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3 Things Nonprofits Need To Know About Working With Creatives

Tips from our Design Director

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Thinking about working with a creative agency? If it's a new experience, it can feel like a big step. For sure, it's time, effort, and money to involve new partners in your work. But done well, it's a rewarding experience, with the results to prove it.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to share my experience on this topic as Design Director with a group of nonprofits and designers at AIGA Seattle's Sprout workshop, as part of the Design For Good event series. It was a fun and valuable learning opportunity, so I thought I'd share my thoughts more broadly.

Here's what you need to know about working with a design team.


Let's talk about trust.

Trust goes both ways. For designers, we should trust that you as our nonprofit partners are the experts in your field. You know your issues and your audiences best. You are doing this important work day in and day out. So we try to be humble and ready to learn, to ask questions and to listen.

Lisewise, it's critical that nonprofits trust that their designer or creative team also knows their field. When we say there is too much text and no one will read it, or it might be better to create a website rather than a newsletter in a particular instance, trust our area of expertise as well.

Ultimately, building trust is about building a relationship. And that means sometimes finding the humor in things. Even when we take the work seriously, it doesn't mean we have to take ourselves seriously. This work can be a lot of fun.


My next recommendation? Be open.

It's very easy to have the exact idea of what you need or want out of a designer or creative team, before ever sitting down to meet. Resist the temptation! While there's plenty you can do to be thoughtful about your goals, you don't want to have everything set in stone beforehand. Be open to hashing ideas out with your creative team because the magic happens in the partnership.

A great example of this comes from our work with the Seattle Theatre Group. Two years ago, they came to us for a digital annual report, and we created a beautiful, exciting and interactive piece. There was not, however, funding to do outreach for the report, so it received less attention that either STG or Pyramid had hoped for. When it came time to prepare a new annual report, we wanted to rethink things. Thanks to the foundation of trust we’d created with STG, they were open to shifting gears. In the end, we collaborated on a strategy that allowed us not only to create a unique digital storytelling vehicle but also to drive traffic to it, and weave in a social media campaign. We’ve been excited to see the substantial increase in visitors to this report.


That sounds easy enough, right?

Collaborating with a creative agency is an opportunity to dig deep and think strategically. Strategic communications align your goals with your efforts to reach the right audience, through the right mediums, with the right messages and materials, at the right time. It amplifies your story and increases your impact. When you have a framework for strategic decision-making, it enhances and empowers all of the creative work that follows.

Still, often we skip this step and go right to the "how" before deciding on our goals, clarifying our audiences, or considering our messages. If you tell us, "We need a website," we'll probably ask you, "Why? What are you trying to accomplish?" That's not to say websites are bad ideas! But a website isn't a goal in itself. It's a means to that goal.

Audience research can sound very intimidating, but you already have one of the best focus groups at your fingertips. As you interact with your current donors and volunteers, ask them why they care about this work? What drew them to your issue? How do they consume media? How do they prefer to receive communications from you? What would involve them more? What would drive them away? They may really appreciate having their feedback consulted and it will benefit your work so much.

An example of applying audience research is the New Mexico Breastfeeding Taskforce, a coalition committed to increasing breastfeeding rates. Based on research, we knew that most women in New Mexico want to breastfeed but many don’t because the infrastructure to support breastfeeding outside the home is fractured and, in some cases, nonexistent. As we thought about building a website, it became clear that the target audience was not simply mothers. Instead, it was hospital administrators who can determine whether their hospital provides lactation consultants or a bag of formula. Healthcare professionals who provide guidance and advice to new mothers. Businesses who can choose to provide clean, private spaces to pump and the breaks needed to do so. And the larger community of partners, families, community organizations and religious institutions that can help moms feel supported. We created a website that spoke to those audiences, providing resources for how they can be a part of helping New Mexico breastfeed.

Let’s create magic together

Partnering with a designer is a unique opportunity to look at your communications through a new lens. When we trust each other, are open to new ideas and think strategically, the better the work and the better the experience.

Image Credit: Aidan Jones | Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0.

Karis Cady leads Pyramid’s design team as Design Director, with experience in a range of disciplines, from branding, print and digital design, illustration, and data visualization. When she’s not envisioning new logo concepts in her head, Karis is likely exploring the outdoors with her family. Connect with her on Twitter @Karisima.