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Why Designing Direct Mail for Fundraising is Different

A Designers Take

When you think about graphic designers, you probably picture one of those “creative” types — colorful and slightly different. But, being a designer is more than just “being creative.” It’s really about problem solving. A graphic designer analyzes the situation, and makes decisions about the best way to present the information for maximum effect — whatever the desired effect may be.

When it comes to designing fundraising campaigns for nonprofits, the effect we are going for is always the same: raise money! To do that, we often must put the desire to be “creative” aside in favor of getting results and staying in budget. And that’s why collaboration is so critical.

In my experience, there are three key players involved in creating a fundraising campaign: the person who develops the strategy (let’s call them the Director), the one who is responsible for getting it in the hands of the donor (we’ll call them the Producer), and the Designer — the one who translates the strategy into art that can be printed and mailed.

All three are united by the goals of the campaign and the budget. Ongoing communication between them will ensure everyone stays on the same page. And it should start from the beginning. Here are the key things every Director should communicate to the team from the get-go:

The goal of the mailing. Are you looking to get a higher response rate, or a bigger average gift? Are you looking to upgrade donors or is this a cultivation campaign? Is this an urgent campaign or should it feel personal? If you share your goal with the Designer, they will be able to create a package that meets it!

The budget. Can you afford the postage required for an over-sized envelope? Can the brochure print in 4-color? Can we print the letter on nicer stock? How many elements can be personalized, how many can be inserted? Can there be a special fold or a premium in the package? All of this information is critical to the Designer and the Producer and is translated into the specs of the package.

They say making movies is a messy business, and the same is true for direct mail. Strategies can change (like when results of a previous test mailing come in or when disaster strikes and you need get out an emergency mailing asap). Budgets can change (like when the price of paper suddenly goes through the roof or your list comes out of the merge with a different quantity than you expected). When specs change, don’t leave your Producer in the dark — be sure to communicate changes during the process.

If you are interested in finding out more about movie-making for direct mail, join me and “Producer” Michelle Johnston for day one of DMAW Production Week on Monday, April 19, 2021 | 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm for our take the Pre-Production Process.

Robin Perry is an award-winning graphic designer and Vice President at Lautman Maska Neill & Company. She can be reached at