This is a guest post by Jennifer Miller, Creative Director, T.rueSense Marketing. This is the ninth post in a special 12-part monthly series — Powerful Nonprofit Stories: Finding, Framing, and Finishing.
Name the first Stevie Wonder song that comes to your mind. Got it?
If you thought of You Are the Sunshine of My Life, you’re already on your way to writing better story headlines. I’ll explain more below. But first, a quick detour on the purpose of headlines …
Headlines grab attention. They’re like the crook of a finger, beckoning you in. The main function of a headline is to get your reader into your story.
A headline prompts a choice: Read on or move on. Bad headlines can be like a red light and stop you. Good headlines are a green light, urging you into the story.
The New York Post has an almost cult-like following with their pun-laden and catchy headlines. One of the most famous reads, “Headless Body in Topless Bar.” Intriguing, right? Makes you want to read more. Green light … reading on.
But cute and clever is rarely the goal in nonprofit storytelling. Your goal is to share impact. Show emotion. Motivate action. That often starts with the headline. The caveat: It’s not as easy as you think to write really impactful, attention-grabbing, donor-affirming headlines. So here are five tips:
- Keep your audience in mind. Are YOU the audience? Probably not. Don’t write a headline with yourself in mind. Is your organization the audience? Negative. Don’t write a headline to satisfy the CEO. If your audience is donors and supporters, craft a headline uniquely for them. Which means …
- Include YOU in your headline. The story is about YOU, the donor. How YOU made a difference. How YOU changed a life. How YOU saved the day. If you can’t get YOU in the headline, consider adding it in a subhead or a callout.
- Get an action verb in your headline. You want to move your donors to action. You want them to feel the momentum of what their gifts are doing and be empowered. Action verbs help you carry the ball forward from headline to story to, well, call to action.
- What’s the big deal? Ask yourself that before you write a headline. What was the conflict? The thing the donor helped address or solve? Headlines should include a nod to the problem at hand. And, of course, how the donor helped address that problem.
- Don’t be afraid to craft a headline that’s actually a question. A question is a great way to pull a reader into the story. We naturally want answers. The right question can help ensure your reader reads on.
So what does Stevie Wonder have to do with all of this?
There are three reasons to keep You Are the Sunshine of My Life in mind the next time you need to craft a headline:
- YOU is in the title. Remember to use YOU.
- Regardless of the story details, your big goal is to tell your donors that they are awesome. Through their giving, they are a ray of sunshine for someone. They’ve done something wonderful.
- Music is a good break when you get stuck. We’ve all been there, staring at a blank screen. Take a break. Listen to a few tunes. Then come back at it and write a gangbuster headline that’s impossible to ignore.
Final tip: Remember Stevie Wonder the next time you have to write a headline, and you’re sure to keep your story humming along.
Next month in part 10 of this series: Testimonials, quotes, and snippets. Oh my!
Jennifer Miller has 21 years of experience in direct response. She’s worked for 10 years as a Creative Director at TrueSense Marketing (www.TrueSense.com, www.linkedin.com/company/truesense-marketing; @TrueSenseMktg), helping nonprofits raise more funds through donor-centered strategies. With a Master’s in journalism and hundreds of published articles, Jennifer is in her element when she’s getting a story firsthand. Her secret? She likes to talk to people, and her goal is to get them to talk back! (Note: This doesn’t always work when it comes to rescued pets at animal welfare organizations.)