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The Value of Design in Fundraising

Your team has spent weeks crafting the annual giving report for your nonprofit. You’ve poured hours into highlighting your organization’s mission, laying out your overall financial statements and major contributions, and handpicking stories that share your successes. The end result is an impressively hefty document.

Now you’ve got to get your supporters to read it.

In your fundraising efforts, you need to show the story you are telling. You have to demonstrate your impact.

Enter design. Design is the oomph. It’s the wind in the sails of your written communication.

But you’re not a designer.

We’re here to help you “accidental designers,” you fundraisers who have found yourselves sitting in the design seat despite having no formal training.

Using a fundraising campaign Mighty Citizen executed for United Way for Greater Austin (UWATX), we’ll exemplify industry best practices in action, and practical approaches to producing great design in your own fundraising efforts.

The Power of Great Design

You don’t have to be a designer to recognize great design when you see it. Maybe you can’t put a finger on why it works, but you can feel it. Here’s that power you’re feeling.

Design Invites Participation

We’re bombarded by a constant hubbub of images and messages, but once in a while, one catches your eye. It moves you. It delights you.

In the UWATX fundraising campaign, Mighty Citizen was tasked with crafting a refreshed identity for the organization that re-engaged the community. We achieved this by inviting the community to participate in the campaign itself.

The campaign’s core concept was “Makes Austin Greater.” The idea was simple: Give every Austinite a chance to say what they believe makes Austin greater. It was a fill-in-the-blank approach that put the audience squarely in the middle of the UWATX story.

A suite of creative deliverables furthered this concept—from backdrops for community events to website and social graphics, direct mail, and video—giving the community numerous ways to interact with the campaign.

people posing with makes Austin greater sign
Audiences participated in the campaign by posing with selfie photo frames.
social media posts of people with makes Austin greater
Social media campaign graphics showed Austinites in action in their community.

To further Make Austin Greater, we created a mural to set UWATX apart from every other charitable nonprofit in town. The “You’re My Butter Half” mural quickly became an Austin landmark. It acted as the exclamation mark of the campaign, emphasizing the existing deliverables and creating an echo that would far outlive the campaign. It’s become the backdrop to countless photos, inspired a line of stationery, and has been featured on several national TV shows. To say the least, the mural delights the Austin community, further inviting them to participate in the UWATX brand.

Design Tells a Story

Great design starts with a concept or big idea. The visuals can stand alone or strengthen existing written communication, but with proper vision, they should tell the story of your organization and where you want to go.

The UWATX campaign centered around the idea of local and told the story of the organization’s impact in the Austin community. It went beyond just asking people for money; it proved how UWATX makes Austin a better place every single day. We painted the full picture through a multi-pronged approach featuring various print and digital creative deliverables.

A fill-in-the-blank campaign was used to highlight the hallmarks of ATX culture and serve as an inspirational call to action. And, again, it offered an opportunity for Austinites to participate in the campaign.

“Makes Austin Greater” fill-in-the-blank campaign graphics.

The end result was a fully seasoned, robust campaign steeped in Austin iconography, style, and language.

“Makes Austin Greater” concept-driven campaign told the whole story of UWATX.

Design Drives Goals

But ultimately, this is the bottom line for fundraisers: great design drives donations. You’ve caught people’s attention, you’ve invited them in, and you’ve told a story that made them care. They’re primed for action. The campaign inspired the community and asked them to respond—putting them in the driver’s seat of making Austin greater.

Campaign deliverables with strong CTAs lead to big results.

Great design generates great results. And UWATX has the numbers to back it up. As a result of the awareness campaign, UWATX saw:

  • 10% increase in their employee giving campaign in the 1st year
  • 1200% increase in online donations in 3 years
  • 4M impressions through ads

Incorporating Great Design in Fundraising

So you’re convinced of the powerful potential of design. But what does that mean for an “accidental designer” like yourself?

Even with limited resources, you can incorporate these principles into solicitations and campaigns for professional results when armed with the tenets of great design. Break up those blocks of text with dynamic visuals that keep readers engaged. Create infographics that convert lists of numbers into digestible images. Feature photography that supports the stories you’ve shared and shows your team in action.

Follow the Rules

When all tenets of great design are implemented in tandem, the result is professional quality.

Having a polished piece isn’t about a big budget. You can use high-end photos and high-quality printing but still have a result that misses the mark. The key to achieving professional quality is adopting all the tenets of design together.

Stick to these guidelines:

  • Communicate clearly, often simply. Don’t over-complicate your message. Be concise and straightforward.
  • Don’t forget white space. White space is the unused space around text and graphics (typically the white of the page). It lets your content breath and makes it easier for readers to digest.
  • Apply best practices for typography. Type has a whole set of its own rules. Here are a few to remember: stick to two or three typefaces, use font size to show hierarchy, and align text with the other design elements on the page.
  • Know when stock photography works and when it doesn’t. Custom images are king, but stock images are a cost-effective alternative when you pick the right ones. The best stock images are the ones that look authentic and reflect your real clients or staff.
  • Be consistent. Assure all similar elements and iconography in your design look and function in a similar way to increase consistency.
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Create a Visually Consistent Brand

Consistency is so important that we’re going to drive this home further. It’s imperative to develop a strategic look and feel for your organization’s development efforts. You need to create a concept that will stand out among other solicitations and be recognizable within your “brand.” A strong concept can be iterated many times across solicitations so you only have to do the heavy lifting once. Once mastered, you should apply your unified brand image to every channel you use—digital, print, video, and so on—as UWATX did.

Use What You Have

Fundraisers are often required to create campaigns with limited resources, but just because you’re not spending the big bucks doesn’t mean you can’t be effective.

Personalization

Your fundraising should get personal. You want your audience to feel directly connected to the story you’re telling and take ownership for the success of your mission.

Take advantage of your donor database software to add donor-specific information to campaign and solicitation materials. You know many of these people, so greet them by name on reply cards and invites—you can even use nicknames instead of formal salutations when appropriate. Suggest specific giving amounts based on their gift history.

Use on-demand digital printing. Digital printing quality is now on par with traditional methods and you don’t have to meet a minimum print quantity to justify the cost. Variable data printing (VDP) pulls information from a database and allows for text and imagery variation from one printed piece to another. This is perfect for personalizing solicitation letters by name and address.

DIY

When money is tight, use time and craft to create something unique and memorable.

Drive your campaigns with a few great images. A simple way to increase the impact of your design can be to dedicate what budget you have to quality stock imagery. Check out websites like Getty or Mangum to search for beautiful images that won’t break the bank. Investing in a great stock photo could be the difference in how your campaign is received.

Get creative and research cost-saving alternatives. Professional video out of the question? Explore your iPhone’s video capabilities. Get to know your in-house printer and paper cutter. For direct mail, look into obtaining a nonprofit bulk postage permit and gather a team to fold, stuff, and stamp your collateral.

The Takeaway

Fundraisers—design background or not—can harness the power of great design to up the ante on campaign and solicitation materials. Boldly grab your audience’s attention to tell a story with a clear call to action. Present them with an opportunity for ownership so they feel personally invested. This approach tethered with the strong principles of design can result in a cost-effective campaign that transforms your organization.

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