DIY Marketing, Communication & Design: Is it right for your organization?

By Molly Schwartz Strategic Consulting & Coaching Communications & Design Guru

In the nonprofit world, professional marketing, communication and design services are often perceived as luxuries that small- to mid-sized mission-driven organizations can’t afford.

And with the explosion of free or low-cost do-it-yourself marketing and design tools, novices have the ability to create beautiful and professional-looking work without installing any special software or even leaving their desks.

  • Canva, for example, is an online, drag-and-drop graphic design platform that allows users to create engaging content in multiple formats with ready-made templates: flyers, posters, postcards, brochures, presentations, graphics, etc.
  • With Visme, you can easily create online presentations, animated web banners, and other rich visual content – for free, in your browser
  • PicMonkey is a web-based photo editing website that offers basic editing all the way up to touch-up and advanced effects
  • Web development tools such as Wix, Weebly and Wordpress mean that even if you have zero coding skills, you can create your own website, blog, or e-commerce site
  • Piktochart is a user-friendly infographic-maker with hundreds of templates, ready-to-use graphics and the ability to import your data from a spreadsheet

The trend toward increasingly visual social media, collateral materials and annual reports means these are particularly useful tools for nonprofits looking to liven up their communications.

As a result, many nonprofits turn to their existing staff or volunteers rather than hiring a marketing agency, communications consultant or freelance designer.

So, given all of these great resources, when does it make sense for your organization to outsource marketing, communications or design services?

If staff time is being diverted from mission-driven activities

Even with do-it-yourself tools like those mentioned above, it takes time for staff to learn how to use these tools and to develop good design habits. Can your in-house resources be diverted to communications work without sacrificing other programs? If time spent on this work is taking away from the time that you and your staff could be devoting to mission-critical activities, a freelance communicator or designer is probably worth the investment. He or she can likely create what you need in a fraction of the time it would take to do it yourself.

If you have a limited budget

This may sound counterintuitive, but hiring a seasoned consultant who understands nonprofit organizations can actually help you save money – by creating smart, strategic materials that are appropriate, practical, within scope and on-budget. A good graphic designer will take the time to assess your available resources, understand your organizational needs and clarify the intended purpose of the communication – not just create something that looks good.

For example, while a four-color logo is beautiful, it looks lousy when it’s photocopied; a 150-page website quickly becomes dated when you don’t have the staff to maintain it. A 24-page glossy annual report might be eye-catching, but it might also cost far more than you’ve anticipated and could even turn some donors off. Printing a program brochure with all of your employee phone numbers may seem like a good idea, but it’s out of date as soon as someone leaves the organization. A consultant will look at the big picture to make recommendations about making the greatest impact for your money.

If your DIY materials look pretty –  but don’t seem to be working

Designers and communicators do more than make things look and sound pretty. They think strategically in order to help organizations achieve their goals. A seasoned communicator thinks about who your audience is and how they perceive your organization and its mission, as well as how and when they prefer to be communicated with. What do you want them to do, say or feel? A good designer considers the strategy behind the design: What are you trying to communicate, and to whom? What types of visuals will reflect your organization’s brand and also capture your audience’s attention?

Professional marketers, designers and communicators are experienced at thinking differently. They can can often see your organization in ways that you – as an insider – cannot; they’re trained to look at the “big picture.” As a result, they can observe certain qualities or traits of your organization that you may not have ever considered.

If your DIY design is resulting in an inconsistent brand

Often times when no one on staff is a graphic designer or a marketer, everyone on staff becomes a graphic designer and marketer – each with his or her own interpretation of your brand. The result can be marketing and communication materials that are inconsistent or even contradictory.

Why does it matter? Brand consistency helps your donors (or participants, or volunteers, or prospective staff) understand what to expect from you. Brand consistency signifies professionalism, authenticity, stability and purpose; it minimizes confusion and instills confidence.

A good designer thinks carefully about what kinds of messages are being conveyed through your materials. He or she will help you create a clear, coherent brand identity that reflects your organization’s vision, mission and values and communicates them to your audience. Typefaces, color schemes, visual elements, photography, tone/style/voice of content, key messages and positioning are all part of a brand. A skilled designer or marketer will ensure consistency across multiple communications channels in order to build trust and engagement with your audience.