How to work with a professional designer

fundraising strategy work with a professional designer

Even if you know how to use InDesign and Photoshop, do you really have the time it takes to do a professional job laying out your fundraising appeal letter or newsletter or brochure?

                One strategy is to outsource that work to a graphic designer who can not only do a terrific job, but get it done faster than you could. Many nonprofits, including small nonprofits, actually find it very cost effective to use a graphic designer.

                However, you have to know how to work with a designer to make the process successful.

                First, know what your goals are. Who is your audience? What action do you want your audience to take?

                For example, your goal might be to enroll teens in your organization’s program. But who is your audience—the teens or their parents? An edgy design might draw in the teens that your nonprofit serves, but actually turn off their parents.

                Also let the designer know if there is a mood you are trying to convey. Do you want to make the reader feel happy? Eager? Concerned? Generous?

                How do you want your organization to be perceived? As helpful? Cutting edge? Traditional?

                If you have decided on the specifications of your project, share them with your designer. The design she creates will be very different if it’s produced in black only, or in two colors, or in four (full) colors. The size, color and type of paper are also critical. The colors that your organization uses will need to be taken into account. Give her the PMS numbers if you have them, or give her samples that show your colors. You also need to let your designer know whether you have artwork in hand, whether photos need to be shot, or whether you want the designer to use stock photos or artwork. If you haven’t planned the specs yet, your designer can help you.

                Notice that we started by talking about the goals of the project, and we’re just now starting to talk about how the piece will look.

                Many people get it backwards. They get a picture in their head of how something should look, then hire a designer. I promise you, that is an exercise in frustration for all parties concerned. Few people are articulate enough to describe how the finished product should look, and no designers I know can read minds. At the end of the day, everyone is disappointed.

                Instead, guide the designer.

                Find examples of pieces that you like. If you’re doing a newsletter, it would be great to find examples of newsletters by other organizations similar to yours. But don’t limit yourself. Also gather magazines, brochures, ads, even cereal boxes—anything that has the look you’re going for.

                The next step is important: Try to analyze your collection and see what it is about the pieces that seems to work. Is it the amount of white space? The type face? The use of color? If you can’t quite put your finger on what exactly is appealing, describe it as best you can. Perhaps what you like is that your examples seem light and airy. That steers him in one direction. If you just hand him a pile of samples, he may interpret them as being modern or as being pastel, and go off in a direction that wasn’t what you wanted.

                When your designer delivers a proof, think back to the beginning of your process. Does this piece appeal to your audience? Does it make the reader feel the emotions you want them to feel? Does it portray your organization in the way you want your audience to perceive it? Is the piece easy to read? Does the design amplify the message of the text? Will it make your audience take action?

                In short—Does it work?

                As the piece goes to other people in your organization for your approval process, make it clear to each person that you’re asking them to check whether the piece works, not whether they “like” it. Ask them for “corrections” rather than for “changes.” That will elicit the kind of feedback that is helpful to the designer and make your design successful.  



To learn more about how cost effective it can be to use a professional designer for your next project, contact us at  at 1 (888) 244‑4013 or [email protected].


Fundraising Assets helps busy fundraising professionals raise more money, save valuable time and reduce costs. We offer consulting, writing, design and production services for direct mail and e-mail fundraising, social networking and more.


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    Very good post. Keep composing.

    Comment by Bryson Conde — March 24, 2012 @ 5:14 AM

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