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Does Your Nonprofit Use Smart Calls to Action?

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It does you no good to drive folks to your website… have them follow you on social media… or even hear about you in the news – unless they take an action that furthers your mission.

Trust me, I know. At one nonprofit where I worked we asked folks to play a game online. As a result, we added over 10,000 Facebook followers. Guess what? Not a single one of them made a donation. We thought we were doing this for ‘awareness building’ (which I’ve since come to consider as a passive and absurd reason, standing alone, for doing anything), but we didn’t think it through. We weren’t smart about our strategy, because we didn’t consider how driving new ‘friends’ to our social media page would help our bottom line.

Whatever fundraising or marketing strategy you roll out, you’ll want to persuade visitors to take some sort of action. It might be to subscribe to your email list… download a research paper or “how to” guide… contact you for inquiries… watch and share a video… take an advocacy action… sign up to volunteer… or simply hit your donate button. 

Whatever it is you want people to do, one thing is clear.

You. Must. Tell. Them. What. And. When.

The challenging part? Convincing them they have to do what you want them to do! Now, not later.

Psychology to the rescue!

Psychology Behind CTA Marketing

Did you know there’s a whole science called conversion rate optimization? You probably already know a conversion rate is the percentage of people who complete a specific action. 

Your goal, always, is to boost that conversion rate.  

You want more people doing what you want them to do!

The good news is you do have some control over this.  

You just have to be smart. 

And, research reveals some words and phrases convert better than others.

In fact, a study by Hubspot of 93,000 call-to-action (CTA) marketing campaigns found a significant increase in conversions with so-called “Smart Calls to Action” — targeted call to action phrases that actively engage visitors on your website.

smart calls to action

Smart Call to Action Phrases

  1. Add to Cart
  2. Buy Today
  3. Call Now
  4. Click Here
  5. Contact Now
  6. Donate Today
  7. Enroll Now
  8. Find Out More
  9. Get a Free Quote Today
  10. Immediate Download
  11. Join Now
  12. Learn More
  13. Register Now
  14. Reserve Now
  15. See it in Action
  16. Sign-up Here
  17. Start Now
  18. Take the Tour
  19. Talk to an Expert
  20. Watch Our Tutorial

Now. Today. Here. More.

What converts best varies by industry. And it will vary by business within that industry too. SO… you’ll never really know what works best for you unless you test it. And, of course, you can test CTAs everywhere. On your website. On your landing pages. On your appeals. On social media. On marketing copy. On advertising. You’ll want to begin with simple A/B tests where you make only one change at a time; otherwise, you won’t know what caused the conversion. 

Yet even without testing, these general rules can help you a lot!

Benefits of Smart Calls to Action

Besides converting more leads to active engagers and investors, smart calls to action have these magical benefits:

  • It’s essentially free. It doesn’t cost any more to use a strong, active, targeted call to action than a namby-pamby one.
  • It lowers your cost of donor retention and acquisition. The higher you boost your conversions, the less it costs you to do so.
  • It gives you more money for acquisition. Since you’re raising more money, you can spend more elsewhere to acquire and upgrade nonprofit donors
  • You can improve everything. Whether your goal is more donations, new donors, greater sharing, volunteer recruitment, ticket sales or anything else, smart calls to action will boost response.

Smart Strategies Support Smart Goals

Presumably you want visitors to take a specific action for a purpose. Before crafting a CTA, get clarity on your goal.

  • Are you trying primarily to add new names to your list? 
  • To get more people to sign a petition or reach out to their elected official?  
  • To spread the word about an emergency? 
  • To recruit more volunteers? 
  • To make a general donation?
  • To respond to a specific campaign?
  • To attend an event?
  • To purchase some swag?

Think about how you’ll measure success. What’s the most important thing you want people to do? Then craft your call to action accordingly.  

One call to action at a time works best. Otherwise you run the risk of running into something called ‘analysis paralysis.’ Offer too many options and folks act like deer in a headlight. Too many decisions to make cause folks to make no decision at all. [Learn more about the famous jam study here]. 

It’s important to have a baseline against which you’ll measure. Before you embark on your new, smart strategy, take a measure of past results. How many clicked through on your “donate” button last year, for example? How many clicked through on your e-appeal “please give” link? And so forth.

Give to Get

I often say “if you want gifts you must give them,” and this holds true for calls to action.  

Think about why someone might answer your CTA. Generally, there must be something in it for them!

This means the rest of the copy and design surrounding your CTA must support that CTA.  

  • If you’re asking me to enroll in something, clarify what the benefits will be. 
  • If you’re asking me to give to something, clarify what impact I’ll be creating.
  • If you’re asking me to advocate or volunteer for something, clarify how this will make a difference.
  • If you’re asking me to buy something, clarify why I must not delay.

Make people feel if they ‘click’ it will give them something of value. 

Something they wouldn’t want to delay receiving even one week, one day, one hour, one minute, longer. Breaking news. Cutting-edge knowledge. Wisdom. Joy. Purpose. Connection. Relief. Fun. Something that will make them feel good!

CTA Placement Matters

You’ve probably heard it’s best to put your key messaging “above the fold.” And this used to hold true for both snail mail, email and website copy and design. While anecdotally this feels true to me, new research indicates people may be used to scrolling down. 

Tony Haile from Chartbeat studied this with 1 million visitors from 10 publishers they were handling and came up with this heat map showing the difference between above and below the fold. He found engagements were mostly performed in the middle — towards the bottom of the fold and towards the top of the page to which you scroll down. 

smart calls to action

My best advice is to put a CTA at the bottom of the top, and at the top of the bottom (so to speak). And, of course, this is something else you should test. 

Stay Smart

Conversion optimization is a never-ending process. What worked last year may not work as well next year. So you’ve got to keep testing.

You may get lucky and hit on your best option immediately, and it may stay your best option for quite some time. More likely, however, you’ll hone your best tactics over time.

To get started, you may find this free Ultimate Call-To-Action Kit from Hubspot handy. It’s oriented towards for-profit businesses, but it’s got plenty of useful info and templates from which nonprofits can also benefit.

Here’s to working smart!

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