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!