What do baby animals have to do with nonprofits?

What do baby animals have to do with nonprofits?

Not a thing, but that didn’t stop Vu Le (creator of the popular blog, Nonprofit AF) from incorporating baby animal pictures on every slide of his keynote presentation at the Arc of Innovation Conference. In between the baby animal photos, he shared generously about his experience and ideas for the challenges and opportunities of nonprofits.

We decided to share some of the insights we gained, and how those insights helped us see where design fits in the larger nonprofit landscape.

Nonprofits are obsessed with funding because nonprofit funding is often insecure and micro-managed. If you work for a nonprofit you must be scrappy, be efficient, be of service, and court donors and grants and any funding sources you can find. Build trust with the donors, build trust with the communities, build trust with coworkers, and don’t forget your self-care! As Le put it, “Nonprofits take care of what the public sector and private sector leave behind.”

Nonprofits are high-pressure businesses, more than any other business model. The expectation of doing more with less is greater with nonprofits than with any other type of organization. Having all of this in perspective makes it clear why organizations would be reluctant to invest in design. Good design can be seen as an “extra,” a way to perform, but something that doesn’t contribute to the impactful work of serving communities.

In managing so many sets of expectations and needs, what many people don’t realize is that design can really help you! We know that consistency builds trust, and visual brand consistency is part of this. Design is not a performance, it gives dimension to your message and cultivates credibility.

You should be able to work with a designer who can understand your organization, get the work done, and not add additional staff.

We see design as a vital part of the trust building process. Having printed materials that are consistently branded and thoughtfully designed can only improve your trust building efforts.

Your organization can have a compelling mission, be doing great work, and not get the attention it deserves merely because your brochure is confusing, the hierarchy is unclear, and people can’t easily make sense of it, so it’s discarded before the information is even considered. Design cannot compensate for a lack of strategy, but it can elevate the things that are already working.

Design plays a vital role in communicating effectively. Vu Le understood this with his baby animals. He broke a rule by adding images that were irrelevant to his talk. But breaking the rules can be just as effective as following them. Le added humor to the situation and relaxed the audience, which made us receptive to his messages.

Having materials that are clear and cohesive captivates your audience. A reader might not know why they find a brochure appealing, but they’ll understand the message at an emotional level.  At its best, design visually reinforces another message.

Amplifying an existing strategic message is where Union Design thrives, we love taking design to the next level.

Get in touch to see how we can help you!

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The Union Method Round Up

The Union Method Round Up

If you’ve taken our advice on getting started with your annual report (even though you just finished), great job, you’ve given yourself some time to think strategically and thus be more active about your report for next year.

This week we’re helping you get into the strategic mindset by sharing some posts about our method and how it guides people through their project with ease and purpose.

Intention and intuition are vital values here at Union Design, so it should be no surprise that this is where our process is rooted. Design, like a business, is art and science. The highest goal is finding the intersection between form and function, continually assessing our efforts against our goals.

Becuase we want to see our efforts pay off, we have to get to the core of the problem we’re trying to solve. The dialogue starts there, what’s the specific problem? What are the tangible solutions that we can move forward right now?

Rooting our progress in our values is where the strategic magic happens. Next, we explore the depth and breadth of the project, taking what we understand about the specific problem we’re solving, and then aiming to understand the people we’re trying to help.

After digging deep to get a fresh perspective, we take a look at what already exists and evaluate it in an audit. Once an audit is complete, we move forward with the current project with our strategy, goals, and audience all in mind.

We’re always happy to talk with people during their planning process, the sooner a designer can get involved in the process, the more thorough their understanding of the project is, and the better the final product will be.






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The word “competition” can bring up very binary responses. Some think “win, superior, survival of the fittest!” Others might muse, “unnecessarily aggressive, scarcity mentality.”

Whatever your attitude about competition, knowing where your non-profit fits in the competitive landscape, and having the design that supports your position, is vital to getting the attention you need to rally support and achieve your mission.

Consider how your branding and identity materials fit among your peers. Gather logos and examples from all organizations in your niche. Looking at your peers and competition from a high level can show you what you (and your competitors) have not addressed. While taking a broad view might seem intimidating, strategizing with a clear understanding of the landscape will help you solidify your position.

But if we tend to understand what is familiar, then what makes design both fresh and easily understood? If your logo looks out of place when viewed side-by-side with your peers, you should take a more in-depth look. Do any materials stand out as particularly well- or poorly- designed? Seeing your articles in context with other organizations can bring any design issues into focus.

Also, consider what you might like about brands and organizations outside of your niche. Comparing across different sectors can also emphasize what works and what doesn’t.

Competition does not have to be a threat: especially in the non-profit sector, where everyone aims to help. Your competitors can also be your peers, your community, and your support system. Comparing yourself to other organizations can highlight your weaknesses, but there is also an opportunity to reveal your strengths.

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Is your design working for you?

Is your design working for you?

At some point, you may wonder if your design is working against you. If you saw our previous post about the success of design-driven organizations and felt a sinking feeling wishing your organization was more design driven…don’t despair! We’re going to give you some things to think about when putting some razzle-dazzle back into your design.


The best identity systems are those based on solid strategy. Consider your overall business objectives and review your logo, brand, print materials & website from a strategic perspective. Has the organization’s focus shifted from the original designs? If you have grown significantly or are reaching a very different audience, it may be necessary to redesign to more accurately reflect your current (and future) growth. We’ve covered strategy here, here and here.


Is your design professional? Often, smaller organizations launch with materials designed by a volunteer or a student. While that may be appropriate in the early stages, as the organization grows and seeks greater opportunity and influence, the quality and professionalism of the design need to keep pace.


Not all logos need updating. Consider your audience’s relationship with the logo. How much equity does your logo have? If your audience is very comfortable with your current logo, it’s wise to tread lightly when it comes to redesigning. In some cases, a beloved logo that would otherwise benefit from a revision might be better off with the most modest of updates.


A logo that is difficult to read or does not reproduce well is a good candidate for a redesign. Consider how the logo is used and note any difficulties you have in its application. Usability extends to the pain points that might prevent an organization from fully employing all of the materials and tools available to them. Knowing what you want your tools and materials to do is as important as having them in the first place. 


Do you have too many variations in your materials? One type of font & color scheme for one event, and something entirely different for the rest? While this is not an issue for smaller organizations, larger companies with many departments may find that they’ve lost control of the brand. This is an excellent reason to revisit the design — and create a reliable Identity Standards Manual — and then make one person responsible for managing consistency.


Consider how your branding and identity materials fit among your competitors/peers? Gather the logos from all organizations in your niche. Do any stand out as particularly well- or poorly- designed? If your logo looks out of place when viewed side-by-side with your peers, you should take a more in-depth look.


Beyond the specific design elements, a strong logo furthers positive associations with your organization. Do you feel that the logo accurately represents the organization? Do you like it? Are you proud of it? Does the logo —and the broader brand system— trigger positive emotions?

Undertaking this type of analysis of your materials and assets puts you in a perfect position to make more strategic and practical design decisions.

For more information or to enlist Union Design to provide a Design Audit of your logo or other marketing materials, send a note to hello@uniondesignstudio.com.



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