What I learned over 12 hours doing design for a non-profit

Late last year, I made the decision to participate in Milwaukee called DesignMil. The promise of DesignMil was to pair designers with local nonprofits who were in need of help. This included writing, design, video — you name it.

As a designer, working with nonprofits is something that I’ve always wanted to do more. With the way the world currently is, it seems like anybody who’s running a nonprofit needs all the help they can get.

For DesignMil, everyone gathered together and over the course of 12 hours, did a creative sprint. Creatives who partnered with the nonprofits would come together and create something — whether that was a brand, an advertisement, some promotion material, or whatever else the non profit needed. I want to express some of the things that I took away from it. While I did this for free and I did this on my own time, it was one of the more valuable things in hindsight that I’ve done in the last year. I want to jump on how much nonprofits appreciate having an expert who can come in and take the reins.

I know not every nonprofit is the same, but I was fortunate to work with one that understood what it meant to work with experts. It made it such an exciting, fun, experience for me. It allowed me to say okay, I hear your problem here hear what you’re trying to do.”

It made for a fun 12 hours. While they did push back a little bit here and there, or offer their insight in different places, the back and forth was a lot of fun. Truth be told, I really didn’t know what to expect coming into it. That was one of the things that I appreciated about this.

We know as designers, especially if you work in agencies, that we often work with for profits and there’s a culture and community there. We spend a lot of time learning about those communities or those cultures, or the clients that they serve customers. One of the exciting things about working with a nonprofit is that it opens you up to a different world. It opens you up to a new sliver of your community that you otherwise would have never paid much attention to — or maybe not at all. It teaches you about something. 

As a designer, that’s that’s something that that we all really need to strive for in what we do. A lot of times we think about how our design affects a large group of people. But seeing how it affects a small subset of people it was an interesting take away for me.

As a runner I always mention to people there’s a thing called runner’s high. It’s this euphoria you get, particularly if you’re doing something like finishing a marathon. It’s an awesome feeling. In design, I don’t know what we would call something similar. Maybe designer high? If that’s a thing.

At the end of this 12 hour sprint we had a party we had to present our work. And the most unexpected thing during this was kind of getting that same feeling. It’s indescribable.

I don’t know how else to put it. It was so much fun seeing my work go up on a big screen. It was amazing looking at the directors from the non-profit that I was working with with the smiles on their face. 

Knowing that I was able to help them out and help them with a few of the things that they needed to do to get their message out to their non-profit to grow was fulfilling.

If you haven’t considered helping non profits, I would push you to consider it. Go find a nonprofit! Maybe one that looks exciting to you or one that you might relate to. See what you can do for them. And I think you might be surprised, even if you’re doing it for free, what you actually get back from it.

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