How Important is Design for Fundraising?

For many grassroots nonprofit organizations, simply executing annual solicitations and stewardship messages on time is an accomplishment in itself. Spending the extra time and money on contemporary, attractive designs and professional photography for print pieces, newsletters, webpages, and other digital content is beyond the scope of concern, among the myriad of other problems that crop up for a small fundraising team. 

However, design matters to donors, so it should matter to fundraisers. Here is why:

Good design catches the attention of donors. They receive on average 92 pieces of printed nonprofit marketing mail every year, buried among 454 other marketing materials. Working professionals also receive on average 126 emails a day. So many nonprofit appeals still rely on standard Microsoft Office Suite design assets. They also recycle old low-resolution photos or even use stock images. None of this mediocre content will cause you to pause a quick scan of your email inbox, junk mail pile, or social media newsfeed. 

Good design tells a story. Just as a well-written appeal lays out a narrative with a conflict and resolution, evokes emotion, and contains a lesson, good design can amplify each of these aspects of a compelling story. If your message articulates why your organization’s cause is worthy, you have built a convincing case for support. The visual engagement of our flashy digital age makes it difficult to do good storytelling without strong aesthetic design. This helps to explain the exploding popularity of infographics and infographic videos, which present data and complex concepts using an attractive and memorable appearance. 

Good design is functional. It isn’t enough to have content that is pretty. Any interactive element of your organization’s outreach needs to be intuitive and easy. If it is time consuming or frustrating to make a donation, get involved, or find out more information, many will give up and go elsewhere. Websites need to be mobile-friendly; giving forms need to be short and straightforward; publications need to be organized. This may be the least-appreciated aspect of nonprofit fundraising design, but when done poorly it can be the greatest weakness. 

Good design invites participation. Beyond soliciting a donation, we ask supporters to do so many other things. Sign up for our newsletter, leave a comment below, register for an event, share to your social media, become a volunteer...all of these opportunities for participation engage donors more deeply with the mission, and they are most attractive with high quality design. Laying out the many ways that an individual can make a difference in an intuitive, beautiful format is enticing and broadens the mind to the possibilities of their participation. 

Good design signals strength and credibility. Donors are afraid of giving to an organization that is untrustworthy or ineffective. An ugly, outdated website is a huge red flag for individuals who want to be assured that important work is being done by competent professionals. It takes less than a minute to click around and get a first impression of how legitimate a nonprofit organization is from the design appearance of its digital content. Most importantly, the bar has been set: titans of the nonprofit industry like Feeding America, Habitat for Humanity, and The Nature Conservancy have professionally designed web and print materials. This is the new standard against which all nonprofit organizations will be measured, and if they cannot come close, donors may feel better off going with an established institution that seems more “legit.” 

So how to get started? 

Consult experts. If there isn’t someone on your staff or board with a marketing and design background, look for introductions to someone in that profession. The trend of minimalism and simplicity in design might make you think that anyone can do this stuff - far from it. Although you may not know how to put together high quality design, anyone can recognize it when they see it. 

Establish a budget. There is substantial value to high quality design content for nonprofits, so professional creation comes with a cost. It will be worth it, and you might be able to find a donor to underwrite something like a website overhaul if they recognize the importance and impact. If you have the choice between mediocre pro-bono work or paying for excellence, the latter will always be the better option in the long run. 

Focus on evergreen. Although nothing lasts forever, it’s important to get the most value for your money. Building a stockpile of professional photography can be a once-a-year project if you plan it well. Recurring designs for things like newsletters, annual reports, or webpages will continue to “pay back” the time and expense that you put into proper design. 

A commitment to professionalism in fundraising requires high standards for design among other things like grammar, handwriting, public speaking, and more. Fundraising for nonprofits is not only important and inspiring: it can also be beautiful.  

For some inspiration on what is possible with incredible design for a nonprofit organization, check out Charity: Water


  1. Prospettiva illuminante! Il design svolge un ruolo cruciale nel successo della raccolta fondi, catturando l'attenzione e trasmettendo credibilità. Il tuo articolo sottolinea l'importanza di un design riflessivo nei progetti non profit. Grazie per mettere in evidenza questo aspetto vitale!


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