Marketing, branding, and design aren’t limited to commercial enterprises. Government agencies, advocacy groups, and other non-profits also rely on creative work to accomplish their respective missions. Every client is unique, of course, but the type of organization it is will often shape how a creative agency tailors its work and approach.
A community organization committed to helping underserved portions of the public is markedly different from a business selling widgets. Most of these organizations rely on donations, endowments, and a combination of public and private grants. While a business, even a bootstrapped start-up, will have at least one person versed in marketing and experience interfacing with a creative agency. And unlike some business clients, philanthropic entities can have difficulty communicating their own needs.
Brooklyn-based Mixteca is a nonprofit organization (NPO) dedicated to enriching the lives of the local Latinx communities by enabling access to critical services and programs while building a supportive environment. Recently, the NPO launched a new identity with help from branding and design studio Trollbäck+Company.
The agency created a system inspired by Mixetca’s leadership, heritage, and mission that clearly articulates its purpose, one that they can easily use across different media and social channels for years to come. Trollbäck recognized the unique needs of Mixteca and tailored the solution to the NPO, while the community nature and social good of their mission helped to inspire and drive the project creatively.
“I think the biggest difference between a [business brand and nonprofit], for me, was this was a lot about guidance and collaboration,” Nadia Husain, design director at Trollbäck, said. "Everyone who we worked with at Mixteca was very emotionally connected to the brand, in some ways more so than I think with a lot of corporate brands.”
"It really comes down to a difference in audience,” said Bo Bishop, executive director of creative strategy at Trollbäck. “Working for a nonprofit, creative companies need to understand there are three essential audiences that you design for. One is the community that the nonprofit serves, then the internal stakeholders, and three, which is essential, is the fundraising aspect,” Bo adds.
Unlike a business start-up pleading its case to investors, nonprofits need to communicate the significance of their mission, as well as the effectiveness of donations towards that cause. Rather than seeking profits or growth, donors want to see their dollar further the organization’s purpose.
With an understanding of Mixteca’s needs, Trollbäck went to work developing a system with clear cultural nods, like the geometric patterns and a color palette reminiscent and familiar within the Latinx community. Respect and close consultation with Mixteca lent authenticity to the new branding. Bright and contrasting colors are vibrant, sure. But they're also attractive and eye-catching on a poster in Sunset Park, Instagram, or in a fundraising email blast. Typography choices take into account license fees, and as such lean heavily on Google Fonts. The new visual language also considers the software Mixteca uses, such as Canva, creating a solution that best fits their operations.
“It just felt like a very democratic process in the sense that everyone gets a vote, rather than just one or two people who are major stakeholders,” Nadia explained.
“I think with a nonprofit, it's much more important that there's internal alignment and that they agree on things. It's much more democratic,” Bishop says. “But I think the key takeaway for nonprofits reading this and working with an outside agency is to have a specific point person who's really good at communicating between our team and their team." It's also helpful to have a smaller committee that can steer the creative process. Then, you can take that support to a board of directors—which is what happened with Mixteca.
Agencies should strive to make the most of the time and effort put into a nonprofit project, even if it won't add oodles of ducats to the coffers. The work is rewarding, and it deserves the same level of professionalism according to both Husain and Bishop—don't treat it like a side project.
“Just because it's not a paying job doesn't mean that it's not a worthwhile investment,” Nadia said.
“From the agency side, it has to get treated like a real project,” Bo added. “It has to be produced, it has to be scheduled, and strategists have to be given the time that they would be given on any project to achieve the objectives. Sometimes, I think agencies will work with a nonprofit, but it will be like, on Thursday nights, when they're at the end of the day and drinking a beer."
“We've found that the most successful times we've worked with nonprofits is when we treat them just like every other job," Bo further explained. “You actually produce work that is way more impactful. Otherwise, if you hope that it happens on people's downtime, it won't happen.”