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Introduction: Why Bother With White Space?
Wikipedia calls it negative space, or the portion of your page ‘left unmarked: the space between graphics, margins, gutters, space between columns, space between lines of type or figures drawn or depicted.’
In other words, white space is nothing. So why bother fooling with it in your fundraising appeals and other nonprofit communications?
One important reason:
Because your prospects and donors crave white space – they just don’t know it.
Learn how to use white space effectively and more people will read more of – and be more inclined to take action on – what you write, from fundraising appeals to planned giving brochures to donation thank-you letters.
Before & After Magazine’s John McWade describes white space as no less than a “zone of silence:" it gives your readers a break from the printed word, allowing them to rest their eyes, and making them more likely to continue reading.
In a minute, I’ll share with you a link to one of John’s videos, one of the best tutorials I’ve ever seen on how designers can make better use of white space. But since I’m a copywriter, I’ll begin by sharing five white space boosters that I use – on every project – to maximize readability.
White Space Expander #1:
Use Reasonable Page Margins
I can't tell you how many direct mail fundraising appeals I've received with microscopic margins... leaving what I like to call a 'wall of type' remaining. Chances are excellent that no matter what you've written, the copy can be cut to accommodate healthy page margins: I aim for at least one inch (roughly 2.5 cm), right and left.
Image Above: Bird's eye view of a fundraising appeal I received illustrates the wall of type that results without adequate white space.
The use of a photo in the letter above is an improvement -- historically this organization hasn't included them -- but the pull of the picture is vastly diminished by the intimidating block of text. Note especially the tiny page margins and long, unbroken paragraphs. (This type of appeal runs rampant among universities and other organizations that strive to maintain a 'cerebral' image.)
White Space Expander #2:
Mind Your Paragraphs
I recommend tabbed, or indented, paragraphs. And I use an extra return after my paragraphs, even though they're tabbed. I also keep the line count on my paragraphs at or below seven, whenever possible. Like teensy page margins, when paragraphs are flush left, it can add to the 'wall of type' effect. (Refer again to above image.)
White Space Expander #3:
Don’t Scrimp on Signatory Space
Include at least one return before and after your signatory block. (And plan for 3-4 lines for signature; using a miserly-sized signature makes it look cramped.) I like to also indent the entire signatory block by about 2 inches (5 cm, approx).
White Space Booster #4:
For Longer Letters, Employ Subheads
An excellent example of this is copywriter Richard Armstrong's six-page 'Sea Turtle' appeal on SOFII. (And while we're at it, it's a letter that makes brilliant use of white space altogether.) Note how he guides the reader from one step to the next, while at the same time, using the subheads to pull in 'scanners' and 'skimmers,' the folks who don't read your appeal word-for-word.
White Space Booster #5:
Indent Testimonials and Other Pull-Quotes
Another easy way to increase white space is to indent any testimonials, both left and right sides, by an additional 1/2 inch or so. Add a return before and after, and you've not only used the white space to set off the quote, but have also added to your reader's overall zone of silence.
Learn More About White Space In Less Than Four Minutes
And lastly, from Before and After Magazine, the best-ever design tutorial on white space, using a donor list in a nonprofit’s annual report as an example. “How to Design Without Graphics”: don’t miss it, runs for less than four minutes, on YouTube.
This post from Seth Godin led me to John McWade's work, so thank you Seth. I’m no designer, but as a fundraising copywriter I work almost daily with my design colleague Sandie at S.Collette Design – and John's videos are so helpful, I watch nearly all of them.
And I hope my five white space boosters, and B-and-A’s video tutorial, help you, too.