How to Profit from Nonprofits as a Designer

Just because an organization is a nonprofit doesn’t mean there’s no profit to me made from it. And for a number of reasons, not all readily apparent, working with organizations serving the common good can do a lot of good for your bottom line.

However, designers seeking to gain a toehold in the nonprofit market should be mindful of fundamental differences between for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, however. The biggest and most obvious difference, of course, is for-profits seek to make money for owners or shareholders. Nonprofits seek to achieve a purpose.

While customers of goods and services support a for-profit, nonprofits get the bulk of their money from sources that include supporters, donors who believe in their mission, grants, and public funding.

Why nonprofits are good prospects

There are a number of reasons to solicit business from nonprofits, reasons that can vary at various stages of a career.

If you’re just starting out, nonprofits can offer the opportunity to build a portfolio if you offer free or reduced price services. Perhaps a nonprofit will consider promotional considerations in lieu of payment, acknowledging your services on their website, in printed materials or in other ways. If services are rendered in connection with an event, for instance, programs, tickets and other items carrying your name and logo can be invaluable advertising.

More seasoned designers might choose to pursue nonprofits because there is less competition for their business and it can be a profitable niche if approached correctly.

Profiting from more than just money

Even if you’re an established business, offering free or reduced price services can be extremely beneficial. A nonprofit can offer a great opportunity to showcase your work, especially to its board members, who are often business and civic leaders. And nonprofit work can create excellent opportunities to network with those board members.

Self-promotion of your charitable work can also be highly effective advertising, since it conveys positive attributes other prospects will find appealing. And since self-promotion is a natural consequence of promoting the nonprofit, it doesn’t appear self-serving.

Also, staff and board members of nonprofits in particular geographic areas typically network, and a job well done for one can easily translate into work from others. Naturally, the ripple effect of a job done poorly can have opposite results.

Finally, there’s the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping a good cause, especially if it’s one you have a personal stake in. But for most designers, the best reward is fair and reasonable pay for their services.

Pitching to nonprofits

While the cost of services is a big consideration for most nonprofits, it is not the only or always the most important.

Show empathy – Since nonprofit directors are typically idealists, it’s natural they prefer to do business with individuals and companies of like mind. Doing your homework to understand a nonprofit’s history, mission and needs can go a long way in getting your foot in the door.

Multiply your value – Nonprofits typically work on long-term goals with long-term budgets and are always looking to stretch their dollars. With website design, for instance, one obvious way of doing this is for an organization to handle its own routine maintenance and upkeep of the site. While some designers might consider offering training to help a nonprofit accomplish this is losing potential business, it and similar cost-saving solutions can help seal the deal.

Don’t limit the possibilities – Just because nonprofits keep tight reigns on their budgets doesn’t mean they’re not open to new ideas, especially if those new ideas help raise more money or better disseminate their message. What social networking and ecommerce needs might you offer, for instance, and how would an organization benefit?

Don’t sell cutting-edge technology – While many for-profit businesses want to be seen on the cutting edge of technology, most nonprofits could care less. They don’t have the budgets or existing infrastructure. Instead of selling the latest technology, concentrate on how your knowledge, the organization’s existing technology and low-cost or no-coast technologies can best serve their mission.

Getting started

Getting started with marketing to nonprofits is as simple as an online search for “Yourtown nonprofits” which should result in a number of directories listing nonprofits in your area.

For more in-depth research, Guidestar offers nonprofit reports and IRS Forms 990, which lists where an organization’s money came from and how it was spent. A free registration is required. A similar site geared more toward nonprofits seeking funding is FoundationCenter.

Other websites worth checking out include VolunteerMatch, which can help target organizations seeking specific services like website design, and the federal government’s official nonprofit web portal.

About the Author: This guest post is written by Eric Nacul, a tech enthusiast who enjoys writing freeware reviews at

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