How to Choose the Right Graphic Designer for Your Non-Profit Marketing Materials Project

How to Choose the Right Graphic Designer for your Nonprofit Marketing Materials Project  by The Qurious Effect | Nonprofit Marketing Collateral Design

Your organization needs a graphic designer for your next marketing project and you’re not sure how to find the right fit. How do you even start to find a graphic designer you can trust? Here are five tips to help you find the right designer. One you can trust and hopefully partner with for years to come.

  1. Define your project

  2. Determine your project’s budget, timeline & goals

  3. Research designers

  4. Hire a designer

  5. Work with a designer

1 | Define your project

AKA: The Brief

What is it you need to accomplish? Do you have just the large overall picture or do you already know the granular details that you’re looking for?

In order to set yourself up for success in completing your next pitch deck, annual report, one sheet or other marketing collateral, you need to determine exactly what you’ll need.

Spend time figuring out exactly what you need. There’s a big difference between a newspaper ad and a publication, both in the amount of content needed and what can reasonably be expected to be achieved with each item. So block off a couple hours of your schedule and go through the basic 5 W’s: who, what, when, where and why.

WHO: Who will be in charge of the project, gather the content, communicate with the designer and who else needs to be involved? Who will you need to hire to work on the project? Will a freelancer work or is the scope so large that you’ll need a large agency?

WHAT: What’s the challenge you’re trying to solve? What type of marketing collateral will work best for the challenge? Is it one item or a campaign of items?

WHEN: Do you have a deadline that needs to be met? Is it realistic for the size of the project?

WHERE: Where will the final product of the project live? Is it digital or print or both? If it’s printed, do you have a printer you work with or will you need the designer to recommend one?

WHY: Why this project at this time? What do you hope to accomplish with the piece? What are the results you're looking for? How will you know if you if these results are met?

Taking the time upfront to determine your project brief, will set you up nicely for the next step. Without having a well defined project, it’s nearly impossible to figure out what your budget is, how long it will take to get it finished or define what will make it successful.

2 | Determine Your Project’s Budget, Timeline and Goals

AKA: The Scope

Once you’ve defined your project, you can figure out the budget needed to complete the project. There’s a big difference in the amount of time needed and work involved, on your part as well as the designer’s, if you’re working on a one sheet vs. an annual report. The more pieces and/or pages involved, the more time it will take to gather content, come up with design concepts and then actually create the piece(s).

Whats your timeline? Creating a one sheet could take two weeks but it’s not realistic to think you could create all the content and design and print a 20-page annual report in two weeks.

It’s also not realistic to think the two will have a similar cost. Creating visual concepts that display all your content, get your message across successfully and drive results is no small task. And if you’re looking for high quality work, it takes time.

There’s a saying amongst graphic designers, “you can have two out of the three things most people are looking for: high quality, low cost and a quick turnaround but you can’t have all three.”

So think about what your priorities and expectations are. Are you setting yourself up for failure or success through your budget and timeline?

Speaking of expectations, what are your project’s goals? What are you trying to achieve with this project? How will you know if you’ve reached your goals? Determining what will make the project a success will help you ensure you’re working towards the right goals and help you reach them.

3 | Research Designers

AKA: Find a designer that will be easy to work with and can do what you need

Does your nonprofit have a preferred designer or a go-to list of designers on file? If not, ask colleagues for referrals. Has anyone worked with a graphic designer they really liked and would highly recommend? If so, be sure to ask for details about their experience.

Visit designers’ websites. A few questions to keep in mind while you’re looking around:

  • Does their site design appeal to you?

  • Does the work they show in their portfolio look relatable to your project?

  • Do they display their service(s) offered and is that a match for your needs?

  • Is their availability posted and does it work for your timing?

  • Is there a clear way to find out more about working with them?

  • Do they offer a free consultation call, so you can get a better feel for what it would be like to work with them?

Reach out and get in touch. Did the designer ask questions relevant to your project? Did you get a good feel for what it would be like to work with them? Do you feel confident in their ability? And don’t forget to check in with your intuition. Your gut is a valuable reference tool.

Finding a great designer to work with can help set you up for even more success in the long term. Vitamin T’s take on the benefits of developing a long-term relationship with a designer is spot on:

“While you can find plenty of discount means to get graphic design work done, the absolute best work—and the work that will be effective—is born from a strong collaborative effort between you and your freelance graphic designer. When that relationship works, you’ll end up with a go-to resource who can quickly and easily deliver great work that exceeds your expectations.”

That’s exactly how I love to work! I’ve developed long-term relationships with clients that have translated to lots of work for over a decade, projects that have exceeded expectations and resulted in referrals to new clients who also become long-term, happy clients.


AKA: You found someone you trust and are ready to work with

You’ve created your project brief, determined your scope, researched designers, talked with the ones you are most interested in and made a decision on who to hire. What happens next?

The Contract.
Some people view contracts as taboo or awkward. But really a contract is a great thing. It takes assumption out of a working relationship, provides a framework detailing exactly who is responsible for what, what the deliverables are, when they will be delivered and when payment is due. Any professional designer will have a contract for you to review and sign. You should review it and ask any questions about it that you’re not sure of.

The Invoice.
Once you sign a contract, your designer will likely send you an invoice for part of the project fee (this should be stated in your contract). The deposit secures your spot on their calendar. Be sure you understand their process, know when your project start date is and get to work on gathering all your content before your start date arrives.

The Deliverables.
Do you know exactly what you’ll be getting from the designer you’re hiring. Do those items all work for you? The contract you sign should state what you’ll receive, when you’ll receive them, the formats they will be in and how you’ll access them.

Once you’ve made it through the steps listed above, you’ll be well prepared to work on your marketing project with the right designer. Next up is the actual project!

5 | Working with a Designer

AKA: How to give helpful feedback to reach a successful end result

Feedback can be a tough thing for people to provide. You may not want to feel like you’re being harsh or overly critical but not providing effective feedback to your designer usually ends in results you’re unhappy with. Even the best graphic designers might not get it right on the first try and getting to know your organization’s needs can take time. That’s why feedback is so important to design projects. It’s a huge piece in solving the design puzzle along with a clear plan and goals for the project.

Your marketing pieces aren’t for you. Keep your project’s goals and audience in mind. Doing so makes feedback easier to provide. Looking at the project from your audience's view will help you provide feedback that relates to meeting the project’s goals.

Be honest, specific and professional. Feedback such as “this doesn’t work” or “do you have any other ideas” isn’t helpful or well thought out. It slows projects down because the designer then needs to go back and ask you additional questions to understand exactly what you mean. So take the time to think through why something doesn’t work. Mention specific items that don’t work and explain why. It can be very helpful to review the design and then sit with it for a while before responding.

Example of helpful feedback: “That shade of blue doesn’t feel bold enough for my brand.”

Allow your designer to come up with solutions. Prescriptive feedback will hurt the design of your project. Instead explain the problem and let your designer provide their expertise and solutions. You’ll end up with much stronger design that you’re happier with in the end.

Example of prescriptive feedback: “Change this font. Make this bigger.”

Communicate clearly. Especially if there’s more than one person providing input. It’s best for feedback to be compiled into one bulleted list that’s sent to the designer so they can easily see all the feedback at once.

Say what is working and what you love. Letting your designer know what is working well for your brand and audience is very helpful in fleshing out the remaining design and working through revisions.

See that wasn’t so hard but it does take time and some effort. Once you find a designer you trust and that’s easy to work with, you’ll be able to rest assured that you’ve got a great resource and at the ready for your next project and the next and then the next.

If you’re looking for a graphic designer that likes to work with clients long-term, listens to your needs and works to exceed your expectations, we might be a great fit.

Check out my portfolio here. The services I offer are all here. And if you’re ready to learn more about working with me, including service details and my process, get started here.

sharon newsom