7 Easy Tips to Boost Your Fundraising-Appeal Results

I’ve recently come across some conversations on social media about the readability of nonprofit communications. The bottom line is that your loving cultivation messages and inspiring fundraising appeals will fail unless the people who receive them can read them.

Once you get people to open the envelope, click on your website link, open your email, or view your text, will they be able to easily read your message? If they can’t, it won’t matter how brilliantly written your message is. So, what do you need to do to ensure your audience reads what you send you to them?

While I’ve written about this before, I want to take this moment to share seven easy tips with you:

1. In print, use a serif font such as Times New Roman.

Serif fonts have little flourishes at the tips of letter strokes while sans-serif fonts such as Arial do not. Studies have shown that most readers have an easier time reading printed text that uses serif fonts. The exceptions to this are children and adults who are learning to read.

It’s unclear if serif fonts are easier to read because it makes letters more recognizable for experienced readers or if it is because it is simply what people are accustomed to seeing in print. In any case, readers will usually prefer reading printed material in a serif font. However, it’s important for you to know your audience and be guided by their preferences.

2. In electronic communications, use a sans-serif font such as Arial.

Some studies have shown that readers have an easier time reading electronic media messages that use a sans-serif font. The cleaner lines of a sans-serif font make it easier to read a message on a low-resolution screen. Fortunately, as screen resolutions have increased over the years, the choice between serif and sans-serif makes less of a difference.

However, with smaller screens, such as those on smartphones, a sans-serif font will be more readable. The issue really is no longer print vs. electronic. Instead, the issue is screen size. On smaller screens, cleaner fonts tend to be easier to read.

3. Never use reverse type.

Reverse type, whether in print or electronic media, is more difficult to read than dark type on a light background. It’s also easier to cut-and-paste, photocopy, and fax (Do people still do that?) copy that uses dark type on a light background. Some designers like to use reverse type for emphasis or because it looks pretty. Nevertheless, you should resist the temptation to use reverse type for the reasons stated. The darker the type and the lighter the background, the better.

4. Use a large font size.

While using an 8-point font size will allow you to cram more information into a tight space, recognize that that is not your objective. Instead, your objective is to make sure your message can be read easily. Readers over the age of 40 will appreciate messages that use a font size of 12 points. If your target audience is elderly or seeing impaired, you might even want to go larger. Again, it’s important to know your audience. In any case, you need to understand that, if your message strains a reader’s eyes, she’ll be less likely to actually read your wonderful, meticulously chosen words.

5. It’s not about you; it’s about your reader.

Remember, it does not matter what you like or don’t like, can read or can’t read. When communicating with others, it’s about what is best for them. Focus on your audience, not just with your words but also with how you present your words.

6. Use Plenty of White Space.

When you provide plenty of white space, you make your message less challenging to read and easier to skim. So, resist using tiny margins; go to another page if you need to. Write short paragraphs. Add a blank line between paragraphs. Use bullet points for emphasis and to create some extra white space.

7. Create a style manual.

Your organization should create and maintain a style manual that outlines, among other things, what font style and size you can use and when, as well as the policy regarding reverse type. Then, you can share the manual with staff and vendors who will be responsible for designing your organization’s communications. The style manual will ensure consistency and effectiveness.

Make it easier for people, particularly older people, to read your letters, emails, reports, newsletters, invitations, blog, website, and more. When you do, you’ll experience greater success with cultivation and, ultimately, with fundraising appeals. If people can’t, or won’t, read what you put in front of them, they won’t respond to your brilliantly chosen words the way you hope they will. To increase results, increase readability. It really is that easy.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

4 Comments to “7 Easy Tips to Boost Your Fundraising-Appeal Results”

  1. Great reminder of the core elements of effective communication, Michael. Thanks!

  2. Hi Michael, a great reminder worth repeating. During my many years in the PG world I became a big fan of 14 font size (sometimes 13). Always had a few recipients comment favorably that they appreciated my communication was easy to read.

    • Patti, thank you for sharing your experience. It’s wonderful that some of those you communicated with were moved to express their appreciation to you. Personally, I just had the opposite experience involving a charity my wife and I have supported in the past. The appeal consisted of a brochure, response card, and response envelope. There was no letter! The brochure used a sans-serif font of varying sizes ranging from small to tiny. The brochure even included reverse type. The small response card used a microscopic font size. It was an amazing package. If I didn’t know better, I would have suspected that a friend put it together as a joke after reading my post. It’s terrible communications like that that really help high-quality communications to stand out. Fundraisers that get it right can really shine by comparison.

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