behind its mission, and letting people know how prevalent the problem is.
It also uses education to try to help prevent problems at sea from occurring in the first place, with clever and engaging guides on what to do if you ever get into trouble.
This year we are calling on the public to fight their instincts and remember one simple skill – floating #RespectTheWater #FloatToLive pic.twitter.com/knOnd9sho6
— RNLI (@RNLI) May 25, 2017
While a lot of charities focus on helping a problem or supporting those affected, it’s less common to aim to solve an issue completely. However charity: water – which helps to bring clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries – believes that it can eradicate the water crisis in our lifetime.
It even uses this statement in the H1 tag on its homepage, letting users know from the get-go just how confident the charity is about reaching its goal.
Elsewhere, its tone of voice is similarly self-assured, encouraging people to raise money in various ways.
It makes fundraising sound simple, easy, and fun, and continuously reminds people about the results the charity has already achieved.
This type of social proof is an incredibly useful tool for charities. Not only does it inspire people to think ‘if they can do it, so can I’ – but it also furthers the reputation of the charity itself. It also shows supporters where their money is going and how it is being used, which in turn can increase the likelihood of repeat donations.
Thanks to your generous donations, what once took hours every day for families in Uganda now takes minutes. pic.twitter.com/WA0ju7s95J
— charity: water (@charitywater) August 25, 2017
Battersea Cats and Dogs Home
Alongside its core mission of rehoming animals, Battersea Cats and Dogs home works tirelessly to achieve wider goals related to animal welfare. It does not position itself as a charity with a single purpose, but the multi-faceted ‘championing of animals’.
As a result, it uses its online presence to reach animal-lovers of all kinds, recognising the fact that it might be able to engage and communicate its core aim using a softly-softly approach on social media.
This means that it does not always directly ask followers to donate or raise money, but instead promotes local pet events or publishes behind-the-scenes style content from Battersea. By using a friendly, casual, and relaxed tone of voice, it is able to forge continuing relationships with supporters as opposed to one-off or fragmented communication.
Our next pet event takes place in #Hackney – 9 Sept, Pembury Community Centre, E8 1HL. Free #microchipping & more https://t.co/WIhuvjLDZZ pic.twitter.com/ShONMl40wa
— BatterseaDogs&Cats (@BDCH) August 31, 2017
In doing so, it becomes more than just a charity asking for money, but a real part of people’s lives.