Emphasis in fundraising: how to use just enough, not too much

by guest blogger George Crankovic, Senior Writer at TrueSense Marketing.

If you want to add emphasis to your fundraising copy, you can use tricks like boldface, italics, underlining, ALL CAPS, and in some cases **asterisks** and other symbols.

But be careful not to overuse them. Because if you do, as legendary adman Herschell Gordon Lewis says, “When you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing.”

That’s what happens when virtually every paragraph in an appeal is thick with boldfacing, underling, italics, and even boldface and underlining both in the same line of copy.

You see this when fundraisers get desperate in their attempts to break through the clutter and connect with donors. But overusing type tricks creates more clutter, not less.

You also see it when graphic designers think of these tricks as visual embellishments — which is how most graphic designers would tend to think of them.

One purpose is to bring attention to specific parts of the message, like the offer or the calls to action. This helps to draw in and communicate with skimmers.

Another purpose is to add inflection to the copy voice, so that it better approximates the conversational tone we’re trying to achieve. It would be irritating to speak with someone who keeps raising his voice and emoting wildly the whole time. But that’s the impression readers get from copy that’s bristling with these tricks in every paragraph.

Keep your emphasis marks to between one to four per page of copy. But any more than that, and you’re just adding noise.

As Lewis says, when you try to emphasize everything, you’re telling your reader, “I have no idea what’s important to you, so I’ve thrown everything in there and you can go sort it out for yourself.”

Not a good message to send to donors. Don’t do it. Don’t let the graphic artist do it, either. Or your response rate will suffer.


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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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