How Easy Do You Need to Make Your Donor’s Life?
Answer: Very easy. Writing fundraising copy should be detailed and painstaking for you. Reading it should be fast and easy for your donor.
Direct mail has more competition than ever for your donor's attention. The moment your reader has to stop and think about your message, she's going to put it down and turn to the next thing that grabs her attention. Which could well be your competitor's package. Here's a short list of ways to make your readers' job easy:
- Use big type. Designers' love small type. The people who have to read it do not. Your donor has to be able to see what you write … and not only because she's probably older. Bigger is just easier. Believe it or not, a lot of people still get great results using Courier. But if that's just too crazy for you, try Times at 14 points. Don't overthink it.
- Direct mail isn't a brand statement. It's perfectly fine to have different style guidelines for the mail. When tested and proven direct mail practices—like big type, underlined sentences, one-sentence paragraphs, etc.—bump up against sophisticated graphic standards, you have to ask yourself, "Do I want good results or good taste?"
- Paint pictures with words. Writers are often told, "Show, don't tell." That means use language that focuses on revealing and emotional details. Instead of "rundown apartment," for example, say, "rain blew in through broken windows and ice crystals grew on the broken radiator."
- Paint pictures with pictures. Photos bring a story to life. Use close-ups of faces as often as you can, show the problems as well as the solutions, and give every picture a caption that tells the reader how to feel about it.
- Keep the reply readable. The reply device is the workhorse of your package, but don't work it to death. White space equals readability, so don't put any more on the front than you have to. Some people try to cram all the "important" stuff on the front, credit card info, check boxes for planned giving, sustainer clubs and heaven knows what else. A lot of that can go on the back and should. The more crowded the front looks, the less likely your donor will read—or respond to it.
- Ask for a specific action. "We really need your support" is ambiguous. "Please return your gift right away, along with the reply form, in the enclosed envelope," tells the reader what to do and how to do it. This is not talking down to her or stating the obvious. It's making her job easier.
- Urgent doesn't mean later on. "Please send your gift right away" is more urgent than, "Please send your gift today." Right now means stop what you're doing and get out your credit card. Today can mean after dinner, which, in many cases, might as well be tomorrow. Or next week. Or never.
Every time your reader has to stop and think, you're pushing her out of her emotional zone and into her analytical one. The money comes from her emotional zone.
Willis believes in expressive writing, exceptional fundraising, and exuberant living.
Willis Turner is the senior copywriter at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He was an experienced writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 20 years before making the switch to fundraising nearly 15 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, as well as collateral materials and communications, that get attention, tell emotional stories, and persuade people to take action or make a donation.