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7 posts categorized "Design"

Design Vendors Are Destroying Nonprofit Organizations!

June 30, 2016

Stop_figureven·dor

/ˈvendər,ˈvenˌdôr’/

Noun

  • a person or company offering something for sale, especially a trader in the street.
  • a person or company whose principal product lines are office supplies and equipment.

Synonyms: retailer, seller, dealer, trader, purveyor, storekeeper, shopkeeper, merchant, salesperson, supplier, peddler, hawker; scalper, huckster, traffic

__________

Over the last sixteen years I've learned that if there's a word folks in the nonprofit community love to use to describe design firms, it's vendor. Maybe it's me, but every time I hear it used in conversation or read it in an RFP, the "V-word" is accompanied by the soothing sound of nails on a chalkboard. I don't believe I'm being thin-skinned here, but applying vendor to a design firm like Constructive is, well, a bit insulting.

"What's the big deal?" you might be thinking. "Why should I care?"

Both good questions. The short answer is that if you work for a nonprofit and are tasked with researching and choosing a design firm to lead your organization through a website redesign or other design project, using the word vendor is symptomatic of a bigger problem. It suggests a mindset that misunderstands what design is. That shortchanges the value of good design and the value a social change organization can get from working with a design firm. And that damages the kind of relationship any nonprofit would want to build when working with one.

Sounds serious! But if I'm overstating the case, I'm only overstating it slightly.

To understand what's so troubling about putting the "vendor" label on design firms, it's helpful to deconstruct the term itself. Take a look again at the definition of vendor and its synonyms at the top of this article. Pretty uninspiring, right? By definition, a vendor doesn't provide insight or strategic value. Vendors have customers, not clients. (Does any nonprofit really want to be treated by their design firm as a "customer"?!). At best, they are trying to sell you something — usually a commoditized product or service. At worst, the thing they are trying to sell you is a lemon.

Would anyone in their right mind want a vendor to do something for them as important as design?! Well, it depends on how you view design.

So why is vendor used so frequently in the nonprofit sector to describe the design firms that play such a critical role in translating organizational strategy into tangible experiences? I don't believe it’s because anyone is intentionally minimizing the value that design firms bring to the table. (If anything, the case for strategic communications in the sector is on the rise.) To me, it's a subtle sign of a more widespread misunderstanding that can lead to missed opportunity — one that's often exacerbated by design firms themselves and the organizations that hire them.

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The One Strategy You Need to Design an Effective Website

March 02, 2016

Bigstock-Web-Design-For many organizations, a website is the biggest window into their work and values, helping their supporters and other audiences understand what the organization believes in and stands for, what it does, and why its work matters. In many cases, it also is a critical component of the day-to-day operations behind those efforts, whether as a publishing platform for knowledge sharing and thought leadership, or as a direct link to the organization's events management and CRM systems.

Nonprofits, educational institutions, and businesses whose work is dedicated to advancing positive social or environmental change must not only make sure their websites meet all the criteria by which the success of websites in general are measured (i.e., usability, visual design, and compelling content), their websites also must paint a much bigger picture of the organization — elevating its issue(s), educating audiences, and generating action while clearly communicating everything in the context of the organization's mission and values. No surprise, then, that at Constructive we believe that as purposeful as organizations tend to be about developing the strategies and actions needed to drive change, they should be equally focused on the decisions that determine whether their websites contribute to those goals.

Unfortunately, many organizations with incredibly inspiring missions too often end up with a website that falls flat and leaves their audiences more confused than committed, more exhausted than energized.

Why is this?

The Discontent of Our Disconnect

When organizations set out to redesign a website, the problems in need of solving on every organization's list inevitably include things like: "confusing; not user friendly," "content and resources hard to find," "not engaging or visually appealing," "difficult to update," and, most telling of all, "fails to clearly communicate our mission and work."

It is baffling how so many organizations can go through a lengthy website design engagement and still wind up with something that fails not only in website-specific areas like usability, visual design, and technology, but also in terms of the most important strategic goal of all — clearly communicating an organization's mission.

The reason, I believe, is actually quite simple.

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Creativity: A New Pillar of Sustainability

October 01, 2015

Sustainability21.980x980Creativity. We hack it. We map it. We study it. We rate it. We take it places. We build industries around it. We invest in it. We recognize we need it, even when it hurts. We know our future depends on it.

This is the first in a series of blog posts which will explore the radical premise that creativity is a key driver of sustainability

We will look at the role creativity plays in strengthening communities and driving change. We will appreciate entrepreneurs using the arts, design, and making to tackle topics like healthy food, climate change, the criminal justice system, and immigration. We will remind ourselves how much research science, technology, and social entrepreneurship have in common.

We will imagine creativity as an investment theme and propose how it may be integrated into impact and mission-related investment portfolios. We will review creativity standards for companies and investment funds seeking to have a positive social and financial impact. We will start the conversation about how to measure creativity's contribution toward our sustainable future.

What Do We Mean By Creativity?

Creativity is the spark. When the spark catches, it catalyzes an expression, an experiment, a "creation." If the spark turns into an invention, an entrepreneur can build an enterprise around it. 

If the invention works and the company is profitable and grows, there can be a wide-spread change – that's innovation. Innovation makes markets.

Business uses the word creativity, too. In fact, the Conference Board reports that creativity ranks among the top five skills that U.S. employers believe to be of increasing importance.

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Five Ways to Improve Your Digital Strategy for Older Donors

February 17, 2015

Older-donors-with-computerSome of the biggest nonprofit campaigns of recent years were most notable for how well they mobilized the ever-elusive Gen Y demographic. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge became a viral sensation, and the It Gets Better Project's successful YouTube videos helped bring light to important issues affecting the LGBT community. But while these efforts certainly have helped to illuminate the future of fundraising, they haven’t been as successful in engaging older people, who consistently give the largest donations year after year. For those hoping to use technology to connect with their older donors, here are five important points to keep in mind as you create your digital plan of attack.

Older donors are much more tech-savvy than many give them credit for

  • Nearly 3 out of 5 donors age 66 and older currently make donations via the web.

With the rise of tablet computing and streamlined mobile UIs, mobile technology is more accessible to different age groups than ever before. Studies show that in recent years, older users have proven to be very adaptable when it comes to new technologies and are just as likely to donate online as their younger counterparts.

Even though older users need a bit of extra care when it comes to accessibility, it's important that you don't view your older donors as technologically illiterate. The tough part is catering to these older audiences while still creating a digital experience that appeals to younger constituents as well.

Making your site more accessible to older donors

When catering to an audience of older constituents, the ideal goal is to strike a happy balance between quality design and carefully considered user-friendliness.

A few design details in particular, like font size and page navigation, are critical for making a site accessible to older visitors. According to Nielsen's usability tests of users aged 65 and over, older citizens require larger typography, with 12-point fonts (and higher) working best. In addition, older users tend to be more frustrated by frequent site and design changes. While this is less of a design detail, it's a good point to note for web designers who like to make tweaks on a regular basis.

When it comes to driving conversions, make sure you're prominently featuring all of your most common actionable functions. If you have a "donate" button, make it clearly visible on every page. By minimizing the number of clicks between your users and the option to donate or volunteer, you create an online presence that is simultaneously accessible and streamlined. For examples of sites that do this well, visit the Sierra Club, New York Road Runners, or the American Cancer Society.

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[Data Viz] How Does Foreign Aid Work?

March 08, 2014

Today's infographic isn't one, per se; it's a Web-based "visual explainer" created by Newsbound, a San Francisco-based design and software company, for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that "debunks several prominent myths about foreign aid, including the argument that it is a waste of taxpayer dollars." Part photo essay, part data vizualization, the "stack" (which was included in the foundation's 2014 annual letter) comprises twenty slides easily navigated with a mouse or the arrow keys on your keyboard.

(Click here to view)

Foreignaid_explainer

What do you think? Is the less than 1 percent of the federal budget spent on foreign aid a waste of taxpayer dollars? Does foreign aid work? Or, as some argue, does it do more harm than good? And on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate the Newsbound approach to a complex issue like foreign aid? Share your thoughts in the comments section below...

Design or Not to Design? Does It Matter?

February 12, 2014

(Derrick Feldmann is president of Achieve, a creative research and campaigns agency based in Indianapolis. In his previous post, he blogged about the fundraising secrets of internationally focused nonprofits.)

Feldmann_headshotAs the dust settles on another hectic fundraising season, I've been taking some time to sift through the direct mail and e-mail donation requests I received. It seems like the past year was extra busy for many organizations, and there was a lot of competition for my attention and charitable support as the year came to an end.

When analyzing the various pieces, I typically start with design, putting those that stick to a basic black-and-white format and avoid graphics other than an organization's logo in one pile and those that incorporate the latest design trends and National Geographic-quality photographs in another.

I also sort the pitch letters based on degree of personalization. A lot of them start with a generic salutation like "Dear Friend…," which always makes me smile and think: How can we be friends when I don't even know you? Then there are letters that address me as "Derrick" – well, because apparently we're on a first-name basis.

As someone who deals on a regular basis with fundraising campaigns, direct-mail appeals, and e-mail solicitations, I can almost always spot the pieces that were done in-house, as opposed to those created by an agency or outside contractor. In most cases, there's a certain polish to the latter, and you can tell the organization has paid good money to achieve that look and feel.

But does it matter? Do sharp, well-designed pieces lead to more and bigger donations than bland, generic pitches created by an in-house team?

Actually, not so much. As a number of recent studies show, a simple direct-mail or e-mail pitch is likely to raise just as much money as a well-designed piece. Indeed, according to fundraising expert Rachel Beer, A and B testing demonstrates that "something plain, functional, and straightforward will often out-perform something that is beautifully art directed or conceptual."

So if the design of your fundraising solicitations doesn't really matter, what does matter?

Brand. Your nonprofit's brand is what matters.

As the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations' Nathalie Kylander and Christopher Stone put it in a 2012 article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, "Strong brands in all sectors help organizations acquire financial, human and social resources, and build key partnerships. The trust that strong brands elicit also provides organizations with the authority and credibility to deploy those resources more efficiently and flexibly than can organizations with weaker brands."

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The Role of Design and 'Design Thinking' in Philanthropy

December 05, 2012

(Kris Putnam-Walkerly, an award-winning philanthropy consultant, evaluator, and speaker, is the principal author of the popular Philanthropy411 blog, where this post originally appeared.)

At the turn of the twenty-first century, after decades of percolation in academia, the concept of "design thinking" began to appear in popular business literature and conversation. Although finding a clear, consistent explanation of design thinking is rather like asking bridesmaids to agree on the perfect shade of blue, Wikipedia gave it a shot:

Design Thinking refers to the methods and processes for investigating ill-defined problems, acquiring information, analyzing knowledge, and positing solutions in the design and planning fields. As a style of thinking, it is generally considered the ability to combine empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality to analyze and fit solutions to the context.

Ill-defined problems. Combining empathy, creativity, and rationality in developing a solution. Sounds perfect for philanthropy, doesn't it? It's no wonder, then, that as design thinking has become manifest in the business world, it's beginning to pique the interest of the funding community.

In a recent conversation with Kyle Reis, Manager for Strategy and Operations at the Ford Foundation, we pondered the question of how foundations might partner with design communities to help them learn how to more fundamentally and intentionally integrate design and design thinking into their work.

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