How to Rock Nonprofit Design on a Budget

By Will Schmidt
Reading Time: 5 minutes

There’s no question that good design is a must for a successful nonprofit. But what are you supposed to do if you don’t know the first thing about design? Where are you supposed to start?

We connected with two of Classy’s designers, Justin Brillo and Stacey Uy, to help you answer these questions. Here’s what they have to say for the not-so-design-inclined.

Start With Analysis

The first thing Brillo and Uy recommend, no matter what you need to design, is to know what you’re trying to solve. Every decision you make should roll up into that.

  • What do you need to design?
  • Why do you need to design it?
  • What is this design supposed to look like?
  • Is it part of a specific campaign or initiative?
  • What do you want this design to accomplish?

“If you’re stuck, look at other nonprofits that have design you admire. Figure out why you like it, beyond the fact that it looks modern. How is this nonprofit’s design communicating to me in a way that I want to communicate with my audience?”

Stacey Uy

For example, Uy and Brillo create infographics that are meant to convey specific emotions. On this one, it’s inspiration and excitement to create long-lasting change in the new year.

Do I Need a Designer?

This is a question most, if not all, encounter during the nonprofit design process. However, depending on what kind of design you need, this might be one of the easiest questions on your path to answer.

According to Brillo and Uy, there are only two circumstances where you need to consider hiring a designer:

  • If you want to rebrand your nonprofit
  • You have a fundraising campaign that’s critical to your bottom line

If you do decide you want to hire a designer, but still don’t want to bring on an in-house team, you can always seek out freelancers. Outside of that, you may be the best candidate to fulfill your nonprofit design needs with access to the proper resources, assuming you have the time.


Brillo and Uy curated a list of steps to take if you get stuck, or don’t know which way to turn when it comes to design.

Study Other Designers

Uy and Brillo recommend following other designers and using their work as inspiration. See what ideas they come up with to build brands, convey data, or draw in audiences. Two of their favorites are Ryan Putnam, former designer for Dropbox…

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Instagram will load in the frontend.

…And Nick Slater—designer at Asana.

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Instagram will load in the frontend.

Since design is subjective based on the specific needs or wants of an organization, examine the work of as many designers as you can. Sampling a wide talent pool will better inform the scope of your own nonprofit design.

Designer Portfolios

Tracking down good designers isn’t as difficult as you might think. You just need to look in the right spots: go to designers on their turf. Uy and Brillo recommend either Dribbble or Behance.

Dribbble. This community of designers was built as a place to show, tell, promote, discover, and explore design. It’s populated by web designers, graphic designers, illustrators, icon artists, typographers, and logo designers.

Behance. As a unique business unit within Adobe, Behance lets you discover creative work showcased by the creative world. They broadcast their designers widely and efficiently for companies to explore and access top design talent.

Pro Tip
Aside from being a source of inspiration, these sites are great places to find and hire freelance designers if you decide to go that route.


Once you find the inspiration for your own design, it’s time to put it on paper. However, limited design experience can make that difficult. That’s where templates come in. Use them as a base layer to build text, images, and effects for your project.

Graphic Burger. They offer premium quality design resources, for free. You’ll find exclusive Photoshop Document (PSD) files made in-house along with featured content from creatives. You can use the many mock ups, icons, UI kits, text effects, and backgrounds for either personal or commercial use.

Creative Market. Otherwise known as “the home for handcrafted, mouse-made design content from independent creatives.” The team is passionate about making beautiful design simple and accessible to everyone. However, unlike Graphic Burger, Creative Market isn’t an entirely free service. They charge for templates, but they still have weekly freebies.

Pixeden. Built to be the one-stop place for all tools a modern designer might need. Pixeden provides both free and premium graphic, web, and design resources for people working with Photoshop, WordPress, HTML5, and more. Premium users can take it a step further and request specific work from the team behind Pixeden as well as help using resources in projects.

Fonts and Text

Fonts and text, while seemingly simple, are a huge part of good nonprofit design. When it comes time to put text in your design, don’t settle for boring fonts. Remember, it’s a good rule of thumb to limit the number of fonts in your design to two or three. Any more and it becomes confusing for your audience.

Lost Type Co-Op. Lost Type is a source for over 50 unique typefaces collected from a group of contributors. As a user, you pay what you want for their designs, or you pay a set price for commercial licensing. Either way, 100 percent of the sales go directly to the designer.

The League of Movable Type. While they don’t have the biggest library of fonts, The League of Movable Type makes up for it by offering only free and open-source options for designers. Simply put, they want to raise the standards for old and outdated fonts we’re all accustomed to using.

These resources are a great start, but there’s still one question to be answered. How are you supposed to put all of it together in one, great design?

DIY Design Platforms

When the time comes to design, most people assume they need to have Photoshop to be successful. That’s not entirely true. Aside from being expensive and complex, most people only need to use its core functions.

Thankfully, there are options to get around having to purchase and learn big software like Photoshop. Brillo and Uy recommend two options.

Pixlr. Autodesk built Pixlr so you can apply a quick fix or a personal touch to your design. All told they have 2 million combinations of creative effects built in to their web-based apps. This advanced image editor has all the tools you might need, and it’s totally free.

Canva. If you don’t want to source all of your individual design components, Canva is a good alternative. They have built in templates, fonts, backgrounds, and colors. And while most of what they offer is free, you can pay $1 for specific upgrades in these areas. You can also upload your own assets if you choose.


As you work on your next nonprofit design project, remember that one of the biggest problems with design is that people don’t prioritize it.

“In the past, design has been an afterthought. It’s seen as the final icing on the cake. A lot of people think design is just making something look good, or pretty. They think of this campaign, or idea, and then toss it to design and say, ‘Make it look good.’ However, a good company brings in designers from the start.”

Stacey Uy and Justin Brillo

Even if you don’t have an in-house design team, you can still make design a priority by considering it as part of the process from the beginning. Now, go unleash your creativity.

Design Basics for Nonprofit Professionals

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