Voice, tone and writing like a human

Dogs Trust

Ok, I hear you. What’s that title all about? Everybody writes ‘like a human’ don’t they? Well you’d think so, but have you ever read a promotional email that just didn’t sound… real? Sometimes when we have an important message to get across, or an action we want our supporters to take, it’s easy to forget that good copywriting is just one person having a conversation with another person. It should always sound totally natural.

Fortunately, there are loads of little tips and tricks to make sure that everything you write is easy, authentic and fun to read. But first let’s kick off with a quick look at the difference between voice and tone.

What is voice?

Voice is (kind of) the boring bit. This is where you learn the rules that will make your writing consistent across your charity. It’s the nuts and bolts around things like:

– Your house style. How does your charity speak to its supporters? Are you chatty or formal? Do you tell stories or stick to the facts?

– Your grammar, punctuation and spelling. How often do use exclamation marks, SHOUTY CAPITALS, and casual contractions like you’d and we’d?

– The way you phrase things. Do you have a standard way of naming new products, services or marketing campaigns? Are page titles capitalised all the way through or just at the start?

Dogs Trust is a great example of a charity with a really clear, recognisable (and lovely) voice. From their blog to their Facebook page and even their ‘About us’ section, they stick to the same tone, and make you feel like you’re just chatting to a friend.

Dogs Trust

Once you’re familiar with how your own organisation speaks to its supporters, you can start to experiment more with tone. That’s the fun part.

So tone then. What’s that all about?

Glad you asked. Tone is how you make your writing sound human, readable and interesting for your supporters.

Think about who are you writing for, and what they might be expecting to hear.

Imagine you’re writing a series of emails. How would you talk to each of the following people?

– A fundraiser who’s just completed a marathon

– A potential new corporate partner

– A supporter who is making a donation in memory of someone

Your voice should stay the same for all three emails, but your tone will need to be very different for each one.

Consider what each person is feeling, and how they might expect to be spoken to. The marathon runner probably feels pretty amazing, so your email can be happy, jokey and cheerful. Here’s an email we send to fundraisers after an event to encourage them to tell their friends they finished their challenge.

Congratulations email

A corporate partner would expect to see a slightly more formal email, and a supporter who is donating in memory will need language that is supportive, considered and sensitive. Vary your tone to match the situation, just like you would in real life.

Want a great tool to learn more about adapting your tone? Head over to MailChimp’s interactive voice and tone guide. And have a look at their blog too. It’s a masterclass in how to write about your business in a warm, human way.

Voice and tone Mailchimp

Tips and tricks

Now let’s talk about the quick checks you can do to make sure your voice is consistent, your tone is appropriate, and you’ve written something that people will actually enjoy reading.

1. Read it out loud. There is no better way to spot mistakes than reading your writing out loud. You’ll trip up much more quickly when you’re not just scanning the text in your head. Reading out loud is also vital for checking your tone. Do you sound natural, like you’re having a genuine conversation? If anything feels uncomfortable or forced when you say it out loud then that’s exactly how it will sound to your reader.

2. Keep it simple. When there are lots of actions your supporters could take for you – reading your latest blog post, making a donation, or liking a new campaign on Facebook – it’s tempting to try and communicate all of them at the same time. That won’t sound like a friendly conversation, it’ll sound like an advert. Don’t ask for too much. Charity: Water handle this really well in the email below. Their text is conversational, and they stick to two very simple asks: read Mulitani’s story and donate .

Charity water email

3. Have a look at what other people are doing. Whenever you receive an awesome marketing email, or see a social media post that really worked, keep it on file. Make a note of all the organisations that have a great – really human – way of writing and use them for inspiration next time you’re sitting in front of a blank page.

Seen a great example of copywriting recently? Let us know in the comments!

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Holly is a content editor at JustGiving. She spends a worrying amount of time thinking about email subject lines, error messages and mobile optimised landing pages.