Monthly Archives: November 2011

Who Do We Appreciate?

By Dan Woychick

As I completed the rounds of my early morning workout, one thing struck me about the news stories silently blinking at me from the big screens placed strategically throughout our neighborhood gym. There was an abundance of stories on holiday shopping. Will consumers spend more? Are retailers happy? What does this mean for the economy?

Missing in all the hype, which seems to come earlier and grow greater by the year, was any mention of the upcoming holiday, Thanksgiving, which is treated as a mere speed bump on the way to something far more exciting – the next big purchase.

From an early age, we teach our children to have good manners, to say “please” and “thank you.” During this season, of all seasons, we should pause to consider how we’re thanking those who have helped us this past year.

Tokens of gratitude
Ask and ye shall receive. In the nonprofit world, fail to properly thank your generous benefactors and you shall not be so fortunate next time.

Above all forms of donor recognition, the handwritten thank you note still reigns. Including success stories – not just quantifiable results – provides an emotional reward for your donors and builds trust that their money made a difference.

Building on that idea, Terry Axelrod, in his book The Joy of Fundraising writes: Most donors don’t need plaques or trinkets, which often cause them to question your spending priorities. Donors want to see what their gifts allowed you to accomplish – specific facts and stories of how they changed the lives of real people.

Personal recognition
How well do you know your donors and their motivations? Generally speaking, people give to your organization because they value the work you do and believe their support will yield positive change. But general knowledge isn’t enough.

Is this a first-time donor or a regular contributor? Is the donor increasing their gift this year or returning after an absence of a year or more? Do they prefer receiving personal phone calls or electronic communication?

Everyone probably knows a terrific gift giver, the kind of person who makes a mental note in a casual conversation and then surprises you months later with an especially appropriate birthday present. Knowing your donors, finding out why someone is giving and affirming that in follow up communications, ensures a level of personal attention that makes recognition meaningful.

Distinct and appropriate
Image of donor recognition wall at San Francisco Food BankYour donors, and their reasons for giving, are as unique as your organization. Every time you communicate with your supporters, including but not limited to thank you notes, represents an opportunity to reinforce that distinct mutual interest.

Image of AIGA exhibition wallGood designers often help illuminate and advance an organization’s mission through the clever repurposing of appropriate materials, as with the San Francisco food bank that used the bottoms of empty cans to build a donor recognition wall, the AIGA exhibition that doubled as a fundraiser for a program that taught painting and life skills to at-risk youth, or the paper recycler that used scraps of their own cardboard shipping boxes for an annual report cover.

Image of annual report cover for paper recyclerShowing appreciation for and sharing information with your supporters is an ongoing responsibility that shouldn’t be limited to an organization’s fundraisers. In successful organizations, it’s a pervasive culture that influences everything you do.

It feels good
Finally, while you’re at it, don’t forget to thank the many board members, staff, volunteers and colleagues that help make your job meaningful and rewarding. Remember, when someone says thanks, they make you happy, but research shows they make themselves even happier. In her book The How of Happiness, psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky describes a dozen strategies to increase personal happiness. The first? Express gratitude.

Designing Change

by Dan Woychick

Be the change you want to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi

We live in turbulent times. It seems as if every institution, belief, and convention is under pressure from an insistent, uncertain and unsentimental future. Fortunately, throughout history, passionate people have responded with innovative ideas that make the world a better place.

Traditionally, nonprofit organizations inhabit the void between governments and corporations, but even that model is beginning to shift. New players are seeking new roles in pursuit of their passions.

Every day, designers work with nonprofits and community groups to raise awareness, inspire donors, and increase understanding of issues they care about. But the whole notion of the client/designer relationship, and what kinds of things designers are (or should be) involved in, is evolving.

As AIGA president Doug Powell noted in addressing the association’s members, “Designers are no longer content to be intermediaries between information and understanding – we strive to also be agents of social change.”

Design, in its most valuable role, isn’t employed solely to promote an idea or initiative, but to help shape it from the ground up – to make change happen.

Think like a designer
Designers are uniquely equipped to tackle complex problems. Though often recognized for beautiful or clever visual concepts, it is a designer’s approach to thinking about a problem that makes them well-suited to venture into new arenas.

The ability to conjure something out of nothing in pixels or on paper is fed by an active imagination that is equally capable of developing new solutions to societal problems. Designers are willing to consider different perspectives, anticipate the consequences, and risk trying new things. This fearless opposition to the status quo is vital to any social change effort.

A designer’s ability to think – both to shape a program or organization and its marketing efforts – can be a distinct strategic advantage.

Inventing the future
Whether due to an impatience with traditional efforts to make change happen, the empowerment of new technologies, or the desire to contribute to society in more meaningful ways, designers are involved in the social change sphere with increasing frequency.

When designers are given the opportunity to have a bigger role, real change, real transformation actually happens. – Yves Behar, One Laptop Per Child

There are many different models for merging design and social change:

  • Emily Pilloton and the team at Project H are using the power of design and hands-on building to transform public education in rural North Carolina.
  • Mark Randall and Andréa Pellegrino formed Worldstudio to help turn clients’ “do good” goals into action that drives positive social change. Additionally, the firm has launched several self-driven programs such as The Urban Forest Project and Design Ignites Change.
  • Corporations are providing new funding models for ambitious do-gooders, including the Pepsi Refresh Project and Sappi Paper’s Ideas That Matter program.
  • Other organizations are beginning to document and celebrate the impact of design on society. AIGA San Francisco launched cause/affect, a biennial juried competition and exhibition recognizing projects that support social good. GOOD presents an ongoing digest of socially-relevant design activity.
  • And some designers, like Steffanie Lorig at Art with Heart in Seattle, and Sue Crolick at Art Buddies in Minneapolis, have completely abandoned design careers to launch their own non-profit organizations.

Challenge and opportunity
Making social change happen, as anyone in the non-profit world can attest, is not a career for the faint of heart. As San Francisco designer Arvi Raquel-Santos put it, “Designers want to create change. They want to help and contribute to society, but how can they create work that matters while trying to make a living in this profession?”

There is no clear path to that goal, but one thing is certain – working for free is not a sustainable business model. Designers must assume a broader role in business, social and cultural environments by forging new relationships and applying old skills in new ways. We must expand our networks, identify and seek support from those who can help our ideas become reality, and grow accustomed to ambiguity and longer time frames – projects are often measured in years, not weeks or months.

Just last week, AIGA launched Design for Good to help ignite interest, encourage connections, and accelerate and amplify design-driven social change. As more designers become recognized for their contributions in this new arena, the hope is that more organizations will seek out our involvement.

It’s an exciting time to be alive. The needs are urgent and many, the opportunities great. And, as the old Apple ad reminded us, the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Related content:
Be Your Own Hero
Working for Social Profit: Six Tips
Design for the Other 90%
Dutiee: A Daily Peek Into Social Good