4 Ways to Improve Your Call to Action

Donation boxes work better when they tie to the place's theme and explain how funds will be used.
Donation boxes work better when they tie to the place’s theme and explain how funds will be used.



Provoking further thought or action is an idea we often make reference to in the business of conservation, interpretation and social marketing. How many times have you seen this phrase on a website, brochure, or exhibit: You Can Help – Here’s How! We want people to do their part and make a difference in the world, but some requests are more likely to yield results than others. Here’s four ways to improve your call to action.





  1. The task should be easily completed and within the ability of most folks. You can ask people to carry a reusable bag to the grocery store, sign a petition, share the message, make a small donation, clean up their local environment or volunteer to work at a local event. When you make the tasks to get involved very complex or expensive, few will make the effort. Frame the request clearly so they know what to do and how much time and money investment they might be in for. Research into donor websites have shown that making people click multiple times from page to page will chase away the donors. Amazon.com aptly demonstrates that “ease of use” matters. They have One-click purchasing and easy to navigate order forms. People need a simple, direct way to get involved and help, whether signing up to volunteer, donating money or being an advocate.
  2. The requested task actually makes a difference. It’s important to know that your request is actually helpful and not merely symbolic or worse yet, the wrong thing to do for some reason. What you encourage people to do should be consistent with your organizational mission. If you invite gifts to a charity (other than your own), have you checked out the organization and know their funds go where intended, directly and efficiently? The recent ALS Challenge is brilliant from a social media standpoint and has raised funds for a worthy charitable cause. However, it has also raised the question of how dumping clean water and ice on the ground is a “good thing to do.” And should our donation commitments be based on celebrity “kitchy” requests or deeper and growing commitments to what we wish to support? Hitting “Like” on Facebook is a fun and easy way to participate, but does it lead to any real support for a program or campaign of real value?
  3. The requested task has a sustainable value. When you ask people to do things that build their understanding of environmental or social problems, they will often look for other ways to be involved. Inviting folks to clean up a river valley, work at a recycling center, or contribute household items to a worthy program can build a sense of ownership and demonstrate the longer-term effects of the action. They grow in understanding and often in commitment to helping further.
  4. There is some easy and visible way to measure progress towards success. If you invite people to donate, volunteer or otherwise participate it is helpful if you can report how the effort performs. I once led a Clean Up the Rivers annual event in Pueblo, Colorado, and we could visibly report the cubic yards collected by volunteers. We actually flipped our measures of success after a few years to other measures like “volunteer hours” contributed because the task had shifted from pulling car bodies out of the river to picking up pop can tab tops and cigarette butts. We wanted people to know they had accomplished the original task. The rivers became so clean due to their efforts that the waste stream was reduced.
Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program helps people remember which fish are sustainably harvested with a handy pocket guide.
Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program helps people remember which fish are sustainably harvested with a handy pocket guide.


The approach you use to provoke further thought or action can make the difference between getting real, measurable results or falling off your audience’s radar. Keep challenging people to take next steps, and you may just get what you ask for.


– Tim Merriman



Published by heartfeltassociates

Lisa Brochu and Tim Merriman are married and serve as Principals of Heartfelt Associates. They write fiction and non-fiction, raise miniature horses and consult with parks, zoos, museums, historic sites, nature centers and aquariums on heritage interpretation and visitor experiences.They live on the Big Island of Hawaii on a small Kona coffee farm overlooking Kealakekua Bay.

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