Why Simple Design Works Best in Fundraising

Our team recently launched Beezable to help more fundraisers create, print and mail donor appeals.

And early feedback suggests we’ve created something really useful, especially for those of you who know direct mail is much more effective than email alone.

But there’s one question that keeps coming up: “Why are your fundraising letter templates so simply designed? We're used to adding more to our appeals than Beezable’s existing options for personalization, custom gift amounts and calls to action.”

Here’s the short answer: Because we want you to make money.

Simple works

As nonprofit professionals, we know how easy it is for fundraising appeals to get complicated.

The executive director wants this. A board member likes that. The communications person needs to add this thing they saw at a conference. (I used to be that person!)

But those things don’t impress most donors. Here’s exactly what we had in mind in designing Beezable:

1. Top fundraising experts know “ugly” mail outraises “fancy” mail.

Tom Ahern, one of the top authorities on donor communications, has written about this issue. For most nonprofits, plain and simple fundraising letters outperform colorful and flashy ones.

The key exceptions: art museums and gardens.

Ahern goes on to urge nonprofits to redefine the meaning of beautiful and ugly. Beautiful is when a donor appeal makes as much money as it can for a cause. It evokes compassion in donors.

Ugly is when it doesn’t.

2. Beezable saves you time, so you can manage other pressing fundraising tasks.

The next thing we were thinking about is your time. It’s precious. It’s valuable. And it should never be wasted on “extras” that aren’t going to pay off.

We were thinking very much of our in-house fundraiser Terri. We remember working with her at the national animal welfare charity where we met – and all the things people asked her to do that had little-to-no ROI – especially when you factored in time.

Brick campaign? Yep.

Employee penny war? That too.

Dress her dog up as a yeti and sell photos? Even that.   

Sadly, we can’t fix those kinds of requests for you. But we can dramatically reduce the time you spend creating, printing and mailing donor appeals.  

Then you’ve got more time to thank major donors. Or do data cleanup. Or work on next year’s strategy to better integrate traditional and digital tactics for even bigger results.  

3. Simple design is just good design.

I recently moderated a panel of award-winning graphic design and video experts as part of my work mentoring Nigerian nonprofits.

They kept bringing up the same theme over and over: Less is more.

Visual clutter confuses people. It distracts them from your message.

But less stimulation makes it easier for the reader to focus on your key concept and engage with it.

“Setting up the psychology of the mind to read from one place to the next – so that you actually know where to go – is very helpful to anybody,” says Darren Davis, CEO of Conversiv, a Phoenix-based communications firm.  

We couldn’t agree more. When you put a fundraising letter together, it’s important to eliminate “stoppers.” Those are the things that make donors say, “Meh, I’ll do this later.”

At a nonprofit, it’s tempting to add little things to appeals that make our lives easier. Here are a few stoppers we’ve seen:

  • Asking the donor (average age 64) to handwrite something

  • Turning your response device into a “mini-appeal”

  • Making the donor find their scissors rather than using perforated paper for the reply slip (Beezable perforates!)

These things might make our lives as nonprofit folks easier, but they make donating harder.

We designed Beezable to help you tell your story in a clear, consistent and powerful way.

That doesn’t mean that we won’t add new templates in the future. Invitations and holiday cards are already in progress.

But you can bet those will be straightforward and streamlined too, because simple fundraising … simply works.

Create, print and mail your next campaign with Beezable.com.

Laura Ingalls Fuqua is co-founder of Abeja Solutions, a fundraising marketing firm in Phoenix, Arizona. A recovering journalist, Laura has worked over 20 years as a professional communicator in both the nonprofit and corporate sectors.