Non-profit graphic design: how to design beautiful work on a tight budget

Non-profit graphic design: how to design beautiful work on a tight budget

Working for a non-profit can be an exciting venture that can provide you with experience and also help build your marketing repertoire. On the other hand, many non-profits (especially smaller ones) don’t have the budget to afford fancy images or hours and hours of billable time. If these barriers exist, don’t let them stop you from helping out a company that helps others. The work you are doing is making a difference.

Consider this: There are 1.4 million non-profit organizations registered in the United States. To ignore this client base is a big mistake. Many non-profits have tight relationships with fortune 500 companies and can provide a bridge to bigger clients with deeper pockets. (Ahem, don’t ignore these clients!)

While a tight budget might give you certain restrictions, as a creative-type you should be able to create magic even if you have limited resources, that’s what we are good at, right? Design work isn’t about the money you spend, it is about how you can take something common and make it into something bigger than life. This is the magic factor in design. This is why we get paid what we do.

Here are some tips to inspire you to create something amazing even if you are on a small budget.

Keep free stock photography websites in mind.

Strong images can make or break you. While you may be accustomed to stock photography from the big brand sites, there are many free sites you can visit. These include: www.stock.xchng,,, and

Don’t neglect the plethora of free fonts.

I can spend hours looking at fonts. Yes, it can be cumbersome to find a font that works with your design –especially if you have to stick to free ones, but it is possible, one of my favorites is:

Don’t reinvent the wheel!

Do you have a previous design that you are in love with? Swap the colors, add new images, and re-purpose your previous design. It’s not cheating, you are just mimicking you own work… as they say, imitation is the biggest form of flattery (even if it’s your own!)

Use a template.

While some may frown on templates, when you are on a tight budget, templates can be a simple way to cut out the guesswork and keep you on track to complete your project. Keep in mind that most templates give you complete control over the design. Change a few aspects and you are well on your way to a completely original design!

Downgrade your programs.

Yes, I know MS Publisher is a bitch. But in cases like these, using a common program can actually help the non-profit you are working for. MS Publisher is much more common than Photoshop and will give your client the ability to make changes to your design piece in the future. While this isn’t ideal in every situation, do consider it.

While designing on a shoe string budget may inconceivable at first, you will soon learn that these opportunities can lead to bigger and better gigs and they are well worth the extra effort. Yes, you may rack you brain searching through free images for a design project, yes, looking through hundreds of fonts is not anyone’s description of a fun day –but I promise you, it is worth your effort. Non-profits only exist because of their supporters, and if you can help them… the returns may be sweeter than you have expected. Pay it forward!

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