Donor messages stick better on paper

Screens create distance between readers and your words.

Before you drop your direct mail donor appeals and donor newsletter, consider these findings by literacy scholars in Norway and Canada. Paper beats computer screens at making written information, ideas and emotions stick in readers’ minds.

Of course, fundraisers already know this: printed direct mail still does better than email in terms of donor response rates by wide margins.

A new study from Norway takes a deeper look at the difference between paper and screen. Using both fiction and factual articles, researchers compared comprehension and retention between groups reading the same material from PDFs on monitors and from printed pages. The group reading from screens understood significantly less than those reading print. Anne Mangen at the Reading Centre of the University of Stavanger in Norway and her co-authors speculate that the tangibility of print provides a richer mental map of a given piece of writing. The ways that letters, magazines and books look and feel tell us very different things about what we need to invest as readers and where we are in relation to the beginning and end of what we are reading.

Words on paper engage our bodies in the act of reading.

And the physical act of reading printed books is still very different from reading screen. We can resize and adjust screen text, but only within the fixed borders of our glossy glass screen.

You can’t adjust print formats as you read. On the other hand, print formats can meet almost any reading situation. Printed materials can fit in your palm or cover your breakfast table.

Mangen’s more recent research with scholars at the University of Alberta in Canada found deeper emotional engagement in readers of paper compared with screen readers, even though the text was identical. I’m sure that’s because paper exists in our physical environment. At least for now, things that we can touch are many times more “real” to us than what we see on screen.

Most fundraisers know that we need to appeal to the donor’s head with our logical case and to the donor’s heart with our emotional case for support. Mangen’s research suggests we may be neglecting a third “H” – our donor’s hands – when we rely too heavily on email and online media.

Related post: $25,000 donation says, “Yes, you need a printed Annual Report”

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