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What I Learned Working at a Nonprofit: Storytelling Through Visual Design

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By Korrin Bishop

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Published January 17, 2022 Reading Time: 4 minutes

Ready to learn how to improve your nonprofit’s storytelling through visual design? We have the inside scoop from one of Classy’s own designers, Justin Bascos.

He’ll share some tips on the importance of brand consistency in design, how to make your content more visually appealing, and ways to simplify the creative process if you’re strapped for time or resources.

Storytelling Through Visual Design: Learning From First-Hand Experience

Like Justin, many of our employees share a passion for supporting organizations like yours because they’ve walked in your shoes. Their takeaways from working at nonprofits give them a robust view of how to help elevate your mission. That’s why we’re bringing their first-hand experience to the Classy blog.

Now, just how important is visual design for your nonprofit? Well, studies show that if a person hears information without seeing any accompanying visual elements, they only remember about 10% of it after three days. However, if it’s paired with a photo or graphic, they’ll recall around 65% of the information. Compelling design can leave a lasting impression by reminding your audience why your cause matters and why they want to be involved.

Additionally, visual design can drastically increase engagement levels. Facebook posts that include images get 2.3 times more likes, comments, and shares than those without them, and Twitter posts with images see 150% more retweets than text-only updates.

From establishing a recognizable brand to increasing your number of recurring donors, storytelling through visual design is worth the investment. So, today, Justin brings his learnings as a designer and former member of a nonprofit team to demonstrate why and how to make this a focus.

Meet Justin Bascos

justin bascos headshot

Before joining Classy as a Junior Visual Designer, Justin worked at nonprofits within the performing arts and cinema spaces. He has worked across multiple brand touchpoints, including social media assets, guides, and slide decks, and is currently involved in designing Classy’s blog and web presence.

Justin will share how your design work can establish a consistent brand identity and what elements are most important to creating a strong impression.

Showcasing a Consistent Brand Through Design Work

Q: How can design get donors excited about an organization’s mission and vision? In what ways did you see this play out in your past role?

A: Design is all about telling a story. If you can communicate a compelling narrative that moves your supporters, you give them something to connect with. This connection allows you to boost engagement, conversion, and retention.

One thing that I’m a strong advocate for is making sure your story is visually consistent across all of your brand touchpoints—whether it be web, social media, or email.

In the past, I worked for arts organizations that highlighted artists of color. Even though I don’t come from a similar background as a lot of them, I based my design decisions on how to most accurately represent their experiences. By establishing a cohesive brand to consistently elevate their stories across all of the organizations’ materials, we were able to craft a compelling narrative and demonstrate our commitment to the cause.

Q: What are some of the main design elements nonprofits should consider when creating their materials, and why these ones in particular?

A: I would definitely advocate for the use of photography to strengthen a human connection. Having a unique illustration style is another strategy that can differentiate your brand. Use clear and succinct calls to action (CTAs) that don’t pose too much of a cognitive burden on users, and establish defined brand guidelines to serve as the foundation for all ideas and decisions.

Q: If a nonprofit is unable to hire a professional designer or marketer, what are some tips, tricks, and resources that can help their team create inspiring materials?

A: The first step is recognizing that marketing and design are completely different disciplines with unique goals and strategies. You can educate yourself on YouTube, take some courses on Coursera, or audit a class to gain some knowledge on design and marketing best practices.

Further, contact your local university and see if you can develop an internship program that rewards course credits for up-and-coming undergraduate graphic designers, UX/UI designers, communications students, or others in similar fields.

This is a win-win situation for both. Students can add case studies to their portfolios and get course credit for their work, while you get well-thought-out assets. I also advocate for paying these students for their time, if that fits within your organization’s budget.

If you need a free platform to create graphics, I’ve found Figma to be the most intuitive platform for creating custom assets.

Use Visual Design to Tell Your Story and Captivate Your Audience

Classy supports nonprofits by allowing them to easily integrate their brand elements across campaign pages and other marketing materials. Your team can also leverage a variety of free design tools, such as:

  • Pexels and Pixabay for stock images that bring your campaign narrative to life
  • ColorHunt to establish the perfect color palette for your brand
  • Icons8 for finding icons, photos, and illustrations for your materials
  • Canva or Figma for basic photo editing, text image creation, social media posts, and other design tools
  • Google Slides for presentations and creating text images for your campaign hero block

Pro Tip: Through Classy, you can access our built-in library of high-resolution Pixababy stock images on your campaign and donation pages.

With a focus on visual design, your nonprofit can better connect with your audience and encourage greater engagement.

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The Guide to Nonprofit Storytelling

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