4 ways NOT to underline in your direct mail fundraising

One of the most silly but common critiques of direct mail (“why direct mail is awful”) centers around the use of underlined copy.

It’s so tacky.

I happen to agree that it’s tacky. But my esthetics carry no weight in this question. Neither do yours, or anyone else’s — especially the board member who says the runaway use of underlining is either why direct mail won’t work, or a reason we should avoid it at all.

Thing is, underlining works.

Get used to it.

And while you’re getting used to it, get good at it!

Here’s help from The Better Fundraising blog, at How to Choose What to Underline and Why, particularly things not to underline in your direct mail:

  • Avoid pronouns. If you underline a sentence like “They need it now!” the donor does not know who “they” are and what “it” is.
  • Don’t underline too much. Too much underlining has the same effect as no underlining. Keep to three or four underlinings per page.
  • Don’t underline things you care about –emphasize what donors care about. Really avoid braggy statements, statistics, or flat declarations of facts.
  • Don’t underline boring. Choose drama. The whole purpose of underlining is to draw readers’ eyes to stuff they’re most likely to read.

Using underlines is smart direct mail fundraising. Doing it well is even smarter!

Want to work direct with me on response-positive things like this? I’m available for free 25-minute coaching sessions. Just click here and directly schedule an online conversation with me or with Sean Triner.


Comments

2 responses to “4 ways NOT to underline in your direct mail fundraising”

  1. James Herlihy, Digital Strategist Pareto Fundraising Avatar
    James Herlihy, Digital Strategist Pareto Fundraising

    Thanks for this Jeff, great punchy summary as always.
    As a digital campaigner I’ll add a complementary point: Unlike DM, underlining for emphasis in ONLINE CHANNELS is not a good idea (that’s my 2c anyway). I see copywriters and charities doing this, but we need to understand that in online channels, underlining is an established link convention. For seasoned web users it’s intuitively confusing to hover over an underline and not have it clickable as a link. Your blog piece is a good example of this – some underlines are links, some are not, and I for one can’t see any difference in colour.
    Bolding and limited italics are best for online.

  2. James Herlihy, Digital Strategist Pareto Fundraising Avatar
    James Herlihy, Digital Strategist Pareto Fundraising

    Thanks for this Jeff, great punchy summary as always.
    As a digital campaigner I’ll add a complementary point: Unlike DM, underlining for emphasis in ONLINE CHANNELS is not a good idea (that’s my 2c anyway). I see copywriters and charities doing this, but we need to understand that in online channels, underlining is an established link convention. For seasoned web users it’s intuitively confusing to hover over an underline and not have it clickable as a link. Your blog piece is a good example of this – some underlines are links, some are not, and I for one can’t see any difference in colour.
    Bolding and limited italics are best for online.

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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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