What do you say when you see ugly design in fundraising?

Here’s a great lesson from Adrian Salmon’s blog: Should you scrap the Millennium Falcon?

It goes like this: A Tweeter gets an email from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. It looks like this:

Uglyemail

Tweeter is pained at the ugliness, and says so:

No, @DCCC, I won’t donate a dime to you until you can prove you understand decent design. What is this, MySpace?

I doubt anyone would dispute that the design of the email is appallingly ugly. But it might look familiar. It’s the email look created by the Obama For America organization.

That is, it’s been rigorously tested and refined. It works. As Adrian says:

This email that looks really awful … a spammy-looking piece of junk — is actually the result of one of the most sophisticated digital fundraising campaigns ever run.

That’s the way fundraising goes: Ugly works. Tacky works. Corny, embarrassing, and messy all work. In print, or in digital.

And those negative labels I just put on it? They only reveal my personal aesthetic sense. Which has no bearing. How much you and I enjoy the design has no bearing on its power to motivate response.

All too often the sharply clever statement like What is this, MySpace? carries the day. It cows everyone into going along with that opinion, even if it’s an ignorant and useless opinion.

Stick to the fact about what moves donors. Ignore the sharp-tongued man on Twitter.


Comments

4 responses to “What do you say when you see ugly design in fundraising?”

  1. Tom Ahern Avatar
    Tom Ahern

    I just spent a day with the fundraising creative team at an elite university. They are insanely talented. Now they are adding a donor newsletter to their repertoire. So we were analyzing a bunch of lucrative examples: from Dana Farber, from the Nashville Rescue Mission, from Food for the Poor, etc. Whereupon the graphic designer burst out in honest despair, “Do they have to be so ugly?” The lead fundraiser agreed instantly, “They are. They really ARE ugly.” It was a funny moment because it recalled me to planet earth. I’d been seeing these publications as successes, not as design efforts. It made me realize that I need to redefine “ugly” and “beautiful” for my fundraiser audiences. “Ugly” is when it doesn’t make as much money as it could for the mission. And “beautiful” is when it does.

  2. Tom Ahern Avatar
    Tom Ahern

    I just spent a day with the fundraising creative team at an elite university. They are insanely talented. Now they are adding a donor newsletter to their repertoire. So we were analyzing a bunch of lucrative examples: from Dana Farber, from the Nashville Rescue Mission, from Food for the Poor, etc. Whereupon the graphic designer burst out in honest despair, “Do they have to be so ugly?” The lead fundraiser agreed instantly, “They are. They really ARE ugly.” It was a funny moment because it recalled me to planet earth. I’d been seeing these publications as successes, not as design efforts. It made me realize that I need to redefine “ugly” and “beautiful” for my fundraiser audiences. “Ugly” is when it doesn’t make as much money as it could for the mission. And “beautiful” is when it does.

  3. To be fair, I felt the sharp-tongued man on Twitter raised a good point in the comments:
    Yes, the Obama emails did well. Yes they were the result of extensive testing. Ugly worked.
    But the techniques used by a national email campaign trying to raise immediate money may not work for smaller nonprofits trying to build a lifelong relationship with their donors.
    My takeaway: Know your donors. Test first.

  4. To be fair, I felt the sharp-tongued man on Twitter raised a good point in the comments:
    Yes, the Obama emails did well. Yes they were the result of extensive testing. Ugly worked.
    But the techniques used by a national email campaign trying to raise immediate money may not work for smaller nonprofits trying to build a lifelong relationship with their donors.
    My takeaway: Know your donors. Test first.

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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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