Crafting stories that inspire action

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Gather round – it’s time to talk about copywriting for activism!

Writing compelling, motivating, inspirational emails is challenging. There are thousands of problems in this world to fix and you have just a few emails to do it in. Campaign copywriting is a bit of a balancing act: write enough story to draw your reader in, but not so much that they lose attention.

Let’s strip it back to the basics, and learn how to tell a story that inspires action.

The art of the plan

Work out your plan before you start writing – this will form the structure of your email. Which parts do you want to talk about, and when?

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Sketch it out in a blank document – and when you think of great turns of phrase or extra details, you can jot them down, chop and change things, and stitch it all together.

The crisitunity

The crisis-opportunity email is an activist classic. If you’ve ever read an email from Change.org, Greenpeace, SumOfUs or Avaaz, you’ve seen this one before. It’s popular because it works.

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Firstly, introduce the crisis: the horrible problem that everyone needs to be worried about – but one that’s not so insurmountable that it’s impossible to fix. Then introduce the opportunity for effective, immediate action. Here’s how it works:

  • The introduction opens the email with a one-line summary describing the problem and the solution in one.
    “We believe that ending plastic pollution is within our reach.”
  • The crisis is a short breakdown on the context of the problem. Present the problem as urgent, but not unassailable. Remind your readers about their values, and explain why this problem may challenge them.
    “Plastic pollution is choking our oceans and clogging our streets. Yet Corporation A is clinging to the status quo to protect profits, refusing to take part in a recycling scheme that would see less plastic playgrounds in our oceans, on our beaches and on our streets.”
  • The opportunity is the reader’s chance to solve the problem before a deadline. Maybe there’s a summit happening soon, or a decision point is about to be reached – but the action needs to happen now, or nothing will change.
    “The pressure is mounting. This week, the government will consider replicating a deposit recycling scheme in the UK – but no one is speaking up about it, and it could fizzle out at any moment.”
  • The action then tells the reader exactly what they need to do to be part of the solution.
    “It’s time for you to have your say. Join our big bottle return now and use your bottle emojis to show how many you’re ready to return. Share them on on Twitter and Facebook now.”

The cause-and-effect

In this type of email – also called the reader-focused theory of change – the reader becomes the central point of your email. They’re the hero of the story, and without them, the problem can’t be solved.

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  • The introduction is your one-line summary of the problem and solution.
  • The reader is introduced as the forefront of the situation. Their action comes first, and whatever they choose to do will directly affect the problem you are trying to solve.
    “Corporation A is dragging its feet on plastic pollution. But British citizens have had enough. We’re sick of plastic clogging our streets and choking our oceans. We’ve seen recycling schemes be hugely successful in Europe and Scotland – but when it comes to the rest of the UK, they’re digging their heels in.”
  • The opportunity is the reader’s chance to act on something that will directly affect the problem – this person is uniquely placed to be a part of the solution. Make sure you remember to give them a deadline!
    “It’s up to us to take a stand. This week, parliament will meet to debate the introduction of a plastic recycling scheme in the UK. We need to tell them that we’re behind them all the way.”
  • The action tells the reader exactly what they need to do.
    “Have your say. We’re sending Corporation A bottle emojis to show how many we’re ready to return. Share yours on Twitter and Facebook now.”

If you are starting to compose campaigning actions for your supporters, you might not know what kind of storytelling they respond best to yet. It’s worth conducting some A/B testing of the two types on different audiences to see which works best.

In Part 2 we’ll be sharing 10 top tips for inspiring action with your writing – so check back again soon!

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