Avoid These! 10 Mistakes in Calls to Action

In her continuing series, we welcome special guest, Stelter Editorial Director, Katie Parker.

The classic call to action is “Buy Now!”. This slick phrase hits all the high notes: It’s urgent, clear, actionable and succinct.

Every day your donors are bombarded by interruptive marketing and plenty of attempts to call their attention to a brand’s desired action (one study suggests we are served as many as 10,000 messages daily). Billboards carry phone numbers and web URLS; push notifications offer app updates; ads are slickly woven into the radio moderator’s guest introductions; three-second videos auto-play in social feeds.

At this point, “Buy Now!” only works for Amazon (that exact phrase, minus the exclamation point, appears in a big orange button on all their products…right underneath “Add to Cart”). What “Buy Now!” fails to answer is the one of marketing’s fundamental questions: What’s in it for me?. The real heart of every transaction is the buyer’s feeling that their life will improve or, alternatively, get worse (they’ll miss out) if they don’t take the next step.

A good call to action (CTA) moves prospects further down your marketing funnel and closer to conversion. Indicating interest and sharing their information in the process helps you identify a donor’s goals and your nonprofit’s best potential for partnership. With this in mind, consider these 10 mistakes that can sink your direct mail or digital calls to action.

1. Make It About You

Your donors want to know the impact that their gift will make on the people your organization serves. If you spend your call to action (and your copy, for that matter) celebrating your brand’s virtues, you are missing the connective tissue that helps the donor see what’s in it for them. Ensure that the value proposition is first and foremost.

2. Use It To Educate

If you haven’t educated the donor leading up to making an ask then your copy flow needs to be reviewed. A call to action seals the deal, not explains the deal.

3. Hide It

An obvious one, but design is critical. If a donor can’t find the call to action because it appears in the same font in the same color as the body copy of a 300-word impact story, they are going to be challenged to take the next step. In a digital marketing piece, ensure that the location is “above the fold;” that is, before a donor has to scroll. Eliminate effort.

4. Be Unrelated to the Content

Calls to action and the coordinating offer should complement or supplement the story around it. Match your CTA to the interests of the reader for your best chance of success.

5. Be Wordy

Clear and simple win the day.

6. Use Vague Language

Clarity is paramount to CTAs. What do you want your reader to do? How do you want them to do it? When do you want them to do it by? Make these answers obvious, leaving no guesswork.

7. Oversell

Be genuine in what the donor will receive as a result of taking action. Exaggerating the benefits of a brochure or society membership, for instance, will only result in loss of trust in a trust-dependent lifetime relationship.

8. Overuse CTAs

You should have a singular point of view in a call to action—contact me, return this reply card, click this button. Cluttering a page with too many of these will offer diminishing returns.

9. Use the Same CTAs for Everyone

Segmentation is a key way to make your calls to action more effective. What age of donor is reading the material? In what part of the country do they live? What do you know about their relationship with your nonprofit? The more you know about your list, the more tightly you can align your call to action to their unique needs.

10. Be Emotionless

The heart always beats the head. Ensure that your call to action is engaging on an emotional level—how will the donor feel as a result of taking the next step?

Better Your CTAs

Nab a few specific tips for your direct mail and digital CTAs with these examples from the pros. It takes just five minutes to review your next marketing piece: Are you committing any call to action crimes?

4 thoughts on “Avoid These! 10 Mistakes in Calls to Action

  1. Urgency in planned giving is like a non-starter. Too often we struggle to make our call our action…. well, actionable. I love this article! It’s spot-on with its relevancy and ways to correct our mistakes should we be making them. Bravo!

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