When beautiful design is ugly fundraising

Beauty is better than ugliness. But sometimes beauty can be your worst enemy in fundraising — when it gets in the way of your real goals.

That’s the useful message in a recent post at BeaconfireWire, Wasted Pretty: Create design that matters:

Making something beautiful is the easy part. Communicating a visual message that moves people to DO something is the holy grail we should be striving for…. If your design is nothing more than a piece of art to admire instead of moving the needle on a purposeful action, you’ve missed the point. Wasted Pretty.

Sometimes it seems like fundraising is largely a battle against ill-conceived design that looks great, but fails to do the job.

How often we see fundraising design that does these things:


  • Makes the message unreadable. Attractive but hard-to-read fonts, type over color or images, over- (or under) saturated color palettes … these things can look fantastic, but shoot down readability. And it doesn’t matter how good your design is if people can’t read the message.
  • Undermines the message with design and images that contradict what the message is trying to say. The message is “There’s a big problem and we need your help solving it.” But the design is happy, slick, and nice. Often, design speaks louder than words.
  • Misses the audience. Hip young designers forget that in fundraising they are reaching out to older folks, not themselves.

Really, beauty and ugliness are in the eye of the beholder — subjective labels that mean different things to different people. But fundraising results — response rate, average gift, net revenue — those are not at all subjective. They are pure measurable facts that mean the same thing to every sane person.

And in my book, good results are beautiful; bad results are ugly. No matter how wonderful the design.


Comments

10 responses to “When beautiful design is ugly fundraising”

  1. Prior to becoming the CEO of a nonprofit, I was an advertising agency executive where I learned and embraced the notion that the most successful brands have a balance between the heart (emotional) and head (rational). In the nonprofit arena, there is an inherent heart/emotional connection to the mission and those we help everyday. How this is articulated through marketing, both verbally and visually, is where nonprofits often differentiate themselves.
    While I concur that success is measurable (dollars raised, event registrations and attendance, open and click-thru rates, etc.)- having a positive brand personality and experience is not always easily measurable. Our donors must feel good about the brand,embracing the mission and what we represent. A schlock appeal or outdated website with no thought about design and navigation can be more damaging in the long run.

  2. Prior to becoming the CEO of a nonprofit, I was an advertising agency executive where I learned and embraced the notion that the most successful brands have a balance between the heart (emotional) and head (rational). In the nonprofit arena, there is an inherent heart/emotional connection to the mission and those we help everyday. How this is articulated through marketing, both verbally and visually, is where nonprofits often differentiate themselves.
    While I concur that success is measurable (dollars raised, event registrations and attendance, open and click-thru rates, etc.)- having a positive brand personality and experience is not always easily measurable. Our donors must feel good about the brand,embracing the mission and what we represent. A schlock appeal or outdated website with no thought about design and navigation can be more damaging in the long run.

  3. Seth, I don’t buy that design is where nonprofits differentiate themselves. The work they do is what matters most. The job of design is to stay out of the way of that. It should be clean, appropriate, and above all, READABLE.
    I don’t think you’re saying design matters more than anything else, but that’s the argument that too often wins the day and causes nonprofits (and for-profits) to end up with great-looking design that doesn’t communicate.

  4. Seth, I don’t buy that design is where nonprofits differentiate themselves. The work they do is what matters most. The job of design is to stay out of the way of that. It should be clean, appropriate, and above all, READABLE.
    I don’t think you’re saying design matters more than anything else, but that’s the argument that too often wins the day and causes nonprofits (and for-profits) to end up with great-looking design that doesn’t communicate.

  5. Richelle Morgan Avatar
    Richelle Morgan

    Beautiful design can also shoot you in the foot another way. If your potential donor looks at your fundraising piece and sees capital-D Design, they can easily conclude that you don’t really need the money — after all, you’ve hired a fancy-pants designer. Worse, they might think you don’t use your money well.
    I completely agree with you, Jeff. Design’s purpose in fundraising is to enhance your organization’s message, not to get in the way of it.
    Thanks for the great post!

  6. Richelle Morgan Avatar
    Richelle Morgan

    Beautiful design can also shoot you in the foot another way. If your potential donor looks at your fundraising piece and sees capital-D Design, they can easily conclude that you don’t really need the money — after all, you’ve hired a fancy-pants designer. Worse, they might think you don’t use your money well.
    I completely agree with you, Jeff. Design’s purpose in fundraising is to enhance your organization’s message, not to get in the way of it.
    Thanks for the great post!

  7. Good post, logo design plays important role for any company, because its relate with their popularity.
    Thanks for sharing this post.

  8. Good post, logo design plays important role for any company, because its relate with their popularity.
    Thanks for sharing this post.

  9. Really good story. But beauty and ugliness is in the mind of people who think the way they saw things that way. As it said it’s all in head

  10. Really good story. But beauty and ugliness is in the mind of people who think the way they saw things that way. As it said it’s all in head

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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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