Have you gotten a really beautiful appeal recently?
It could be an email, or it could be a fancy direct mail package.
I have to wonder at their effectiveness. So many are pretty to look at, but not moving. And that’s a big problem.
Shiny postcards on heavy paper. Four color imagery and brand-specific fonts. Reverse type (because it looks so cool). Tiny print that doesn’t fight the overall loveliness of the design.
It’s all gorgeous. And every time I see one of these packages, I shake my head. Something tells me these fancy pieces are not doing what their senders hope they’re doing.
Here’s an example. I made a gift. Then instead of a thank you letter, I received a glossy postcard and a tax receipt.
It wasn’t personal. It wasn’t meaningful.
To me, the message was loud and clear. “Personalized letters are so much work! We’ll print tax receipts and stick an expensive postcard in the envelope instead.”
Easier for the staff, to be sure. But it felt like a slap in the face to me.
To be fair, the fundraising staff may have loved that beautiful postcard. They may have lavished attention on creating it.
But nothing they did had anything to do with me and my gift.
I suppose something was better than nothing. So many organizations never even thank their donors!
Don’t fear the ugly.
Here’s what the experts say. Ugly can work. Homely can feel more authentic. Someone focused on the “look” of a piece might miss function for form. Instead, let the message lead – make the design serve it.
Too much focus on a beautiful or clever piece can lead you down a dangerous path. I learned that lesson years ago.
Here’s the story: I worked for an arts organization. We were building an annual giving program. Each year, we’d plan the annual appeal around a brochure. (By the way, stop doing an annual appeal.)
We’d beg designers and ad agencies to donate their services. Then we’d spend weeks working up a concept. Sometimes it was really fun. Sometimes it was hard. Always, it was a time-suck.
Then we’d stick a letter in an envelope with our masterwork and send it.
We got decent results. But we weren’t factoring in the time and expense we spent on the piece. Our decent results were masking the better results we could have had.
Then I cut the brochures. Started focusing on the letter. Surprise! Results improved. And I had money and time to spend on more solicitations. Guess what that meant?
Make personal the priority.
Here’s my thinking on why those pretty brochures and postcards don’t work.
They put up a wall between the organization and the donor.
Imagine you get two pieces of mail today. One’s a beautiful greeting card. Inside, there’s a pre-printed message and a signature.
The other is a hand-written note on a plain piece of paper – let’s say lined notebook paper. It’s not pretty. But it’s written to you. It’s personal.
Which one would make you feel more?
The fancy stuff can be a way to avoid real emotion. You can get lost in the fun of creating something beautiful. But none of what you’re doing is about your donor. It’s a substitute for authentic feelings.
They’re usually all about the organization and not about the donor.
Trevor O’Donnell offers a great illustration in this piece about arts marketing. These fancy pieces are about celebrating the organization. Staff and board feel great about them – because these brochures are a reflection of them. But our job isn’t to make ourselves feel good, is it?
They can send the wrong message about how you spend donors’ money.
I’d sure have preferred a simple, heartfelt letter instead of a beautiful postcard. I couldn’t help feeling my donation was wasted.
And I’m not alone. Donors do wonder. Sometimes you see that when they ask you to send less mail. It’s not that they don’t want to hear from you. It’s that they’re worried about the expense.
They’re giving to get something done!
Good design absolutely has its place.
Don’t get me wrong – design is important. Just be sure the designer understands fundraising and most importantly, donors. Want to see an example of really donor-centric design? Check out my friends at Agents of Good.
Bottom line? Make your donors the priority and you’ll raise more money.