Graphic designers sitting around table reviewing design trends

You have to spend money to make money — it applies to nonprofit organizations as well as businesses. But as a nonprofit raising funds, you must balance the investment in quality fundraising materials that move people to give with the concerns of donors who may believe you’re spending too much money on those materials. Part of that investment is in good design.

What happens when you combine fundraising best practices with current design trends? Using design trends in your direct mail fundraising and marketing materials can transform your communications … and possibly your fundraising results. Get a greater return on your fundraising material investment with these best practice/design trend combos.

Design for Both Scanners and Readers

Different donors view your fundraising direct mail in different ways:

  • You have the “10 Second Club,” those who look at the piece and take it straight to the trash can — all in about 10 seconds.
  • Scanners read headlines and look at pictures. They don’t spend much more time with your mailing — maybe 20 to 30 seconds. They either have an interest in your mission and donate to your organization, or they like to skim every piece of mail before getting rid of it.
  • Readers are who you wish all your donors were. These recipients actually read your mailing because of an active interest in your cause or organization, or these fall within your older demographic of donors who enjoy reading direct mail.

The key to an effective direct mail package is to appeal to the scanners and the readers (the “10 Second Club” won’t result in a high ROI). A current design trend that can make your fundraising appeals more scanner-friendly is negative space. Negative space, or white space, is already an element of good design. Now, artists are taking it further to create a double meaning to a design. This example from the World Food Programme shows you how negative space is used to tell a story.

You can use the negative space trend for a double meaning or just for the white space that makes your materials easier to scan. Combine it with bolded text, bullet points, and pull quotes. And for your readers, make sure you have great text content.

Remember How People Read a Letter

Do you remember how a reader interacts with a direct mail package? For a refresher, a person reads your mailing in the following order:

  1. Outer Envelope
  2. Letter
  3. Enclosure
  4. Response Device

More than anything, images, and graphics impact how your letter is read. As for text, a person will read the first line; bolded, underlined, or italicized text; headlines; and the P.S. Research shows that 9 out of 10 readers will read the P.S. before returning to the top of the letter. The question is how do you effectively design for the way people read mail?

We’re seeing more and more nonprofits use headlines in their appeals. If this is a copy strategy you’re embracing, why not make a statement with typography, another current design trend? You can grab attention through size and color. It might be a good idea to revisit your style guide (or create one) as you play with typography and color, so you establish a consistent brand for your organization.

Build a Consistent Brand … With Variety

Speaking of brand, your nonprofit should have one. Every time your organization interacts with your audience — through direct mail, at events, with employees — is an opportunity to build awareness of your organization. However, your organization loses out when your organization isn’t consistently recognizable through solid branding.

Consistency doesn’t mean “same,” though. If you send monthly appeals, you’ll incite boredom quickly if each monthly package looks identical. So while you want to create a recognizable brand through repetition, the brand must include variety.

First, your organization should send a variety of materials — ask and non-ask letters, newsletters, annual or special campaign appeals, etc. Second, trends such as negative/white space, dramatic typography, and bright, bold colors can be used to change up the look of pieces without straying too far from your established brand.


Your priority with direct mail fundraising and other fundraising materials should be to follow well-researched best practices. Trends come and go, so be sure a trend is a good fit for your story and audience before moving forward. You can find the list of these and six other graphic design trends, with examples, from Canva.


Good design is just one piece of the successful fundraising puzzle. Subscribe to our monthly Nonprofit Insights email newsletter to start seeing the full picture of integrated, multichannel nonprofit communications.