Microsoft Word: The Fundraiser’s Frienemy
We copywriters have powerful tools at our disposal. Microsoft Word probably leads the pack. It makes our jobs faster and easier. But in today's business-centric world, Word has evolved into an implement for corporate use. As writers who specialize in fundraising, this presents a challenge.
Fundraising is not exactly a business, but fundraising organizations are increasingly structuring themselves according to business models. This is good because operating in a businesslike way can boost efficiency and profitability.
But it's also dicey, because donors and prospects don't think of nonprofits as businesses and don't want to. They see the causes they support as being above crass commercialism.
The job of the fundraising copywriters is to persuade people to send in money in return for nothing but a good feeling. Positive self-worth, moral satisfaction, the sense that one is part of an ethical elite — the "caring few" — these are the products we sell, and they are intangibles.
Our writing needs to reflect warmth, personality, passion and humanity. Word is generally set up for formal, impersonal, business communication.
When you open a new Word document to start writing, here's what you see: Your document is preset with a simple, clean sans-serif font like Arial or Calibri. It's preformatted with left-justified paragraphs, and 1.5 spaces between lines.
For fundraising copy, these "helpful" decisions that have been made for you are wrong, wrong, and wrong.
1. Sans-serif fonts look great for design, but they are harder to read in long blocks of text. There's a good reason that novels, newspapers and major publications still use Times, Garamond, Georgia, etc. And why more fundraisers than you might think still even use Courier.
Those little wings and curlicues on the tips of letters make the readers' job easier. Readers can intuit more words at a glance and get your meaning more easily. That matters because fundraising letters are rarely read with much care or attention.
You have to make an emotional impression fast. That doesn't mean the letters you write need to be short necessarily — long letters still rock — but when donors and prospects scan the page, serif fonts make it easier for key words to jump out.
2. "Single space the letter, and double space between paragraphs." This rule is so basic that copywriting legend Herschell Gordon Lewis includes it as part of his canon on how to write copy, "On the Art of Writing Copy: Third Edition." He says: "A letter should set itself up for easy reading. A double spaced letter is not only harder to read but double spacing balloons every aspect fatly outward ... Worse, the page has an overall gray look because the space between paragraphs is identical to the space within paragraphs. Emphasis is far harder to achieve,"
Word defaults to 1.5 spaces instead of 2, but half-as-bad is still not good.
3. The rule for informal writing is still that paragraphs should be intended five spaces. Indented paragraphs tell your readers instantly that this is a personal letter, not a cold business communication. So they proceed into your message a lot less warily.
These are subtle details to be sure. And if emotions were logical it probably wouldn't matter. But they're not and it does.
If you get in the habit, it takes about 10 seconds to reformat a Word doc to a serif font and single spacing, and set a tab indent. If you want to make your readers' job easier (and you do!), it's worth the time.
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.