Don’t make your copy hard to read even if your donors are educated

I heard a horrible rumor.

I heard there are writers out there who work hard to increase the grade level of their writing.

Seems some writers think grade level means education level. They believe if they’re writing for an audience that’s college-educated, the copy will be inappropriate, even insulting, if it’s not at least at 13th grade level.

Big mistake.

Writing that way guarantees fewer people will read your copy, and those who do will be less engaged. If you apply this reasoning to fundraising, results could be deadly. When people don’t read your message, they’re a lot less likely to respond.

Copy written at a low grade level copy does not “talk down” to educated readers or treat them like children. Sixth grade level copy isn’t just for 6th graders. It’s just easier to read. For everyone, no matter how educated they are.

We typically use the Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level, and by that measurement, fundraising copy shouldn’t go above 6th grade level.

Fleschformula

On average, donors are more educated than non-donors. They’re probably also smarter (though I’ve never seen any data on that). And they respond better to easier copy.

The whole idea of grade level equaling education kind of falls apart at the lowest grade levels:

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss has a grade level of −1.3. Which if you’re counting education level, is a little more than a year before kindergarten. The lowest possible grade level is −3.4, which is what a passage consisting entirely of one-word, one-syllable sentences would be. That means it’s appropriate for a child who’s not yet two years old. Which is just silly.

If you want people to read, understand, and respond to your writing, keep it somewhere between 4th and 6th grade levels. Your donors will reward you for your consideration.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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