Design can affect your outcomes. Pretty -vs- Functional 

I am a visual person. I like clean and interesting graphics. During my career, I have prided myself on bringing great graphic looks to the pieces I helped create. How can you change years of middle of the road design on your pieces? Well, you don’t do it in one mailing. Recently, I had the experience of working with a new organization to help them update and energize their direct mail appeals.

The first thing I did was get copies of every appeal that had been mailed in the last three years and did a table top. By placing all the pieces side by side, you should see the visual story your direct mail tells. Are they similar, do they look like they come from the same organization? Do they represent your organization well? In this case, the pieces were all rather bland. There was a disconnect between the vitality of the organization and what was on the printed page.

You will notice I am not talking about the content of the letters. I was just interested in the first impression of the materials. What does a prospect of donor see with they are flipping through their mail?
I changed everything! The new package had a four-color envelope cleverly designed letterhead and was very modern looking.

We mailed the piece to current donors as the first mailing of the year. I was very pleased, and everyone thought it looked great. Everyone but the donors - they didn’t respond to it by sending donations. The appeal only did about 2/3 as well as the previous year's mailing did. So what happened?

After much soul searching and conversations with staff and consultants, the answer was pretty simple. My new pieces didn’t look like what donors expected from the organization. The appeal appeared to come from a different organization. So they didn’t respond.

This was a hard lesson to learn but an important one. "No style" is a style. If your donors are accustomed to getting pieces that have a certain look and you want to make changes to the way those pieces look - make them incrementally. Starting with the inside of the pieces after all you need them to open the mail. Then make small tweaks to the envelope. Take your time. You can freshen up and modernize your designs without alienating or confusing your donor

Take that fancy design and test it with your acquisition mailing. If it does well in the test, then make it your base piece for acquisition. These donors only know you from the piece with the new look. With these new donors in hand, you can slowly update your renewal pieces.

It is always worth reviewing your design esthetic, but my recommendation is to go slowly and test everything.


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