ACCA – the fundraising copywriting formula you need to know

I’m sorry to betray my fellow copywriters like this, but let’s be fair guys, this is our worst-kept secret…

Copywriting really isn’t all that creative.

The truth is, it’s incredibly formulaic.

That’s not to say it isn’t creative at all – a lot of what we do requires broad strokes of expertise and flecks of genius, but the secret to our success is that we’re writing according to tried-and-tested structures.

There are hundreds of copywriting formulas. You may have heard of the more common examples, such as AIDA (which stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action). This simple structure is known as one of the most effective copywriting templates around and, once you know it, you’ll start to see it everywhere, even in advertisements written a hundred years ago.

But what about the third-sector? What is the secret to writing successful fundraising copy?

There are a few candidates, including some commercial formulas. I encourage you to seek out your own favourites, but from my experience there is one formula I recommend above all others: ACCA, which stands for Awareness, Comprehension, Conviction, Action.

Like other formulas, ACCA follows a classic three-act structure. It starts with a “BOOM” to grab your attention, before steadying the tone to provide elucidation, and ends with a rising emphasis on what the reader can do.

But unlike other formulas, ACCA focuses on personal conviction rather than problem solving. A donation to a charity does not solve problems in the same way that a commercial product can, which is why fundraisers must instead appeal to other aspects of their audience’s psyche.

To illustrate how ACCA can be used in a fundraising appeal, I’ll dissect a very simple direct mail piece from FOUR PAWS. This letter had just one aim, which was to get existing supporters to sign up to Gift Aid.

Here’s what Heli Dunger, founder of FOUR PAWS, wrote:

Dear supporter,
Just by ticking a box today, your recent donations could be worth an extra 25%!
Thanks to the government’s Gift Aid scheme, charities like ours can claim an extra 25% from the tax you’ve paid. And because we claim it from the government, you won’t pay a penny more.
This is a great chance to help animals around the world – for free
If you are eligible for Gift Aid, tick ‘Yes’ on your form and return it in the prepaid envelope. You can see if you’re eligible by reading the back of the form.

 

The letter goes on to provide a bit more detail about Gift Aid and why it’s important, but by the time the reader has finished the first four paragraphs, they have already been told all they need to know – and, more importantly, what they need to do.

Let’s see how the opening of this letter breaks down:

Awareness

Heli tells the reader why he’s contacting them today and makes them aware of a problem (in this case, they haven’t ticked a box, so their donations aren’t worth as much as they could be):

Just by ticking a box today, your recent donations could be worth an extra 25%!

Comprehension

Heli provides detail about the matter, which helps supporters to understand what they are being asked:

Thanks to the government’s Gift Aid scheme, charities like ours can claim an extra 25% from the tax you’ve paid. And because we claim it from the government, you won’t pay a penny more.

Conviction

Heli appeals to supporters’ personal convictions, giving them an emotional or rational reason to respond:

This is a great chance to help animals around the world – for free!

Action

Heli concludes with a simple yet effective call-to-action, asking supporters to do one thing:

If you are eligible for Gift Aid, tick ‘Yes’ on your form and return it in the prepaid envelope. You can see if you’re eligible by reading the back of the form.

 

ACCA works in other media as well. Here’s an example of a direct response TV ad from WaterAid – see if you can spot the four steps as you watch.

 

Awareness

As well as the title card, where we’re warned that the film will be shocking, we are shown this attention-grabbing statistic:

Comprehension

It is explained to us why, or rather how these children will die. The problem requires no illustration:

Conviction

‘2000 children,’ reads the voiceover. ‘It’s hard to stomach, isn’t it?’ You can’t disagree with the scale of the problem. This inspires your conviction (notice that the call-to-action appears at this time):

Action

Finally, you are asked to ‘pick up your phone right now’ and make a donation:

So there you have it – ACCA. The next time you’re reading a powerful, persuasive piece of fundraising copy, see if you can spot it.

Thanks for reading.