Tips for Designing for Non-Profit Organizations

When designing for a Nonprofit organization you may first ask yourself: how do I differentiate my design aesthetic from that of a for-profit company? That’s a good question. Though differentiating your design choices from that of commercial companies may not be the best way to approach design for cause-centric organizations. While web design in the nonprofit sector in many ways is different from for profit, there are also a number of similarities. Moreover, all organizations are different and taking a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t really do that job either. With this in mind we’ve taken some tips that apply equally to nonprofits and for-profits and tailored them based on case studies of good non-profit design. These tips fall into three categories: knowing the organization, knowing your audience, and tackling the experience. Have more non-profit design tips for us? Check out our contact page

Know the Organization

Maybe you just finished your degree in graphic design and you finally landed your first job as a graphic designer. Or perhaps you switched from designing for for-profit companies to nonprofit organizations. Your organization is looking to you to help them tell their story. In order to do that, you need to have a very in-depth understanding of the organization, it’s cause, and why it matters. To do this, you will need to immerse yourself in the cause itself. Get hands-on experience to truly understand how that organization functions.

  • WORK for a week out in the field
  • INTERVIEW the founders
  • FIND out key statistical information
  • INVESTIGATE partnership organizations

Know your Audience

As a designer your job is to connect to your audience. But who is your audience and how do you get to know them? We recommend taking a glance over the profiles of recent and past donors- what is their motivation for helping this particular organization? What is valuable information to share with your audience and why? In general a large percentage of what an organization does is gather resources to build the capacity of their impact. An organization must galvanize support to acquire fiscal, social, and human resources required to continue their mission. Without a clear picture of the audience you may miss the mark when it comes to tailoring your design content. Here are some ways to really understand your audience.

  • LOOK up recent and past donors
  • CHECK out the demographics of who’s browsing your site and when
  • TALK to the founders
  • USE polling software

Tackle the Experience

Once you have a firm understanding of the organization and its audience, you are ready to curate the entire experience ane ensure that you hit the mark each time you create your design content. The first thing we recommend is that you have a deep understanding of your organization’s brand from the inside out. According to Peter Walker of the Feinstein International Center at Tufts

“A strong brand allows you to acquire more resources and gives you the authority to have more freedom over how you use them.”

He was discussing the role of braning in nonprofit organizations. Once you know the brand, you can use that information to select complementary design-specific choices such as color pallet or typeface. Is there a moment where you need the audience to pay closer attention? You could use a striking image with minimal words as the World Wildlife Fund did below.

Or you may need no words to communicate the importance of the story such as Amnesty International does: Select a color pallet that speaks to your cause. Are you looking to save the planet? You could use colors found in nature. If you’re working with an organization that focuses on humanity, you will want to show a range of colors. Some causes such as autism awareness already have symbols in place. In this case the rainbow and the puzzle piece are common symbols as autism is considered a spectrum disorder where every individual is unique. If you’re looking for ways to curate your website check out our piece on The 30 Best Designed US College Websites. Hint: all of the most acclaimed institutions are not-for-profit.

  • MAKE the website user-friendly
  • SELECT colors that match your cause
  • CREATE a brand that has the cause at its core
  • DRAMATIZE your organization’s story

Still unsure how to create the perfect design content for a nonprofit organization? Check out these great books on graphic design for further inspiration.

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