Nonprofits have compelling stories to tell. As a creative firm, we do design work for nonprofits to help them tell their tales. We like to listen to these stories and figure out how to convey them in a way that can be easily understood and amplified. Our end product channels these ideas, allowing the audience to be emotionally engaged and to take action.
So how do you tell a compelling story through design? You can find stories everywhere, but the most compelling ones will move you emotionally. Every nonprofit we’ve worked with is driven by a cause, has shocking statistics to share, or has a sincere desire to change conditions for the better. Their brand stewards should ask these questions at the outset of any project:
1. How do you make people care about your cause’s story?
2. How can you make it easy for them to become engaged and mobilized?
3. How can you keep it simple and accessible?
Answering these questions with your internal marketing and external design teams will help capture initial ideas. Then step back and leave it to the designers to craft a solution.
There are a few key factors that guarantee the success and effectiveness of your design project. Clear communications and a willingness to collaborate should top your list. Successful projects are created collaboratively without stepping on anyone’s toes.
These steps should be kept in mind as you’re planning your design project:
Define objectives and stakeholders
Have realistic expectations
Write a solid creative brief
Engage a design firm
Manage the review and approval process
Launch the project
Define Objectives and Stakeholders
Everyone has a different definition of what success means. It’s important to include all stakeholders early in the creative process, allowing everyone the opportunity to influence the outcome of your project. Many organizations we have worked with have a board of trustees, making it non-elective to include everyone’s thoughts as you define the overall objectives. Informing your designer of potential challenges with specific stakeholders can often help avoid problems getting buy-ins further down the road.
When we worked with From The Top, a Boston-based nonprofit, we were warned that one of the co-CEOs wasn’t open to modernizing their logo. With this in mind, we crafted our branding presentation in such a way that eventually convinced both co-CEOs to go along with our recommendation within a month. This, in turn, enabled us to relaunch their website with an entirely new, fresh, and modern look two months later, just in time for fundraising season at the end of the year.
Most graphic designers are not content creators. At minimum, your project will require copy and images, though recently we have found video/motion graphic content to be very effective in connecting with audiences, especially when amplified by social media campaigns. Regardless of the form of your content, make sure your designers understand early in the planning process what types of content they should expect to receive from you. This will help them plan their production process accordingly.
When we worked with Brighter Bites, we collaboratively organized a photo shoot of fresh fruits and vegetables to enliven various sections of the website. Paired with tongue-in-cheek copywriting by Principle (Houston, Texas), the website provides useful information about their mission to teach school children to prepare nutritious meals at home while turning their frown upside down.
Have Realistic Expectations
Get your design/production budget and deadline cleared up front. You don’t want to design an oversized poster if all you can afford to print is a mini postcard. Nothing in this world is free, not even that tiny Facebook ad you have looked away from after a split second. Someone spent the time to craft this tiny ad, regardless of its success rate.
When we worked with Design Trust of Public Space, we were advised during the kickoff meeting of their small production budget to promote their annual benefit auction. To support the theme of 20 Public Space Champions/20 Years of Groundbreaking Work, we designed invitations and posters in vibrant colors with an interlocking 20/20 graphic. This clever, low-budget approach helped them close the auction night with tremendous success.
Write a Solid Creative Brief
A well-written creative brief helps everyone plan effectively. Depending on the project’s scale, you may be working with copywriters, researchers, designers, programmers, printers, marketers, and others. A concise creative brief aligns everyone’s expectations from the outset, so follow these rules:
1. Be clear about project objectives and audience.
2. Detail production specifications (e.g., size, format, page count, colors). If it’s a digital product, detail the technical requirements (e.g., responsive, CMS, SEO, target browsers).
3. Explain the kind of content that will be provided (e.g., copy, images, videos) and how they will be supplied.
4. Clarify the roles of everyone involved, including the stakeholders, creatives, and third party vendors.
5. Draft a realistic schedule from project kickoff to final delivery.
6. Clearly explain budget constraints and expectations.
If you’re not sure where to begin, ask an experienced designer to help draft the creative brief.
Engage a Design Firm
With a creative brief and content plan in hand, you are ready for a kickoff meeting with a design firm. Seasoned design firms can digest and provide recommendations based on your initial conversation, and help fill in any gaps in your project plan from creative and production standpoints.
If you’re not sure where to look for design firms that fit your project requirements, there are many resources online. Most of our nonprofit clients were referred by existing and past clients. For us, referrals still prove to be the best way to connect with potential collaborators because it is based on trust.
Manage the Review and Approval Process
It’s important to make sure your designer can maintain a singular channel of communication with your organization. Usually this task is handled by the Communications Director, who can ensure that the following are achieved:
1. Organize internal feedback into bite-sized, non-conflicting comments for the designer.
2. Collaborate with the designer to allow for a certain degree of creative interpretation by being not too prescriptive when providing feedback. Graphic designers are excellent problem solvers and should be given a chance to solve problems, instead of being told how to do everything.
3. Proofread and fact check the content. Some photos, illustrations, and video content may also need licensing clearance.
4. Stick to the agreed upon schedule; if you find you are falling behind, adjust it diligently.
5. If your project is a digital product, make sure to do extensive user testing prior to the public launch.
6. If your project is printed and tangible, make sure there’s ample time for printing/production and delivery/installation.
For the Vilcek Foundation, we were asked to design a one-of-a-kind holiday card on a set budget. After we presented a few ideas, the selected idea cost more to produce. However, because we maintained a clear channel of communication with the Executive Director, we managed to get buy-in on the more costly but more rewarding approach. Even though it took longer to produce the die-cut metal ornament cards, they were delivered in time for the holidays. Our most rewarding projects are those where the client allows a good deal of creative freedom and goes along with it.
Nothing is more rewarding than seeing your project come to fruition, especially when it’s well-designed and well-received. But at the end of the day, a streamlined creative process means you can spend more time focusing on achieving your organization’s mission.
John Kudos is Founder and Creative Director of KUDOS Design Collaboratory, helping nonprofit organizations across multiple sectors produce communication platforms that make people care and respond to the call of the cause. The work of KUDOS includes brand identities, annual reports, benefit invitations, posters, signage, art catalogues, mailers, and digital work ranging from responsive websites to banner ads and animations, social media campaigns, web apps, and microsites.
This article is reprinted from Issue #8 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today so that you won’t miss other actionable articles that will help you run your nonprofit organization with less pain and more gain!
Join Hugh Ballou and Russell Dennis and their guests on our weekly Tuesday afternoon Nonprofit Exchange at 2 pm Eastern time.
If you already have a nonprofit or are thinking of starting one, this will be very helpful. Put it on your calendar NOW! It’s a session that you don’t want to miss! Discover what’s blocking your success!
The Nonprofit Exchange on Tuesdays at 2 pm ET has been quite beneficial for many participants and we have enjoyed sharing thoughts and tips for moving past the stuck places we all find in leading an organization to achieving its mission.
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As the famous British Composer and Conductor Ralph Vaughan Williams once said, “Music does not reveal all of its secrets to just one person.” If you replace the word “Music” with the word “Leadership” or “Team” or “Strategy” etc., then we all give and receive value from others. That’s the spirit of the Tuesday afternoon Nonprofit Exchange encounters, sponsored by SynerVision Leadership Foundation’s “Community for Community Builders.”
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