DO Touch Please: Engaging the Senses

“Design is about progress. It is about conceptualizing a vision of what can be; the act of designing is to move with intent to close the gap between existing conditions and that vision.” – Todd Johnson, Head of Design, Global Innovation Summit

Design, at its core, is rarely an object. It is an experience, an emotion existing to assign meaning and purpose, create connection, and support intentions.

Now, re-read Todd’s quote above and replace the word “design” with “fundraising.” Does it sound familiar to you?

Fundraising is about progress. It is about conceptualizing a vision for others of what can be possible with their investment in your organization. The act of fundraising is to move with intent to close the gap between existing conditions in our world and our vision for the world.

Inherent in powerful fundraising is beautiful and purposeful design. And while quality design of collateral pieces is a significant player in the world of communication and fundraising, boxing design in to the visual boxes out a world of possibilities.

Often, as fundraisers, we privilege visual design. Whether this be captivating imagery in an annual report, dynamic and responsive components of website design, or the newly branded layout of our newsletter—we inadvertently disconnect our donors from the physical experience of engagement.

I’m not talking about the physical experience of putting pen to checkbook (which as fundraisers we often qualify as “engaging”)—I mean the equally significant experiences of touch, taste, movement, smell, and sound as a method of connecting with emotions that help assign meaning and purpose.

Thinking like a designer or artist can transform the way you develop your donor experience, fundraising processes, and strategy. Take, for instance, the high-end designed gala at charity:water’s charity:ball. Thousands of gala attendees literally got to “feel” first-hand what it is like for millions of people around the world who have to walk for hours each day to collect dirty water through the gala’s “Water Walk”—a catwalk where attendees, dressed in their finest, carried two fuel cans filled with water (you can watch another version of their Water Walk here). Four years later, gala attendees were transported to Ethiopia via a virtual reality headset to hear a first-hand account of a young girl and how clean water had changed her village.

Fundraising design isn’t only for non-profits with big budgets, well-connected board members, VIP executive directors, or deep-pocketed donors. (For an example of a less-glamorous, stripped-down but equally engaging experience, check out Works Progress Water Bar—a pop-up bar serving local tap waters and focusing on water issues.)

Fundraising design shouldn’t be relegated to the gala or fundraising event experience. Beautiful and intentional fundraising design can make a difference in every aspect of our work. From the sounds we share with our donors to the experience we create for funders during a foundation visit.

How are we designing experiences that encourage engagement? How can we help our donors hear—even when they can’t visit our organization—the families laughing and learning together at our program for young parents? What if—instead of inviting our foundation guests to sit around our board room table—we invited them to grab a shovel and dig in the community garden we were proposing they invest in? What if we got rid of the mismatched, chipped coffee cups, and store-brand coffee, and shared chewy chunks of freshly baked bread and salted butter from our social enterprise cafe along with cold, filtered water from a beautiful carafe? What if we created approachable videos or podcasts of clients and staff and community members sharing their stories?

Beautiful and purposeful design needn’t be difficult or expensive. It simply needs to be authentic and thoughtful. Amazing, transformative experiences happen at the intersection of beautiful design and fundraising. Take some time this week to add a dash of artistic design—touch, taste, movement, smell, and sound—to your organization’s fundraising and open the door to more meaningful dialogue, the discovery of possibility, and movement toward a vision of what can be.

“Producing stunning creative output is only a tiny part of what it means to be a designer, yet aesthetics continue to be the only part that we herald as valuable. But it’s these other skills—empathizing, systems thinking, storytelling—that describe a successful career in design.” – John Kolko, Founder and Director, Austin Center for Design

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