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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DIY Behind the Scenes marketing campaign

Campaigns | Marketing
DIY Behind the Scenes marketing campaign

Telling your story and the impact you have can be difficult. It takes planning and resources, so here are a few tips on how to DIY a “Behind the Scenes” marketing campaign.

First, spend some time thinking about the actual project/initiative you’re working on and what kind of behind the scenes story you want to tell. Are you working with a photographer to get some client stories for your website? Or maybe putting together your Fall line of sustainable accessories? Each one will call for a slightly different approach.

Take pictures and video of everything.

  • Equipment, accessories, production assembly line
  • Transporting and going to venue
  • Setting everything up
  • People in action
  • Team meetings and gatherings
  • Taking a break and having fun

Take notes and ask questions

  • Capture funny things said and profound insights from participants
  • Get someone that participated to write about what it was like from their point of view.

Now edit and upload

  • Post 1-2 per day on your social media accounts. If you have multiple accounts try to use slightly different angles and cropping, so that it doesn’t seem like the same exact picture is being used. Add text to provide context, tag people, and use a hashtag.
  • Combine a few into grids using apps like Layout.
  • Add some to your blog or website.
  • Using an app like Canva and design a graphic with a quote from one of the participants
  • Feature a short synopsis of the day by one of the participants on your blog or website.

A few things to keep in mind

  • Bring extra cameras
  • Have someone dedicated to taking pictures and talking to participants
  • Be flexible and a fly on the wall
  • Tell a story using images and interviews
  • Don’t be a perfectionist

Everyone loves to see how things come together and get a glimpse behind the curtain. This is your opportunity to showcase your dedicated team and the hard work they put in—even if it’s a team of one.

Have you done a behind the scenes campaign before? What worked and didn’t work?

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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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DC social enterprise: Union Kitchen

Social Entrepreneurship
DC social enterprise: Union Kitchen

I love creative, interesting businesses that make a difference. I also love to eat. When you combine these two, that’s when things really start to get interesting. For a long time making a profit meant that you didn’t care about the community or changing the system. That is no longer the case.

I first visited Union Kitchen, near Gallaudet University, a few years ago. It seemed like a cool place — hip, but not pretentious, with different types of food to choose from and interesting people in front of, and behind, the counters. I didn’t realize how much more they had to offer and how big their mission was.

Find a need, fill it, and fill it again
It all started when co-founders Jonas Singer & Cullen Gilchrist, of The Blind Dog Café, needed a commercial kitchen, and moved into a warehouse that was too big. They looked for others to share the space and soon realized they had other needs in common. By offering membership and business services, Union Kitchen could help local businesses create and prosper, and contribute to building the city they wanted to live in. And so their focus grew — becoming a food incubator working to create a profitable, sustainable, and just food system.
It’s so much more than food
Union Kitchen has a mission to bring local products to market in a way that drives community development. Sprinkled around the city, you’ll find Union Kitchen’s grocery store, production facility, and pop-up shop. All of which are meant to touch a different aspect of food and the community.

Supporting local food trucks, restaurateurs, bakers, caterers, and food entrepreneurs Union Kitchen is able to serve them in a multitude of capacities, covers all the bases. Some of the local products you find at Whole Foods are thanks in part to them, and some members have even moved on to opening their own brick and mortar shops. They believe whole-heartedly in the Made in DC movement.

If you’re hungry, need a gift or ingredients, or are even a budding entrepreneur, Union Kitchen has something to offer. And you can be sure that you’re helping to create the community we want to live in. Visit to learn more about how they make local scalable.
This post first appeared on DC Ladies.
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