The psychology of colour and what it means for fundraising

By Victoria Forrest, FINZ NewzViewz December 2014

Colour is one of the most overlooked marketing tools available to you – for instance, do you know what affect red is likely to have when used in your promotional pieces?

Are you red hot? Or true blue? It’s no secret that colour evokes emotion and is a key visual indicator that communicates meaning. But just how much goes on in our minds when it comes to colour?

Most of today's conversations on colours and persuasion consist of hunches, anecdotal evidence and advertisers blowing ‘smoke’ about ‘colours and the mind.’

I have chosen just two for you to think about today . . . but in the long run it is over to you to know your donors best – how? By testing and by asking relevant questions.

Firstly, marketing strategist Gregory Ciotti offers an excellent review of how colour can influence brand preference and, in turn, how we feel about the messages we receive.

Some highlights:

  • Up to 90 percent of first impressions of products can be based on colour alone.
  • Both men and women appear to have a strong preference for the colour blue, while purple tends to be favored more by women, and shunned by men. (Orange and brown don’t seem to get much love at all from either gender.)
  • Our personal experiences and cultural norms influence the way we interpret colour.
  • The perceived ‘appropriateness’ of colours used will affect the perception of a brand’s message. (That is, do we generally expect baby blue to communicate power?)

What does any of this have to do with your fundraising approach? The various ways you use colour to communicate with your donors can affect how your brand is remembered, and even affect the likelihood of a donor acting on your next appeal.

Be consistent with your charity’s branding

Ciotti notes that research has shown our brains tend to prefer recognisable brands. Establish a core set of images and colours for your organisation and use them consistently throughout your marketing so potential supporters can immediately recognise you. An interesting read is how the ASPCA – American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – came to the conclusion that orange was the colour for them. Drop me a note and I can send you their story.

Don’t be afraid to stand out

People often ask what colour they should use for their organisation’s donation button. Many feel that a strong colour, like red, is always the right answer. The reality is that it depends. If your organisation’s marketing materials and website are predominantly red or orange, a contrasting colour (such as blue) will likely perform much better. Our brains immediately notice the things that deviate from our surroundings. Use this to your advantage and avoid being too colour coordinated. Consider how contrasting colours and bold highlights can help your key points and calls to action be seen by busy readers on the go. Yellow highlighting or red editorial marks in direct mail pieces effectively lead donors’ and potential donors’ eyes down the page.

Colour descriptions matter

People seem to gravitate more to colours that have more ‘descriptive’ names - raspberry vs pink, or mahogany vs brown. While this fact is probably more important to paint manufacturers and fashion designers, it’s worth noting as you incorporate descriptive elements in your storytelling. Replace generic descriptions with richer details to paint a more realistic and vivid picture in your donors’ mind.

Secondly, we have Australian marketing, advertising and corporate image consultant, John Miner’s ‘Complete Colour Reference Manual’, which is a guide to using colour in your promotional material and for creating moods.

Colour for Attraction / Impulse Actions

BRIGHT COLOURS - recommended for impulse action.
LIGHT COLOURS – good impulse attraction, depending on the colour.
DARK COLOURS – little attraction value.
NEUTRALS – some neutrals have impulse attraction.
VIOLET – little value from an attraction standpoint.
BLUE – essentially a background colour, passive, little impact
BLUE/GREEN – has more impact than pure blue, particularly turquoise, which has good impulse value.
GREEN – luminous shades of green have good attraction value especially those having a good proportion of yellow. Other variations are best used for background.
YELLOW – excellent attention getter but avoid very pale yellow and harsh acidic variations.
ORANGE – red/orange has by far the strongest impulse value. It is almost impossible to ignore. (Preferred to brilliant orange).
BROWN – Not recommended. Fawn does have some attraction value but is not as good as orange.
RED – excellent attention getter but use reds on the yellow side. Vermillion is particularly recommended and appeals universally. Flame red is also good but avoid blue type reds. Do not use red for background except in special circumstances.
PINK – luminous tones of pink have excellent attraction value but avoid pale pinks. Coral pink is recommended.
WHITE – background only.
OFF WHITE – not recommended for impulse applications.
GREY – background only, not recommended for impulse applications.
BLACK – maybe useful in special circumstances.
GREY TINTS - not recommended.

Colour for Creating Moods

HARD COLOURS – generally create and exciting mood and are inviting to the viewer.
SOFT COLOURS – subdue – create a quiet mood.
BRIGHT COLOURS – pale green and yellow suggest Spring – turning people’s thoughts to new clothes and furnishings.
MUTED COLOURS – subdue – suggest luxury and sophistication.
LIGHT COLOURS – help to direct attention outwards.
DARK COLOURS – tend to create a sombre, serious mood.
NEUTRALS – create a mood of dignity and safety.
VIOLET – enigmatic and dramatic. Evokes conflicting emotions, people either like it or hate it.
BLUE – a peace maker, denotes quietness because it retards automatic responses. Large areas of blue are cold.
BLUE/GREEN – less subduing than blue, infers coolness, freshness, cleanliness.
GREEN – non-aggressive and tranquil. Denotes freshness, restfulness, the outdoors. Pastel greens can be subduing. Grey/green creates an influential image.
YELLOW – friendly and cheerful, it provides inspiration and a sunny disposition. The happiest of colours. Pale yellow produces a quieter note.
ORANGE – cheerful and stimulating but can be tiring and slightly irritating over large areas.
BROWN – earthy browns are intimate. Yellow browns create an intense mood. Tan is soft and warm. Sandstone and tan are influential, while fawn and beige are sophisticated.
RED - passionate, warm and exciting. Creates automatic responses. May people quarrel when in a bright red room. People react more quickly to red than any other colour.
PINK – creates a gentler mood than red. Peach is a warm colour associated with happiness.
WHITE – neutral in character. Creates a stark atmosphere. Associated with joyous occasions, weddings.
OFF WHITE – creates a mood of dignity and safety.
BLACK – can be dramatic, but suggests mourning and in the wrong context can be depressing.
GREY – conservative, reduces emotional response and is non-commital.
GREY TINT – subdue, but effective depends on the base colour.

Phew!!!!!! That’s a lot to digest . . .
. . . but my best advice to you is TEST. TEST. TEST – only needs to be small ‘runs’ of your DM pieces to test. You can ask me about testing just drop me a line at

The psychology of colour and what it means for fundraising



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