6 Ways to Give Your Readers a Helpful Hand
Donors rarely read. First they glance. Then they scan. If you want them to read, you need to give them a hand.
That's why we always include a P.S. It's why we keep paragraphs shorter than seven lines. And it's why we sometime include "handwritten" margin notes. (I put the word in quotes because what we usually mean is that we use a font that's meant to simulate handwriting.)
"Handwriting" immediately gets attention and makes the letter look a lot more personal.
That's the theory anyway.
Unfortunately, sometimes, we take for granted the extra power "handwriting" can add to a letter and overlook one little detail: Most handwritten fonts don't look like handwriting at all.
Now, most readers are willing to grant you a certain amount of verisimilitude, but you've got meet them halfway. Here are six ways to give your readers a helpful hand (I apologize in advance to all you art directors — I'm about to make some sweeping generalizations about different fonts, but I promise it's all in search of the greater good):
- Make it legible, especially for older readers. Think of all those wedding invitations that come in "elegant" fonts like Edwardian Script. They may look very high-tone in that context, but even in short doses they can be a struggle to read. It's unlikely your donor's even going to bother trying.
- Use it sparingly. "Handwritten" copy should be the Sriracha sauce of a package. Use just enough to spice up the page and make it interesting. But too much is too much. Just use it to call out a few hot items, and quit while you're ahead.
- Make the font fit the signer. You'd be surprised how often someone in the collaborative creative process hears, "Use a handwritten font," and just plugs one of the three or four standard ones so often defaulted to. But watch your mail pieces and you'll marvel at how many different CEOs seem to have the same handwriting and how much that handwriting looks suspiciously like Brush Script Std.
- Make it fit the signature. It's fortunate that so many letter signers have illegible scrawls for signatures. That gives you a little more leeway in trying to find a font that looks like your signer. But you still need to match, not just the style, but the weight, the slant, the curve and even the gender, to meet the reader's expectations. In her mind, at least the male CEO of a camping and hunting trade association is going to have a hand that looks more like Bradley Hand than the Giddyup Std.
- Use it uniformly and consistently. This is another detail that gets overlooked more than you might think. Once you've established a "hand" for your letter signer, don't forget which one it is! Put it on the list of standard operating procedures, and use it for that person every time. Donors (more so than prospects) are generally willing to suspend their disbelief up to a point with "handwriting," but don't press your luck.
- Remember there are alternatives. Of course, if you can get the letter signer to actually write the notes, it'd be a wonderful world. But that doesn't usually happen. There are plenty of vendors, though, who can create alternative handwritten fonts to fit your needs, and autopen can be a great solution in certain circumstances. We often find someone, either in the client's organization or ours, whose penmanship fits the need and have that person write the note.
The purpose of "handwriting" is to enhance your message by drawing your reader more deeply in and showing her what parts of the letter to read first. But if it becomes a distraction, or she becomes discouraged trying to decode a font like Bickham Script, you're defeating your own purpose.
Willis Turner believes great writing has the power to change minds, save lives, and make people want to dance and sing. Willis is the creative director at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He worked as a lead writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 15 years before making the switch to fundraising 20 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, and collateral communications materials that get attention, tell powerful stories and persuade people to take action or make a donation.