How to tell good fundraising design from bad

Good fundraising design (the kind that motivates the most giving) is typically corny, old-fashioned, and not terribly pretty. I say that with confidence because I’ve seen it again and again, for years and years. I’m comfortable spreading this word, because I know anyone who takes my advice on this will be happy with their results.

But a funny thing happens when people hear me or anyone else say that about fundraising design. They think we’re saying fundraising design should be bad design — that bad design works better than good design.

Heck, no!

Bad design doesn’t work well anywhere. Please, don’t ever do bad design, if you can help it!

Unfortunately, what a lot of people think of when they think “good design” is slick, modern, and pretty. That’s where things get sticky, because that is not the definition of good design.

Let’s define good design. It is:


  1. Readable
  2. Functional
  3. Emotionally resonant with the message
  4. Appropriate for its audience

Take note of that last one. That’s the reason good fundraising design is usually corny, old-fashioned, and not terribly pretty. That’s what reaches most donors.

In fundraising, corny, old-fashioned, not terribly pretty design can be good or bad, depending on how well it conforms with the characteristics above.

But slick, modern, pretty can only be bad. It may nail the other characteristics, but it misses #4: It’s not right for its audience. (There are exceptions, but not many of them.)

Design, like writing, is all about knowing your audience and reaching out to them in the look and language that stirs their hearts. It’s not about conforming to your own preferences.


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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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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.

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