Designing for Success: How to Determine When to Bring in a Graphic Designer


Working with a designer can bring many benefits to impact-driven organizations, such as helping them build their brand, making them look professional, and engaging their audience. Designers can expand the reach and capacity of organizations, directly impacting the organizations’ relationships with partners and clients.

However, it’s important to consider when it’s appropriate to work with a designer. Nonprofits with limited budgets may need to prioritize other expenses. They may also consider handling design work in-house or utilizing readily-available design tools.

Canva, for example, has an extensive template library to create presentations, websites, videos, letterheads, and even logos. Midjourney is a great AI-tool for creating illustrations and photo-realistic renderings. Bing now incorporates artificial intelligence to create imagery, and written content.

One-off versus recurring projects

For one-off projects, it may be more effective and cost-efficient to work with a freelance designer. For example, when simple projects are needed, like a website or a logo, a freelance designer is a good fit for that type of project.

Organizations with recurring design needs may benefit from hiring an in-house designer or establishing a long-term relationship with a freelance designer or agency. It’s important to assess the frequency and complexity of design needs before making that decision.

Organizations with complex projects or those that rely heavily on visual communication may benefit greatly from working with a professional designer who can consistently develop ongoing communications that reflect the organization’s personality in visual outputs.

Defining the scope of work

Outlining the scope of a design project is crucial to establishing a good relationship with a designer. The more information shared with the designer, the better it will be to get a price estimate and establish a good working relationship. A project needs to consider:

  • Project deadlines: Make sure to allow enough time for design revisions. Also, consider that content handed over to a designer should be as close to final as possible to avoid unnecessary rounds of copy edits.
  • Expected outcomes and deliverables: Are there any technical considerations that are unknown to either party? If so, set those possibilities with some room for pivoting the project to avoid misunderstandings.
  • References to similar projects: Try not to be too prescriptive when showing references to a designer since they are great at coming up with their own ideas and approaches. However, do offer some examples of designs that you like.


Budget considerations

When budgeting for design work, it’s important to consider not only the cost of the designer’s services but also the cost of materials, photo royalties, and any other expenses associated with the project. It’s also important to factor in the value that good design can bring to the organization’s operations in terms of increased engagement, brand recognition, and fundraising potential.

There are three overall budget approaches:

  • Hourly rates: The designer can provide an estimate of the overall budget based on their hourly rates. Scoping a project on an hourly-rate basis often means there is trust between the designer and the hiring organization not to be too constrained by the budget.
  • Fixed budget for a delivered outcome: Sometimes projects need to have a capped budget that the designer will need to adhere to. This type of budget scheme is often used for standardized projects, often with small budgets, like business cards, logos, or t-shirt designs.
  • Budget per value created: This type of budget tends to be the most generous for designers. Demonstrating and paying for value delivered often means the hiring organization appreciates the designer for the economic benefits it receives from the collaboration.


In conclusion, working with a graphic designer can bring numerous benefits to impact-driven organizations. Whether it’s building a strong brand identity, creating professional and engaging visuals, or effectively communicating complex information, graphic design plays a pivotal role in helping nonprofits and socially/environmentally focused companies stand out and make a lasting impact.

By engaging with a designer on a freelance basis, organizations can address immediate design needs and achieve specific deliverables. However, for long-term success and a more consistent and established brand presence, establishing a long-term partnership with a designer is highly recommended. This allows for ongoing collaboration, the development of cohesive communication materials across various channels, and a deeper understanding of the organization’s mission and values.

By investing in good design, organizations can elevate their reputation, increase engagement, and maximize their potential for positive change. So, when considering your design needs, remember that a professional graphic designer can be your strategic ally in creating a visually compelling and impactful presence in the nonprofit or social/environmental sector.