More Than a Logo: Psychology of Altruism in Design Strategy

Over 50 years ago, IBM’S T.J Watson first touted a saying that rings true to this day: “Good design is good business”. Add a good cause to the design strategy equation, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for enacting real change.

However, when it comes to the bottom line, not-for-profits (NFP) are often hesitant —and rightly so, — to outlay precious resources into what could be perceived as non-essential expenditures. But when it comes to investing in your design, it’s more than just logos and colour palettes.

There’s a general misconception that design simply makes things “look good”. This doesn’t begin to convey the profound impact of design on consumer behaviour.

In the NFP sector, design strategy is virtually synonymous with the AMO Theory of Influence, otherwise known as the “Ability-Motivation-Opportunity Framework”. First referenced by Olander and Thorgerson in the Journal of Economics, in 1995, it describes how we can influence behaviour or, in this context, how we can encourage donations. It starts with how we motivate people to care about a legitimate cause, create awareness, provide an opportunity for people to engage, and enable their contribution by providing them with the ability to support it through easy-to-use donation systems.

But how exactly does this integrate into design strategy? I’m so glad you asked:

1. Motivation – legitimise and authenticate your cause

Brand loyalty and trust is formed by consistent and persistent exposure to your “brand”.

A distinctive, recognisable, and professional brand image legitimises your organisation and helps form authentic connections with your market audience. The consistency of the brand image is a critical part of the broader design strategy conversation and is integral to aiding recognition across all customer touchpoints.

Whilst most medium-to-large NFP’s have funds allocated for marketing, design strategy should be a primary consideration at the beginning of any venture. It’s also important to stress that design is not just a ‘set and forget’ task but a way of thinking: something that should be integrated into your broader strategy and continually revisited in order to stay relevant.

Consistent brand image and design strategy develop trust in your audience, which is critical for establishing meaningful relationships with prospective donors.

2. Opportunity – get noticed in a competitive market

In Australia, there are 54,913 registered charities with the ACNC — that’s 54,913 opportunities to make even a small difference to the lives of those less fortunate.

A 2018 Roy Morgan report indicated that in the past 12 months, only 61 per cent of Australians aged 14 and over reported giving to a charity. On average, people were giving just 0.4 per cent of their annual taxable income.

Whilst it’s disappointing that Australia’s charitable behaviour is not in line with our giving potential, understanding the reality of known consumer behaviours allows us to target identified demographics and focus on genuine potential donors.

Strong and captivating visuals, easy-to-use technology, and timely and targeted campaigns are critical to developing a connection to your audience; this is integral to converting your marketing strategy into donations. In a highly competitive market, with 54,912 other worthy opportunities, a solid design strategy can help you stand out from the crowd and attract the attention and contributions of your potential donor market.

3. Ability – technology to facilitate contribution

Good design makes it easy for people to donate. User interface research and website user experience is an area of design thinking that anticipates how we process information and interact with media. Systems like auto-filling credit card details and offering simple “click here to add a $2 donation” cuts out precious seconds of contemplation where distraction can derail a potential moment of giving.

In the age of the smartphone and social media, where an overwhelming torrent of information constantly buffets us, time is of the essence. So, it’s in your best interests to streamline the process and make it fast and easy to make a contribution. These are all considerations that establish the layout, functionality, hierarchy of information flow, and structure of a digital platform or campaign.

Beyond its visual medium, design strategy is a creative problem-solving method that incorporates systems technology, consumer psychology and behavioural patterns to communicate and engage with a much larger audience.

If you had been hesitant to invest in your design strategy, let this be your call to action.

In an increasingly competitive market with not for profits jostling for attention, recognition, and funding, it’s hard to make even the most worthy of causes stand out in the mass of organisations rewriting the inequalities of modern living. To give your cause the recognition it deserves, branding and digital design strategy is a crucial investment that will return bottom-line value to your charity and ultimately further your cause.

Design is not just a logo; it’s how you connect, how you motivate, engage and enable people to care about something that really matters. “Good design is good business”, yes, but a good cause with good design makes for a better world.