16 Aug Writing for Older Women
16 August 2022
By David Allen, Development for Conservation
Every so often I get significant pushback from readers either questioning or taking exception to something I have written. I love it when it happens. It causes me to re-examine something I may believe so matter-of-factly that I gloss over it.
It also opens me up to the possibility that my experience may not be universal or even currently relevant. Things change. I need to change, too. And because I’m no longer sitting in a fundraising position every day, as opposed to a consulting position, I may be slow to see what’s going on “in the real world.”
This week featured two such exchanges – both in relation to last week’s blog post, A Dozen Rules for Writing Better Fundraising Letters. The first was posted in the Comments to that blog.
The second was conducted in an email exchange, and is presented here. I am grateful to the writer (both writers!), who gave me pause to think about my position and who gave me permission to anonymously post her comments here. She felt strongly enough to write. Perhaps others feel strongly as well and didn’t write.
Your comments and pushback are always welcome here.
I was reading your most recent blog post and this stood out to me:
Rule #5 – Design for older, female eyes
I also noticed in a previous blog post you also mention writing specifically for “Older women”. Can you elaborate on why you specifically single out making a post readable for women?
Absolutely. And thank you for asking.
Frankly, I could have said older men or even older people just as easily. The main idea is that when people age, their eyes age, too. They need to read in better and better light. They appreciate high contrast – like black ink on white paper. Color reversed out becomes difficult to read, and type of any color printed on a colored background is more difficult.
In fundraising communications, readers rarely give you much time. A glance. A skim. A scan. Several seconds. And then they put it down. The harder you make it to absorb the messages quickly, the less likely you are to capture their attention long enough to spur them to make a gift.
So, we bump up the type size, print black on white, and use simple sentence structure. Younger people won’t mind – they will be able to read it quickly as well. But older people will appreciate you for it. (And give.)
What a fast response, thank you! Yes, I see what you are saying and that makes a lot of sense. I would suggest making a change to that language to make it gender neutral.
Thank you for your suggestion, and on most levels, I get it. But honestly, I probably won’t make the change. And for several reasons. First and most importantly, I believe we need to humanize fundraising. These are real people we’re talking about. Not gender-neutral androids or ATMs. I’m generally careful about balancing my pronouns, but I always want to remind myself and others that this is a real person I am writing about.
Second, it’s way past time to acknowledge the role women have historically played and continue to play now in philanthropy. Frankly two-thirds of our donors are 60 years old and older, and more than half are women. The ratios are even greater when we factor in how much they give. Men have held the limelight for too long. So when I talk about older, female eyes, I am talking about the clear majority of our donors.
And third – I’M old, too. I don’t see language, or even communication more broadly, as being automatically inclusive or exclusive. When I recommend designing for “older, female eyes,” I am not implying that we not write for men. In fact, when we design for women, men respond as well. (The reverse is not always true.) And when we approach this scientifically, which I am also advocating, we discover that designing for older, female eyes is more effective communication – meaning that more people reply and we raise more money.
And that’s good enough for me.
I want you to know that I really appreciate the exchange with you by email. Would you mind if I included your questions and my responses in a future blog post? I would do so anonymously. I just feel that my comments struck you in a certain way, and motivated you to ask me about them. Others may be feeling the same way without writing to me about it.
No, I don’t mind you using this at all. I do want to be completely honest with you about why I wrote initially. The first piece of your writing I read was: Making Your Newsletter Into a Profit Center: And I took particular note of this paragraph:
“It makes all the sense in the world that you would want to write your newsletters with the same rules that you use for appeal letters: easy to read for older women, the pronouns “we-us-our” used inclusively, 6th-grade reading level, and so on.”
My first (not correct, just first) impression on reading this was the idea that older women need material to be easier to read because they have lower comprehension skills. Now, I know you professionally and I didn’t believe that this is what you meant by writing this. That is why I reached out for clarification. But I do want to note that without further context, that was my initial first impression. I think because I have not read a lot of your material yet, I was thrown by the simplified terms in which you summarized some of your main points like the one above. No doubt if I was more familiar with your work I would have known the larger context behind what you were saying by referencing Older Women and I would not have had the first impression that I did
I totally understand what you said in your follow up email about the need to speak inclusively to both women and men and an older audience, and that a majority of that audience is likely older and female.
A final thought about simplified language. Fundraising material, including fundraising letters and even most newsletter articles, are more effective when they are written at a 6th to 8th-grade level. The reason is NOT because readers have lower comprehension skills. It’s because really smart people absorb 6th-grade reading material very quickly. And because they are busy. You’re only going to get a glance, a skim, or a scan – therefore simpler equals more effective.
BTW – Last week’s blog was written entirely at the 6th-grade level.
Cheers, and Have a great week!
PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.
Photo by Mary courtesy of Stocksnap.io.