FP#5 🖍️ Non-Obvious Fundraising Design Tips (& My "Unboxing" Video)

published4 months ago
6 min read

Fundraising Players Newsletter by Julie Cooper
In this Issue: Colorful tips to help you design better fundraising
A box of crayons
This week's image is by Stephanie Frey from 123rf

Welcome to the 5th issue of Fundraising Players. FP is about fundraising, writing, donors, life. I’m glad you’re here. Today, I made a fun “unboxing” video for you. If you want to take a peek inside a bulky direct mail solicitation pack, stick around and we'll look at it together! ​👀

Chicago, Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Hi ,

Happy National Crayon Day! It’s a day to celebrate one of the most beloved toys for children. 🖍️

((And it's a way for the Crayola people to get you thinking about buying a few boxes to finish the school year strong. There’s always a marketing angle to a Hallmark holiday, isn’t there?))

Anyhoo... there really is something so special about crayons. The distinct smell.... that waxy feel… the memories of childhood creations that sometimes were displayed on the refrigerator door.

If you’re like me, a crayon was the first drawing tool put into your little pincer grasp when you were a toddler. And if you’re a parent, it was probably your child’s first too. (“No, no, Sammy! Don’t EAT the crayon. DRAW with it.” 🤦‍♀️)

The most wonderful thing about a crayon, though, is its simplicity.

There’s nothing pretentious about a crayon. Not. One. Thing.

That’s how I think about the design of fundraising appeal communications.

It’s easy like Sunday morning.

Well, maybe not “easy” in mindset. Or “easy” in convincing the boss to approve necessary changes. But “easy” in that you don’t need to hire an advertising whiz from Madison Avenue to get big results. (In fact, if you did hire one, your fundraising would probably circle the drain.)

Before moving on, let’s do a quick quiz. First, find the last appeal letter your organization sent. (I’ll wait here while you grab that. Go ahead, I’ve got some time. ⏳)

* * * * * * *

You back already? OK!

Which one best describes the design of your appeal? Check one:

_____ It’s snazzy! It has a modern feel, full of color and pictures, and printed on the finest, shiniest paper we could find! Can we submit it somewhere for a fundraising design award?? I don’t mean to brag, but it’s pretty freaking awesome-looking. Eat your heart out, Donatella Versace!

_____ It looks like we created it in Microsoft Word and made copies from our office printer.

If you vibe with the second one, then take a big sigh of relief. 😌

Not because I’m assuming your appeal design is where it needs to be. (Without studying it, I have no idea.)

But because it means you are on the right track.

Here’s a secret about me: I’m a designer at heart. I love to “pretty things up” and make designs appealing, artistic, and thought-provoking.

But that doesn’t work in fundraising.

Effective fundraising has a simple, no-frills design. It’s straightforward.

Kinda boring.

(But that's okay.)

After all, the goal of your fundraising appeal is to earn monetary gifts and build relationships with your big-hearted donors... not win a gold medal for graphic design.🥇


Nod your head if you agree with the following statements.

Our fundraising communications must...

✅ Engage the donor and maintain their interest.

✅ Keep the donor’s attention focused on making a gift.

✅ Be kind to their eyes and not cause frustration.

If that makes sense to you, great! You understand that a distracted and confused reader will not take action.

We need to be relentlessly editing our appeals. We need to make sure anything that may be a distraction or stumbling block ends up on the cutting-room floor.


Let’s talk about donors for a moment.

💙 Donors have busy lives. They rarely think about our organizations. They like us and our cause, but we are not top-of-mind.

💙 Donors give to a number of organizations. We are just one of their charities.

💙 Donors are typically older, with a majority being age 55 and up. With age comes vision impairments. (Just ask anyone who is over 40! 👓)

💙 Donors want to make an impact on causes they care deeply about.

💙 Donors LOVE to give. They have the biggest, warmest hearts of anyone on the planet. Our job is to make sure we connect their values to the cause.

Simplicity in design can go a long way to help engage donors and keep them focused on making a donation.


Nobody is born with the “fundraising appeal-writing” gene. We know what works based on decades upon decades of direct-response research. Lucky for us, we can benefit from this.

We just need to study and apply proven strategies. (Yay for us!!) 🤩

Here’s a list of some design tips that can make a big impact on your fundraising revenue. Which ones are you doing already?

🔥 Make your appeal letters look like letters. Not flyers or brochures. Letter format only.

🔥 Use black (dark) text on a white (light) background for the messages you want the donor to read. (So basically, everything.) This combination is linked to good reading comprehension. Delete gray text entirely.

🔥 Break up paragraphs to avoid the dreaded “wall of text.” A thick piece of text is a turn-off, and donors will skip it. Like you and me, we avoid reading anything that drags us down or feels like work.

🔥 Vary paragraph lengths. Our brains love variation, so make sure the number of lines differ. For example, 2, 3, 3, 2, 1, 4, 3… Do not go over 6 lines per paragraph.

🔥 Go with a larger-size font, like 14 or 15, for the body copy. Do not make your donor strain their eyes to read your message. If this means that you need an extra page for a direct mail letter, so be it.

🔥 Use a serif font for direct mail. (A serif font's letters have little tails at the ends.) Times New Roman and Georgia are two examples. Serif fonts increase readability and reading speed. (The font you are reading now is sans serif — Arial. It's good for computer screens.)

🔥 Choose a matte paper stock for printed letters. Words are easier to read on a non-glossy surface. Also, paper with a glossy finish tends to feel like marketing. And nobody wants to be marketed to.

🔥 Remove all design elements that do not keep the donor’s attention focused on the message. Less is more when it comes to fundraising writing.

🔥 Emphasize only the most crucial copy in your letter (i.e., underline, bold, italics, larger fonts). Do this for the many skimmers and scanners who will never read your message in its entirety. Just be sure to keep it simple. Not everything is essential.

🔥 Optimize your emails and website for mobile devices. Your supporters are reading your content from their phones and tablets. (Hand your phone to someone who is over the age of 40. Can they easily read your website copy and emails without any adjustments? If not, optimize.)

🔥 Use photos that show the need for support. That’s why neutral and sad images work best. Happy pictures can undo the power of your persuasive writing. Donors see happy photos and think that you have the problem under control… and thus do not need their support. Also, if you don’t have an appropriate image, consider either using a stock photo or no picture at all.

🔥 In direct mail, pay close attention to your outer envelope. If donors notice the envelope, it may get opened. And if it gets opened, it may get read. And if it gets read, you might get a donation!

Yesterday, John Lepp from Agents of Good posted the following image on Twitter. John is a master of fundraising design. He takes a deep dive into outer envelopes in his latest blog post. Find out how you can make your direct mail pack stand out in a sea of sameness. (Hint: maybe use a different size outer envelope than everyone else. See below.😮)

Tweet from John Lepp


I love opening direct mail packs, especially when they're bulky. 🥰 This time, I thought I’d open one with you! This pack has a child’s drawing on the front and back of the outer envelope (Hello again, dear crayon️! 🖍️) I hope you enjoy exploring this solicitation pack as much I did.

Unboxing! Click on my head to watch me open a solicitation pack I recently received in the mail. Lots of goodies inside!

(If the above link doesn't work, the video is here too.)

Remember, , every single element in an appeal letter needs to be essential to your message.

When you remove obstacles in your fundraising communications, the decision to give becomes an easy one for your donor. 💜

I’ll see you again in your inbox in two weeks.

All my best,


PS: I'd love to hear from you, . Do you have a challenge that you’d like me to address in a future newsletter? Hit "reply" and let me know. I'd love to consider it!💡

PPS: If you're on Clubhouse, join Leah Eustace, Mike Duerksen, and me TODAY at 12 pm EST for a chat about the magic of nonprofit storytelling. How do you tell stories in a way that both touches the hearts of donors and elevates the communities we serve? Here’s the link for more info. 👋

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