Fundraising is good, not bad, when it’s ugly

This is probably the toughest fact about fundraising: ugly works.

Corny, out-of-date, plain, unattractive fundraising wins nearly every time against sleek, modern, cool, high design.

Why? Honestly, I don’t know. But I have some theories:


  • Everywhere you look, you see slick, professional design. Design, most of it marketing messages, is in front of us virtually everywhere. No matter how good it is, it’s about as remarkable as gray concrete. Homely fundraising messages can really stand out in this context.
  • Just because it’s pretty doesn’t mean it’s readable. Sadly, many in the design profession have abandoned readability for their own idea of beauty. That’s why so much print and display design is a playground of Stupid Design Tricks, like illegible fonts, reverse type, confusing layouts, and worse. Those things can look nice if you don’t care about the actual message. Fundraising doesn’t work if the message doesn’t get through.
  • Authentic is more compelling than slick. In fact, slick design tends to carry the subtext, “This message inauthentic. It has nothing to do with you.” People give to charity for intensely personal reasons. The farther away you get from real-life authenticity, the more difficult you make it for people to connect to your cause.

So have we just relegated fundraising designers to creating bland, under-designed pabulum? Not at all. The best fundraising design is:


  • Emotional
  • Readable
  • Authentic

That’s a tall order. Only the very best designers can do all that, and they’re the ones who work calmly and fearlessly, like Clint Eastwood walking in on an armed robbery.

Sadly, more designers follow their finely-honed aesthetic sense, which leads to ineffective beauty. And that’s bad fundraising.


Comments

10 responses to “Fundraising is good, not bad, when it’s ugly”

  1. Good reminder to keep it simple.

  2. Good reminder to keep it simple.

  3. While those of us ‘in the business’ know that this is true, it can be really difficult to get our organizations on board. Thanks for keeping the issue in the limelight.

  4. While those of us ‘in the business’ know that this is true, it can be really difficult to get our organizations on board. Thanks for keeping the issue in the limelight.

  5. This can be really frustrating to hear, for those of us who work with nonprofits, but what you’re saying makes sense. The message of authenticity, in particular, speaks to me – design is a mark of sophistication for a nonprofit, and as nonprofits get more sophisticated, it becomes more difficult to stay authentic. How’s that for a catch-22?
    I wonder if there’s also a perception, by the donor, that cool, slick nonprofit sites mean that the nonprofit has money – a subconscious suggestion that “hey, they’ve got enough money to hire a designer – do they need my money as much as that ugly website over there?” Just a thought.

  6. This can be really frustrating to hear, for those of us who work with nonprofits, but what you’re saying makes sense. The message of authenticity, in particular, speaks to me – design is a mark of sophistication for a nonprofit, and as nonprofits get more sophisticated, it becomes more difficult to stay authentic. How’s that for a catch-22?
    I wonder if there’s also a perception, by the donor, that cool, slick nonprofit sites mean that the nonprofit has money – a subconscious suggestion that “hey, they’ve got enough money to hire a designer – do they need my money as much as that ugly website over there?” Just a thought.

  7. I know some charities use premium packs (i.e. glossy, full colour, lots of pieces including gimmicks) for recruitment campaigns and have seen fantastic results from these. This seems to contradict your views above (which I generally agree with), any idea why?

  8. I know some charities use premium packs (i.e. glossy, full colour, lots of pieces including gimmicks) for recruitment campaigns and have seen fantastic results from these. This seems to contradict your views above (which I generally agree with), any idea why?

  9. Ricky, that’s an interesting point. Those full-color glossy premium packages that do so well are actually thought to be ugly by a lot of hip, young fundraisers. It really points out that ugly, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
    Jo, years ago it was rare for colorful packages to work, and when you did them you’d also get complaints saying just what you’re positing: “Why are you wasting my donations on this fancy stuff?” Now that seldom happens, and colorful packages sometimes do better than plain. But colorful or not, brash, ugly, old-fashioned design does better.

  10. Ricky, that’s an interesting point. Those full-color glossy premium packages that do so well are actually thought to be ugly by a lot of hip, young fundraisers. It really points out that ugly, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
    Jo, years ago it was rare for colorful packages to work, and when you did them you’d also get complaints saying just what you’re positing: “Why are you wasting my donations on this fancy stuff?” Now that seldom happens, and colorful packages sometimes do better than plain. But colorful or not, brash, ugly, old-fashioned design does better.

Leave a Reply

What this blog is about

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.

Blog policies

Subscribe

Get new posts by email:

About the blogger

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.


Archives

Blogroll

Categories


Search the blog

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.

Recent Comments

About the blogger

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.

Blog Roll

someone’s blog