Design tips and insights for nonprofits and social enterprises.

6 common design myths about social impact

6 common design myths about social impact

Design for social impact can be nuanced and complicated. Here are 6 common myths to keep in mind:

The issue is too complicated to be presented simply
The problems you’re tackling are multifaceted and complicated, but if you can’t drill down to the essence of what you’re trying to accomplish, you overwhelm your audience and they will turn away. You’re the expert on the issue, but they don’t have to be. In fact, they shouldn’t have to know everything in order to support your work. Be succinct, don’t talk above them or below them, and let them know how it benefits them.

Nonprofits don’t have competitors
I don’t think people believe this anymore, but I’m including it here just in case. I know there are other organizations that share a similar mission with you. I generally believe that people are generous, but they will not give to every organization that they see. Figure out what makes you different and what makes your audience different. Use that to guide everything you do.

Printed materials can’t look expensive
I’ve heard this before from nonprofits. I get that the average person doesn’t know how much printing costs, so if they see something big and super glossy they say it looks expensive. But that is not necessarily the case anymore. Digital printing has changed the game and sometimes it can actually be more expensive to print something in 2 colors on craft paper, then full color on glossy paper.

Innovation is for companies like Apple, not nonprofits
Innovation comes in many forms and shapes. More and more nonprofits and social enterprises are starting up every day, and I’m sure you’ve come across organizations with similar missions in your research. It’s safe to say the market is getting crowded, which is good, right? More people are trying to make a difference. Bringing new ideas to social impact through resources, inventions, approaches, partnerships, etc., can be your differentiator. Many foundations are looking for these very types of things to fund and support, so don’t let “It’s never been done before,” stop you.

Making it pretty is enough
Yes, sometimes a killer logo is what you need for a campaign, but sometimes it’s not. The right designer can help you get to the heart of your objectives and needs, and help you develop a unique solution. Don’t forget metrics. A nice looking website doesn’t necessarily mean that more people are clicking that donate button.

Good design is expensive
The cost of good design is relative, like everything else in life. It really depends on who’s doing the designing. Large creative agencies are going to be more expensive than an independent designer, but then again bigger agencies might have more resources to do pro-bono work. There are also organizations like Taproot that provide grants for creative work, and sites like Catchafire to help you find the perfect volunteer designer. Also, free tools like Canva help you DIY something that can look pretty good. Don’t be afraid to approach a designer you’d like to work with, you never know what you can negotiate.

Do you know of any others? I’d love to hear them.

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What’s been inspiring me lately

What’s been inspiring me lately

I’m reading The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday, and what can I say? It’s challenging and inspiring all at the same time. I first heard about this book from a podcast called Your Business is Your Life. This book is something that I can see myself reading again periodically, just to give myself that nudge to keep pushing through. I highly recommend it.

New ways to create
I’ve been hearing about Risograph printing a lot recently and it seems really cool. I love learning about new production techniques and seeing how other designers are using them. I for sure want to try it, and I know someone that just got one of these in their studio.


Your mission in 8 words
I first saw this video of Kevin Starr from Mulago Foundation when I was prepping for the SVA’s Impact! Design for Social Change, a week-long residency. This video was eye-opening and I watch it often when I’m trying to synthesize the mission of something I’m working on. If you can’t say what you do, or your purpose in a few words, then its too complicated.

What it’s like to paint a mural
A secret dream of mine is to paint a mural. I love street art, from conceptual to graffiti and everything in between. Reading about this Heather Day’s process has helped me understand what it might be like. One day…


What’s been inspiring you lately? 


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How to make your in-house designer more effective

How to make your in-house designer more effective

Your in-house designer is great, but what if you could have a design consultant to really help your organization be more effective and forward-thinking. With an in-house designer, you’re already ahead of the game. They are great at helping plan and create the graphics and materials you’ll need, but are often times bogged down producing and can’t stop to think about the big picture, or help with strategy. That’s where a design consultant can help by looking at both the macro and micro, as well provide your designer with tools to make their job easier.

A design consultant is your creative director when you need one, and can help you with:

  • assist with implementation
  • provide recommendations
  • diagnosis the problem
  • provide solutions

As well as:

  • make your organization more efficient and effective be providing you with systems and strategies
  • build consensus by working with your stakeholders and getting them all on the same page

How do you strengthen your in-house designer’s role?

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The benefits of free design consultation

The benefits of free design consultation

I’ve decided to offer free design consultations to potential clients. Why? Helping nonprofit and social-driven leaders use design and creativity to increase their impact lights my fire. I honestly think about it all the time. I also know that setting a budget for some nonprofits and social enterprises can be tough especially if they never invested in design before.

There is a different way of working
I want to show you what thoughtful design can do and how to leverage the resources you have.

You don’t have to invest $$ right away. I believe in sharing knowledge and resources. I believe that with understanding a bit about the problem you’re facing, a solution will be in reach. A solution that allows you to use your existing resources, as well as a big hairy one that makes your heart pound with excitement.

First I’ll ask you to answer a few questions about your organization and the problem you’re facing. This is standard procedure. It helps designers figure out what the actual deliverables might be: a 5-page website, a 20-page annual report, a new identity with a stationary package, etc., etc. It may come as a surprise, but often people say they want one thing, but after a few probing questions it turns out they need a lot more.

Ideas for the taking
After I review your answers, I’ll spend time brainstorming your issue. We’ll schedule a video, or in-person, chat where we can talk about how you might go about designing the social impact you dream of and bounce a few ideas around. What you do afterward is up to you.

You can take the idea and DIY it, hire someone else to do it, or we can begin officially working together to make it happen.

If there was ever a magic potion for picking the brain of a seasoned creative…this is it. Email me at because I can’t wait to get started.

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Need better design, but don’t have your sh*t together?

Have you realized that you need to bring your “A” game to your social impact design and marketing, but not sure how to start? It’s time to call for help. Someone that not only produces great work, but understands your needs, and that you would actually like working with.
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” — Steve Jobs
In order to make that possible, you have a bit of homework.  Here’s how you get your sh*t together before any actual designing takes place:
  • Figure out what the problem is that you’re trying to solve. Are online sales down? Is no one opening your emails? Everyone gets your org. confused with a different one? You get the idea. This is gold for designers. We love to solve problems and look for unique ways to do it.
  • What will success look like: is it raising $$$, getting more subscribers to your newsletter, getting your audience to take you seriously. This will help us come up with creative solutions.
  • Be realistic about how much you can spend. This number might change after you look around and see how much campaigns, branding, etc., actually cost.
  • Start looking at different designers/agencies to get a feel for how they work, their strengths and personalities. Ask around for recommendations.
  • Ask for a consultation. You might have to pay for one, but it will help you get a feel for each other.

When was the first time you invested in your organization’s design? How was the experience?

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Is design a necessity for impact?


Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.—George Bernard Shaw

When you’re strapped for cash and resources, how do you make something a priority? I often hear from passionate, but stressed out leaders that even though they know the value of design, they just don’t have the budget. So when does design, or creative and effective communications for that matter, come in? The first step is deciding that’s what you want. Then you set up systems, routines, and support to make it happen.

The other alternative is just keep doing what you’re doing. Keep up the status quo. Keep hoping your passion and knowledge is enough to move the needle.

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