More about ugly fundraising

Uglyduckling
This post the other day: The beauty of ugly fundraising sparked some conversation over on Twitter. I can’t get my response down to 140 characters, so I’ll have to say it all here.

The conversation about ugly fundraising went like this: Some commenters were uncomfortable or skeptical about the power being claimed for ugly fundraising. It was suggested that instead of ugly, we say “distinctive.” It was generally agreed that if by ugly we meant distinctive, all was well.

All is not well. In my world (and almost anyone with experience in fundraising), ugly is not a synonym for distinctive. Ugly is just ugly.

Distinctive is a completely different trait. Something can be ugly and distinctive. Or ugly and terribly indistinct. Either way, ugly wins.

Distinctive is often a good thing in fundraising, but not always. I’ve seen long-time, unbeatable controls that you couldn’t call distinctive by any stretch. Distinctive is nothing like the sure thing ugly is.

Of course, ugly is in the eye of the beholder, so here’s what I mean when I say ugly: Clunky, messy, homemade-looking, dated, loud. It’s not esthetically pleasing, artistic, or likely to get good marks in design school. Nevertheless it takes a very good designer to get ugly right.

Really, we probably shouldn’t call it ugly, because it helps bring about so much good in the world. In my book, fundraising is beautiful when it’s effective — ugly or not, distinctive or not.

And another important thing to note: You can’t raise a bunch of money just by making ugly fundraising.

Ugly is not the active ingredient, just a great vehicle.

You still have to have a strong offer, clear, compelling copy, specificity, emotion — all the basics.

Get all that stuff right, and make it ugly — and you’ll do better than you would if you got it all right and made it pretty.

One of the most important milestones in the life of a fundraising professional is the ability to accept and embrace ugly. That’s when you stop clumsily aiming your messages at yourself and start doing real fundraising.


Comments

4 responses to “More about ugly fundraising”

  1. Mary Cahalane Avatar
    Mary Cahalane

    I agree with you. Distinctive for its own sake is probably useless. Is it distinctive because it’s uniquely tailored for the donors of a particular organization – because a great deal of consideration went into it, starting with a good idea of who that particular donor is? Then that’s good. Is it distinctive because it makes a fundraiser feel good about herself, or wins design awards, or is lauded as clever? All that’s very nice, but if it doesn’t succeed in moving that donor, what good is it really?
    Maybe “homely” is a better word than ugly?

  2. Mary Cahalane Avatar
    Mary Cahalane

    I agree with you. Distinctive for its own sake is probably useless. Is it distinctive because it’s uniquely tailored for the donors of a particular organization – because a great deal of consideration went into it, starting with a good idea of who that particular donor is? Then that’s good. Is it distinctive because it makes a fundraiser feel good about herself, or wins design awards, or is lauded as clever? All that’s very nice, but if it doesn’t succeed in moving that donor, what good is it really?
    Maybe “homely” is a better word than ugly?

  3. Guy Arceneaux Avatar
    Guy Arceneaux

    Jeff, I know ugly works! It works for other types of direct mail than fundraising too!

  4. Guy Arceneaux Avatar
    Guy Arceneaux

    Jeff, I know ugly works! It works for other types of direct mail than fundraising too!

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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