By: Jessica Kuhn | January 13, 2012
[Editor’s note: The F+W Media Design Community, which includes the HOW and Print brands, is proud to announce a new partnership with EPIC, the Chicago-based nonprofit that pairs talented creative professionals with worthy causes, to increase awareness of EPIC’s mission and help build the organization into a national presence.]
Since launching in 2009, EPIC has successfully united 170 volunteers from the advertising and design industries with 21 nonprofit clients dedicated to education, children and families. This equals about $2 million in marketing support—all pro-bono.
Making Pro-Bono An Easy Decision
EPIC board president Tiffany Meyers acknowledges that people are really busy, but have the desire to give back. EPIC helps make this desire a reality by adding structure and establishing a finite time commitment to these partnerships creatives enter with nonprofits. They do this by organizing creative rallies, or 8-week windows where selected creative volunteers join forces with the nonprofits to devise marketing solutions for the clients’ needs. With a distinct beginning and end to the commitment, creatives can feel good about lending their skills pro-bono for a predetermined span of time.
On average, creatives donate about five to ten hours per week for eight weeks, which includes a two-hour weekly meeting, plus three to eight additional hours of time. During these intense weeks of collaboration, a volunteer team leader (usually a creative director or studio principal) kicks the wheels into motion by directing the group to match unique skills to complete the client’s needs.
“Epic is self-selecting. It attracts people with huge hearts and huge talent,” says Meyers, of those who apply to be a part of these rallies. “We’ve watched this mission we have line up with hearts and minds of creatives.”
The Beginning of Something Epic
The seed for EPIC first started when Erin Huizenga, founder and executive director, studied at The Portfolio Center under the wing of Hank Richardson, director of design. “They built in ethos and [emphasized] how design can change the world. That kind of education that he [Richardson] built into people was a part of my thoughts,” says Huizenga.
That seed grew as she worked at SamataMason, currently called smbolic, for Greg and Pat Samata. The firm also is known for their dedication to the nonprofit sector (read about their nonprofit Evan’s Life Foundation, built to honor their deceased son, in the March 2012 issue’s Designing Change column in HOW).
As Huizenga’s career continued, she felt the pang to do something more in addition to her full-time job. She found that other creatives battled the inner question ‘how can I do both?’ Then, she started to imagine both groups—creatives with a desire to do more and nonprofits—coming together in a collaborative environment. The idea for EPIC took root and started to bloom in 2008 when Huizenga finalized her strategic model for EPIC and started to build a dedicated board of directors. That’s also the year that she recruited the ever-energetic Meyers to join the board.
EPIC board president Tiffany Meyers (left), founder/executivedirector Erin Huizenga and programming director Katie Kowaloff are atChicago’s Beauty Bar, where EPIC celebrated the launch of threecampaigns produced by volunteer teams: No Wooden Nickels, Family DefenseCenter and 100 Black Men of Chicago.”
“Erin called me out of the blue,” recalls Meyers. Huizenga had seen Meyers’ work in a design magazine and knew she was in Chicago, so the two met for coffee. Instantly, the duo gelled. “I knew that an HR person would tell me to sleep on it,” says Meyers. Instead she went with her gut and asked “when can we start?”
EPIC’s first client, a nonprofit called Girls in the Game, promotes the health and well-being of young girls. When embarking on this first rally, plenty of kinks were expected to arise along the way. But they didn’t. In fact, it went smoothly. “It was an important moment,” says Meyers, as they realized just how powerful their signature model could be.
For Huizenga, EPIC’s success instills a sense of personal and professional pride, a sentiment she’s sure that all those involved also walk away feeling. “It’s the professional love of my life,” she says.
In addition to fostering these rallies where creatives partner with nonprofits, Huizenga says EPIC also is helping nonprofits understand the value of good design in furthering their missions.
And They’re Just Getting Started
As word spreads about EPIC projects, so does the thought that the organization could be something more far-reaching. Meyers points out that a huge part of their success traces back to a local sensibility, which sits at the backbone of this venture. Chicago-area creatives are paired with Chicago-area organizations with big missions and small marketing budgets. Everyone is working to promote good within their own communities.
“As we grow, we’re interested in modeling what we’ve done in Chicago in other cities,” says Huizenga. Meyers adds that they want to keep that local sensibility at the forefront of any growth.
What does that mean for you? For now, keep EPIC on your radar and help spread the word to potential supporters. Because you never know if this organization that has proven successful in Chicago will be coming to a city near you!
You can look forward to hearing more about projects resulting from EPIC rallies both on HOWDesign.com and in the Designing Change column of HOW magazine.
Jessica Kuhn, senior and online editor of HOW, has learned that designers are some of the most interesting, fun-loving and innovative people around. She sees stunning work all day long and is surrounded by creative energy from the readers of HOW, whether she’s perusing Twitter, at HOW Design Live, or looking at HOW Competition winners. This inspiration encourages her to pursue her own passions. Part of that passion is writing about creatives who are Designing Change.