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The impact of good design

If you’ve ever questioned the impact good design can make on your fundraising, then you may want to read this:

 NB: This is a true story

Eighteen years ago, for the 54th US Presidential Election between Al Gore and George W. Bush, someone decided to change the design of a ballot paper in the swing state of Florida.

That someone, a Ms Theresa LePore, had good intentions: the majority of voters in the Palm Beach county were elderly, and she wanted them to be able to read the names of candidates more easily.

Unfortunately, it all went horribly wrong.

Thousands of Jewish Liberals ended up voting for a right-wing, anti-Israeli candidate completely by accident. When they realised their mistake, some punched a second hole, invalidating their votes.

The 29,000 spoiled ballot papers cost Al Gore the presidency and changed the course of American history.



 Design is not just what it looks like. Design is how it works.

By now, you probably get that good design is SO much more than a colour scheme or pretty picture or stylised font.

You can have all the bells and whistles in your direct mail pack, for example, but if someone isn’t drawn to the key messages or call to action right away, or fails to even open the envelope, then you may as well wave goodbye to your donors before you even send the letter.

Here’s how NOT to lose donors (or a US Presidential Election for that matter):


Simplicity is key

“Whitespace is like air: it is necessary for design to breathe.” – Wojciech Zielinski

No one likes to be yelled at. But that’s exactly how your readers will feel if you have too much on the page – too many words, too many pictures, too many colours. It’s confusing to look at, and that’s never a good thing.

Despite this, some clients have argued white space to be a waste. We argue that this ‘emptiness’ can force a reader’s eye to the most important messages, create drama and stir an emotion. 

Visually, white space can be used to show a clear hierarchy of information.

People naturally scan from left to right and top to bottom. So a few strategically placed elements can divert attention to what’s important, moving your donor through the narrative you create with ease, and ultimately driving action.


Know your donors and design to their strengths

Each time we receive a brief we sit down and pull it apart. We gather as much information as we can from the client, the case study, interview transcripts and our own research.

Then we define the problem and understand the main objectives. Is it to raise money? Acquire new donors? Inform the public? Or brand awareness?

All of this will define the design.

For example, if you’re trying to get an older audience to give to your organisation, you can’t have a font that’s too small for them to read. Or a form that’s too hard to fill out and send back. And you certainly can’t expect them to donate online if they’re not digitally savvy.

Keep in mind: Is it readable? Is it legible?

Readability and legibility are NOT the same thing. Legibility depends on the type of font you might use, and readability is how big you make that font.

For direct mail, many organisations choose Courier in 12 point because it’s designed to mimic an old strike typewriter. In other words, it looks homemade. And that’s just what some older donors quite like.


 Don’t forget your brand 

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: people don’t like giving to a cold, faceless organisation. They want to give to people and causes they believe in. Design can play a huge part in creating a sense of authenticity, reliability and warmth. Think real photos of your case studies, clever use of colour for your lift pieces, or the right font for a personalised message.

At the same time, your branding should play a big part in the look and feel of the finished product. What we design, therefore, is an extension of your values, voice, tone and reputation. It holds value for loyal donors and confirms your credibility.


 So is design the Holy Grail for fundraisers?

Short answer: absolutely not.

The most successful campaigns are the ones where clever design and strong copy work hand-in-hand to elicit a meaningful response. Put simply, you can’t have one without the other.

Design is, however, a key part to setting the mood for your fundraising piece. It aids in telling a story by complementing the copy through the use of images, white space, fonts, colours and so much more.

Good design can refine complex ideas into simple but thoughtful solutions and leave your donors feeling sympathetic, or outraged, or proud – any emotion you desire, based on your objectives, that will bridge the gap between apathy and action and compel them to respond.

And isn’t that what every fundraiser is after?


Have we missed anything? Feel free to let us know what else you’d add in the comments below.