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​​5 Key Elements of Good Graphic Design for Nonprofits

Whether it's a program agenda, donor materials, gala invitation, or any type of social media post, good graphic design for nonprofits can be tricky. Here are 5 key elements to help you create the perfect design for your nonprofit.

Whether it's a program agenda, donor materials, gala invitation, or any type of social media post, good graphic design for nonprofits can be tricky. The beauty of design is that people can either love or hate it. Design is incredibly subjective and based on people's opinions. Some people may truly connect with your design and be moved by it, while others may be turned off from it for reasons they can't even identify. 

That's the beauty of design, though. Anything that creates reaction means that the significant time and effort you invested into the design has stirred up emotions rather than indifference. 

You are on the right track to gaining support the moment you capture someone's attention with your design, which means, the key is making sure the majority are positively impacted by your design. Keep these five key elements if you want to implement good graphic design for your nonprofit:

Connect With Your Audience

When you meet someone, you automatically form a first impression within a few seconds of speaking with them. That first impression can be hard to shake, so it's essential to make a good one. The same principle applies to your graphic design. As soon as people see it, they are going to promptly decide how they feel about it. If they dislike it from the start, you will have trouble gaining them as an audience later on, even if you change up your graphics or visuals.

With that in mind, ​​you want to use the right imagery and elements in creating a human-friendly design. This means making the layout easy to read and having your message sound like it actually comes from a human. No one wants to be greeted by a robot. Instead, they want to have a sense of the person behind the message.

A great way to connect with your nonprofit audience through your design is by responding to what is happening in the world around you. For instance, you could show your support for parents balancing working from home while caring for little ones, be an advocate for diversity, inclusivity, and equity in the workplace, discuss a public awareness issue like vaccinations, or tell a success story that shows how beneficiaries have succeeded with your organization’s help. 

Be sure to be ready to follow through on what you talk about, or you will quickly lose your supporters. Whatever approach you choose, prepare yourself to praise your audience for taking action.

A designer applying the elements of good design while working on a logo

Provide Value to Your Nonprofit Audience

You should always aim to educate, inspire, or add value to your audience. If you consistently uplift your audience and deliver useful information through your designs, it will increase the perceived value of your program or services. 

Audiences are more likely to be drawn to your nonprofit if your services, programs, or marketing are able to provide value or solutions through visuals or design, in a way they can easily identify. If you aren't sure what adds value to the lives of those you market to, take a moment to put yourself in your audience’s shoes and ask yourself, "What's in it for me?"

Communicate Your Message Clearly and Purposefully

The first step in having a design that clearly communicates your message is to know exactly what you are offering. Are you promoting a partnership? Offering a service? Launching a new product? Recruiting volunteers? Once you know what you are marketing, you can start identifying and creating your message.

Next, you have to determine how to convert your message into a compelling design. Your design should be laid out intentionally using meaningful imagery or illustrations and a layout that tells a story. 

Your goal is to take your idea or vision and explain it in layman's terms. This helps leverage your credibility and clearly communicate to your audience. 

Following this structure will help you cater to your audience’s needs and desires. 

Stand Out from Other Nonprofit Organizations

It's a great tactic to follow what is trending, but you have to find ways to ensure your message is seen above all the other messages vying for the audience’s attention. The best way to do this is to be the first to catch your supporter’s eyes through contrast. 

According to the dictionary, contrast is the "degree of difference between the lightest and darkest parts of a picture." Contrast can also be looked at as using different types of images or visuals compared to that which you see on social media.

Instead of using the same Canva template that you see all the time, expand your search for templates, hire a professional to help you stand out, or join our waitlist for our template subscription that can help amplify your mission and master your storytelling through stunning visuals, all while controlling the costs.

Keeps Things Simple

You have probably heard the phrase "less is more." This concept applies to design as well. However, we will keep things simple for this point. Rather than explaining, here are some examples of powerful minimalist designs that captured the eyes and hearts of the public.

Heinz ad good design sample
Lego ad good design sample
Sandisk ad good design sample

Free Design Tools for Nonprofits

Adobe Express, previously Adobe Spark

Adobe Express may not be the same as Photoshop or Illustrator, but it's a great one-stop-shop design tool, free to help you get started in creating designs or marketing materials. 

Pros: Its free plan allows users to create professional images, videos, and landing pages that are hosted on Adobe's servers. It also offers nonprofits pricing discounts in case you want to upgrade your plan.

Cons: The design resources may be limited with its free plan, which some designers may find confining. Adobe Express is also unable to support some video files, especially animated sequences.


BeFunky is known to be a photo editor and collage maker.

Pros: It offers a huge selection of free templates for infographics and other design and marketing materials. The tool is free, but users can still access a variety of features and project storage.

Cons: BeFunky can sometimes be laggy. Other users also encounter formatting errors such as images automatically replacing each other and delays in editing texts in images.


Canva is one of the most famous online design tools today as it makes graphic designing easy and fun. 

Pros: It's a web-based design tool that offers pre-set dimensions for a variety of design and marketing materials, whether it's for Instagram posts, Facebook covers, flyers, presentations, and more. Canva offers almost every resource one can think of for every design and marketing project. 

As part of its nonprofit program, Canva offers full access to its pro version for all eligible nonprofit organizations. 

Cons: The free plan can be limited to stock or staged photos, basic fonts, and templates. Creating a branding kit and team sharing is also not available.


VistaCreate is a free graphic design tool that allows you to quickly create eye-catching visual content, may it be static or animated images, for social media in minutes.

Pros: It offers free design templates, but you can also create your own from scratch using icons and images in more than 80 million selections, which you can then save as images or GIFs. New resources are constantly being added too.

Cons: There are no options to retrieve specific parts of images when removing their backgrounds. Directly editing your uploaded photos can be limited too as you have to pre-select dimensions and formats first.


DesignMatic is an online platform for design and logo making that offers a variety of tools, design resources, and services like branding solutions. 

Pros: It offers a great selection of colors and fonts for nonprofits that want to start building their brand identity. Users usually only pay for the logo they decide to use, but nonprofits can get their logos for free.

Cons: Technically, there’s no free plan. You have to be an eligible nonprofit to access its features for free.

Amplify Your Nonprofit’s Mission With Graphic Design

Good design is key to gaining loyal advocates and supporters. Your audience is flooded by messages from many companies all the time. Your design must speak to your audience immediately, or you run the risk of losing them. 

The five key elements of design are connecting with your audience, providing value for your audience, communicating your message clearly, standing out from the rest, and keeping things simple.

Now that you are aware of the five key elements of good designs, apply them to your marketing materials and upcoming campaigns 

At Acton Circle, we want to help you connect with more people. We are always just a chat away if you ever need our help.

June 28, 2022

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About Acton Circle

We’re Acton Circle, a boutique design agency helping purpose-driven organizations increase their impact. Led by Founder and CEO, Olivia Wheeler, Acton Circle has helped countless change-makers leverage the power of design for social good.

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