7 Direct Response Copywriting Lessons from a Charity Fundraiser

More icon arrow down green color

I stood in the middle of the street, legs apart and eyes squinting, like a cowboy ready to draw.

But I didn’t have a ‘Peacemaker’ or ‘6 Shooter’ slung around my waist. And this wasn’t the Shootout at the O.K Corral.

It was Sydney, Australia – 2006. And I was armed with an A4-sized folder, packed full of info about ‘Save the Children’ and forms requiring signatures and credit card details… eyeing the street for my next victim.

Yep. I was one of those.

You know – the annoying pests you try desperately to avoid in streets, malls and train stations. Even the slightest hint of eye contact might lure you into their overly-friendly and persuasive spell. And before you know it – you’ve signed up for monthly donations to what actually turns out to be an awesome cause, for only the cost of a cup of coffee per week… Damn it!

The Showdown Begins

“There you are!” I exclaimed loudly. Confidently. Assumptively.

And I reached out my arm to shake the hand of a passing lady who’d made the fatal mistake of emulating my smile.

“I absolutely love your polka dot dress. Where did you get it from?”

And so the rapport-building dance began. We chatted about Sydney, London, my accent, her accent, travelling, music, dogs – anything and everything. So much so that I almost completely forgot to tell Jenny (her name) about the charity I was promoting.

Or at least that’s what she was led to believe…

“So anyways Jenny, let me tell you a bit about the awesome cause we’re promoting today and why everyone’s been giving us so much support. I know you’ll want to jump on the band wagon with this…” – and I gave her the full spiel.

Of course there was no denying that this was a worthy cause. And in order to genuinely help a suffering third world child drastically improve their living standard, she would only have to cut back on a couple of Starbucks treats a week. Just 40 Ozzy dollars (tax deductible) a month.

A no-brainer, right?

“But the thing is – I’ve just moved into a new place and cash is pretty tight at the mo I’m afraid.”

“Oh no – that’s fine, I completely understand – we’ve had loads of people in exactly the same boat as you today Jenny. People who have really wanted to help out, but are a bit strapped for cash… And that’s completely understandable. In fact we’ve just signed up a bunch of students today on our special package – which is literally half the cost – only $20 a month – but still goes a really really long way”

Does this sound familiar?

“So what I can do for you Jenny –  is get you onto this student package for now – and in a few months, if funds allow, you can think about raising your donation to help out a little more. Of course, it’s a piece of cake to cancel your sponsorship at any time if you need to”

Time to Seal the Deal

“So, you obviously agree that $20 is more affordable, right?”

“Well, yeh”

“And I can tell you really want to help out with the cause – and would love to give one of these children here a better life, right?”

“Yes, of course”

“And I have to ask you, are you over 21 Jenny?”

“Oh -yes, very much so!” (She said blushingly)

“Great! So all I need to know is; which one of these 3 children would you like to sponsor?”

And boom!

She picked one, gave me her deets and the deal was sealed.

What’s This Got to Do with Direct Response Copywriting?

Charity fundraising is a form of sales. Pressure sales to be precise.

The goal of the charity fundraiser – whether they’re trying to stop you in the street or come knock-knocking upon your door – is to elicit a direct response from you. They want to sign you up on the spot.

Not tomorrow, or next week. NOW.

Because the longer people wait to make a purchasing decision, the more time there is for those evil doubts to creep into their minds.

And although fundraisers help to generate cash for really great causes (most of the time), these happy, bubbly, persuasive folk are usually trained in the deadly art of persuasion.

They learn and apply the same psychological sales tricks as a car salesman. Or a telesales rep. Or a direct response copywriter.

So here’s what we can learn about sales copywriting from my face-to-face encounter:

1. Grab Attention

Of course the first thing you need to do in sales, whether spoken or written, is hook your target customer’s attention. On the street we used to sing, dance, grin seductively, force eye contact, pretend they’d dropped something, ask for the time – and all sorts!

With sales copy, you’ll need a powerful and intriguing headline to lure them in. Questions with the words ‘this’ or ‘these’ work like a charm. E.g, John Caple’s legendary ad headline; ‘Do You Make These Mistakes in English?’

***Pop your name and email address in the pop-up box to the right now to get ’16 ways to write a potent headline’ in your inbox!***

2. Build Rapport

Trust is essential in sales. People buy from people they trust, and like.

With face-to-face sales you get the opportunity to build up some invaluable rapport. Once you connect with someone, have a bit of a giggle together, and become their temporary ‘friend’, they’ll be like putty in your hands…

Sounds sinister, I know.

With sales copywriting you won’t get an actual 2 way dialogue, but you can make your reader feel like they’re having one.

Be conversational. Use colloquial language and charming idioms. Ask them questions. Make them pause for thought. Use the words ‘you’ and ‘yours’ (a lot!). Address them by their first name frequently. Relate to them and their problem; say things like ‘I know how you feel’ and ‘me too’.

And you can find a heap more bite-sized copywriting tips in this blog post, to help you write clear, compelling, conversational copy that builds rapport.

3. Apply the ‘Jones Theory’

One of the most powerful techniques in sales is known as the ‘Jones Theory’. Originating from the phrase ‘Keeping up with the Jones’s’

It plays on the wonderful notion that everyone loves trends. Everyone wants to do and have what everyone else does and has. If 5 million people say a product is fabulous, then it must be fabulous. Right?

So use the word ‘everyone’. Tell your reader how many tens, hundreds, thousands, millions or billions of people are reaping the rewards of your offering right now. Especially if these are customers are people your readers can relate to, or admire.

And last but not least…

Use testimonials! They’re the meat and potatoes of any persuasive copy.

4. Create a Sense of Urgency

Another classic direct response sales trick. Classic – because it works.

Did you notice how many times I used the word ‘now’ and ‘today’ in my sales pitch to Jenny? That’s because I wanted her to feel like she had to make a decision on the spot. Right then and there.

If you can create a sense of urgency with your sales copywriting, e.g, with a limited-time or limited-amount offer, your reader is much more likely to buy.

Use phrases like ‘now’, ‘today’ , ‘immediately’, ‘last chance’ and ‘only 5 left in stock!’

5. Be Assumptive

Right from the get-go, I knew Jenny was going to stop for me. And I knew she was going to sign up.

That’s why I didn’t ask her if she wanted to stop and hear my spiel. I stuck my hand out knowing that she’d shake it.

And that’s also why – at the crunch of the sales pitch – I didn’t ask Jenny if she wanted to jump on board and sign up. I asked her which child she wanted to sponsor.

This works the same with direct response copy. Be assumptive. Ooze confidence. Believe in your offering. And most importantly; don’t give your reader the option to say no. Give them the choice between 2 or 3 different offers.

That way, you win either way.

6. Make Them Say (or Think) ‘Yes’!

It’s been proven that if you say yes three times, you’ll be a hell of a lot more tempted to say ‘yes’ a fourth time. In face-to-face sales, this works like a treat – just like in the Jenny scenario I just described.

It’s a little harder to elicit an actual spoken ‘yes’ with copywriting, but the rule still applies. So get your reader to agree with you several times, throughout your sales copy, and then sealing the deal will come all the smoother.

7. Start High, Then Back it Down

In face-to-face sales, this is one of the most ancient tricks in the book.

The disparity between 2 different figures, like $40 and $20, naturally makes us see the lower figure as a whole lot lower than it actually is, and the higher one as a whole lot higher.

The comparison exaggerates both numbers.

So when I backed down to the special ‘student package’ of only $20 a month, it suddenly became much more affordable and reasonable to Jenny. Although, if I’d started the pitch with $20, she would have likely reacted in exactly the same way.

This little tactic also plays on the ‘law of reciprocity’ which the great Robert Cialdini explains in his epic masterpiece; ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’.

By backing down on my initial offer, the target customer (in this case, Jenny) will feel like I’ve done them a favour. They then feel obligated to reciprocate the gesture by handing over their credit card details! Especially if you back down a second time.

And how can you apply this to direct response copywriting?

By giving your readers a whopping big discount!

Make sure you first tell them how much monetary value they’ll be getting from you offer, along with the bucketloads of benefits… and then hit them with your special (time-limited) discounted price! The two figures will seem like polar opposites.

Ever wondered why Groupon offers are so darn compelling?


Any Other Tricks Up Your Sleeve?

Let us know your thoughts, questions and any other sales copywriting tricks we’ve missed below now!

Oh – and click those big round share buttons too. OK?

Love you!


Want to get inside your prospects’ minds and sell more?

Download our FREE, expert eBook to unravel the mysteries of high converting copy.

Want to get inside your prospects’ minds and sell more?

Download our FREE, expert eBook to unravel the mysteries of high converting copy.

About the author

Konrad Sanders CEO & Lead Strategist at The Creative Copywriter
Hey you. I’m Konrad. A full-funnel content strategist and CEO with a pretty darn creative noggin on my shoulders. I run a team of word-slinging cowboys and strategists who blend science with art to help bold brands get their words right at every step of the customer journey. Which means? They sell more stuff and grow predictable revenue. Brands like AECOM, Thomson Reuters, TikTok, Panasonic, Adidas, Mercedes-Benz, plus shedloads of tech scale-ups...and you? Let's connect.

Leave a reply

There’s a reason it “sounds sinister”. It is. This kind of manipulation is all about leveraging psychological insights to change people’s behaviour without their consent. The good cause, in this case, still doesn’t redeem the manipulation, because your lack of integrity feeds into people’s growing cynicism around. Sure, you’ll get a few donaitons now, but you’re eroding the social trust required for long-term social change.
PS. Konrad, do you ever use any of these strategies in your personal life?

Interesting point Ben. To be honest, I agree that these kind of face-to-face pressure sales techniques shouldn’t be used for charity fundraising. Especially by sales people like I was, who are just desperately trying to make commission on the spot (it was a commission-only job) and will stop at nothing to make that happen. But you can learn some powerful copywriting strategies from these techniques nonetheless. Aggressive, but powerful.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.