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What You Wish You Knew about Fundraising Design [Book Review]

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Finally, we have the book I’ve been looking for all my career: Creative Deviations by John Lepp.

This book focuses on the most-neglected aspect of effective fundraising: Design. (It does a lot more than that too, and I’ll get to that in a bit.)

There are a lot of really good books about fundraising. But nearly all of them (including my own books) only lightly touch on design. That’s because the writers of these books are writers. They know how to work with words, and how those words work with donors. 

But put one of them in front of professional design software, and you’ll see the look of panic. (I tried to do something with InDesign a few years ago. Nope. That avenue of knowledge is not open to me! And others like me.)

So the writers stick to the very good writing advice to “write what you know.” We do our best, but we have only rudimentary design advice to share.

You and I both know that the way a message looks matters just as much as what it actually says. Design – the use of color, shapes, type, imagery, etc. – carries messages just as words do. I find my role in the design of fundraising largely limited to keeping things from being unreadable. That’s important, but it’s only a start.

Then along comes John Lepp. A designer who really knows fundraising. You may have met him in The Fundraisingology Lab, the Moceanic members-only community. If you have, you’ve seen his deep and practical knowledge at work. After years on the speaker circuit, he’s put it all down in this incredible book.

His fundraising design philosophy is straightforward. He calls it “design for donors,” and describes it this way:

It means that the donor’s needs are placed ahead of the needs of your boss, your designer, and the marketing and communications team with all of their subjective opinions about design. As a “designer,” I need to meet my donor where she is, not where I want to be.

Yes, that’s exactly what your approach to fundraising writing should be too. 

That’s how I know this is good stuff.

The thing about Creative Deviations is that it covers all the ground we need to cover in fundraising: strategy, writing, and design. It’s very personal, highly illustrated, packed-with-real-world-examples, and just plain fun. I learned a lot of new and useful things.

To give you a flavor of what you’ll find, here’s a sample:

10 things John Lepp wants you to know about type in fundraising

  1. Contrast: Use a high contrast color for text and background. 
  2. Type Color: Print material is most readable in black and white. If using colored text, restrict it to things like titles, headlines or highlighted material.
  3. Point Size: Bigger is better. Keep your text large. Preferably between 12 and 18 point.
  4. Leading: Leading is the space between lines of text and should be at least 25%–30% of the point size. This lets readers move more easily to the next line of text. Bolder type will need slightly more leading.
  5. Fonts: Avoid complicated or decorative fonts. Choose standard fonts with easily-recognizable upper and lowercase characters.
  6. Font: Opt for fonts with medium weight (or heaviness) and avoid light type with thin strokes. When emphasizing a word, italics and upper-case are not recommended.
  7. Letter Spacing: Don’t crowd your text. Keep a wide space between letters.
  8. Margins & columns: Separate text into columns to make it easier to read, as it requires less eye movement and less peripheral vision.
  9. Paper Finish: Use a matte or non-glossy finish to cut down on glare. Reduce distractions by not using watermarks or complicated background designs.
  10. Simple design: Use distinctive colors, sizes and shapes in your design but ensure that each element supports the message of the piece.

There’s a lot more like this in this excellent book. Like how to write stronger copy. How to work effectively with consultants. How to do a great job of thanking donors. How to encourage donors to leave your organization in their wills. And how to stay strong, confident, and on top of things as a fundraiser. Think of it as a one-stop survival kit for smart fundraisers.

Highly recommended!

No matter how well-designed your fundraising is, you can’t help but wonder how inflation and economic uncertainty might impact your fundraising. Good news! We’re offering an all-new and FREE Moceanic webinar called Fundraising in the Face of Inflation, Recession and Other Storms. Long-time fundraising expert Sean Triner will show you the practical steps you can take now to keep donors close and income flowing. The free webinar will only happen on September 14/15. Only a limited number will be able to attend! Sign up here!

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  • Jeff Brooks

    Jeff Brooks is a Fundraisingologist at Moceanic. He has more than 30 years of experience in fundraising, and has worked as a writer and creative director on behalf of top nonprofits around the world, including CARE, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Feeding America, and many others.

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