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How type and layout can help you raise more money

Type and layout – what could that possibly have to do with building great relationships with your donors?

If you’re serious about communicating in the best way with your donors, then it’s critical that you create material that your donor can read.

Think about your older donors. They may be in great shape but many of them don’t see as well anymore.  Bifocals anyone?

When was the last time that you looked at all your communications materials through an older donor’s eyes?  If you’re losing half your readers because you’ve set your type too small, it’s white on black or you’ve squeezed in far too many words on a page, then that’s the wrong message to send to your donors.

For examples of great messages,  take a look at the materials produced by marketers of products for older consumers – and you’ll see what we’re talking about. Or, in the not-for-profit world, take a look at the websites of charities whose mission it is to support those with vision impairment.

Smart fundraising is thinking about readability online and in your printed material.

The late communications and advertising legend David Ogilvy wrote:

“If you write advertisements for a living, as I do, it’s a matter of life and death that what you write should be read by potential customers.  It’s the headline and the copy that do the selling.”

As a fundraiser, you may not produce many advertisements. But this lesson applies equally to 4-page appeal letters, newsletters, donor updates, emails and so on.

Donor-focused checklist for older eyes

Fundraisers, on average, are pretty young. Donors, on average, are pretty old. So there’s an interesting gap to overcome in connecting fundraisers and donors.

Because most of your donors will be older than you, they won’t see your communications, online or offline, like you do.

And if they can’t see it, they can’t give.

Central to truly being donor-led and investing in relationship fundraising is your ability to make your fundraising big, bold, beautiful and unmistakably clear.  These are the principles of good design and communication.

And those qualities make your message appealing to donors of all ages – not just your older audience.

This checklist for printed material will help you design for older eyes. Proper formatting goes a long way towards building a great donor relationship!

  • Use larger type (12-14pt). For older eyes, larger type is a good customer experience. Small type isn’t – so don’t use it.
  • Use appropriate typefaces. Traditional typographic wisdom holds that serif typefaces are easier to read in long blocks of text. For older eyes, the finishing stroke helps to distinguish one letter from the next.Choose a font that works effectively in the medium you are using for your donor communications. Some fonts render well onscreen while others are better for printed material.
  • Have reasonable line lengths (no more than about 65 characters wide). Really wide line lengths tire the eye.
  • Flush left, ragged right (instead of justified) allows the eye to find the next line easily. This makes for natural reading.
  • Use normal letter spacing or ‘tracking’. Don’t space your letters too close together as that becomes difficult to read. Make line spacing larger than usual. Single space may be too hard to read so try 1.5 or double spacing.

Make sure your type is clean and easy to read. Copy needs space to breathe on the page – if it looks too hard to read it generally will be.

  • Use caps, italics and underlining sparingly: this doesn’t mean never use it, but in general, avoid all caps if you can, even in headlines. For older eyes, use upper and lower case and limit the use of italics, script and ornate typefaces.
  • Good colour choices, well-contrasting elements. Black type on a white background will always be beautiful – and pick a bright white. Minimise or preferably don’t reverse type out at all.
  • Break it up. Write short paragraphs and use subheadings, in bold to break up the long copy. Make generous use of bullets, numbered lists, sidebars and pull-out quotes to help break up your pages.
  • Make it easy to read: don’t use glossy paper, as the light reflects off the gloss, making it difficult for the reader to see the print. Use a matte finish.

Older donors are enthusiastic readers.  Follow these guidelines and take advantage of it.

Or, as author Colin Wheildon says in our book review for this month ‘Type and Layout’:

“Now there is nothing left to argue about. When you break the rules, you can predict how many readers you’ll lose as a result.”

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