Is A Font Hurting Your Fundraising Efforts?

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I’m often invited to review and make recommendations on a nonprofit organization’s donor communications, including year-end appeal letters or emails. Sometimes I am delighted with compelling stories and an opportunity to support a mission.

But other times I struggle to get through an entire communications piece – because the text is too difficult to read. If your job involves drafting solicitation letters, donor newsletters, web pages or any other donor communications material, read on.

Why care about the font?

An easy-to-read font can help ensure your audience reads beyond your first few sentences, and onto the stories you are sharing. Choose the wrong font and some readers may quit before they get to the good stuff.

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There are two typefaces that exist: serif and sans serif. Serif fonts have little feet and embellishments (serifs) on the tip and base of each letter, making them more distinct and recognizable. Serif fonts are considered to be more “readable.” Well known serif fonts include Times New Roman and Garamond.

Sans serif fonts, as the name implies, do not have serifs. Sans serif fonts appear to be cleaner and are often described as more “legible.” Popular sans serif fonts include Arial, Calibri and Helvetica.

How to choose an easy-to-read font

When it comes to choosing the best font, one size doesn’t fit all. Turns out serif fonts work better for printed pieces. So if you are mailing a donor newsletter or year-end appeal letter, you’ll do better using a serif font such as Times New Roman.

Sans serif fonts work better for online applications. Due to the limits in resolution on computer or phone screens, the cleaner and more legible sans serif fonts should be your choice for e-newsletters, websites or other online applications, including blog posts. (The font you are reading now is Proxima Nova, a sans serif font.)

Size matters

Besides the font itself, sometimes organizations miss the mark on the size of the font. Particularly if your donors and prospects fall into a more elderly demographic, steer clear of anything smaller than 10 point font. In fact, depending on the font itself, 12 point may be your best bet.

As a final tip, don’t let your organization’s branding standards sabotage your fundraising efforts. Experienced graphic designers understand the importance of font but sometimes nonprofit organizations do not have the luxury of hiring a graphic designer. If you have input into your organization’s brand standards, be sure there are different font requirements for printed versus online applications!

Colin Wheildon, author of Type & Layout: Are You Communicating or Just Making Pretty Shapes?, says:

"It's possible to blow away three-quarters of our readers simply by choosing the wrong type. If you rely on words to sell, that should concern you deeply."

Blow away 75 percent of your readers! If your goal with donor communications is to build relationships with your donors, the last thing you want is for only 25 percent of them to read what you send. What if only 25 percent are reading your solicitation letters? Ouch.

For more on this topic, check out The Best Fonts to Use in Print, Online, and Email by John Wood, part of the inspiration for this blog post.

What is your experience with fonts and readability? What fonts do you and your organization prefer? Please share your thoughts, tips and advice in the Comments box below!

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