A Designer's Approach to Philanthropy

Take out some paper and write down how you’d rate yourself as a philanthropist. Then write down the names of five people you know that you’d assign an equal or greater rating. On this scale, a one would be for occasional organization event attendees; five would be for regular volunteers of a few nonprofits, and 10 would be for philanthropists who have weaved do-gooding into their daily lives—maybe even into their careers.

I've had some great one-on-one conversations with the five I rank as 10. We’ve talked about why we’re as involved as we are and our motivations. A few of them acknowledged my reasoning with "you're rare." Only one of my top five is a designer by practice.

I invest much of my free time and energy into AIGA DFW, GOOD Local, other nonprofit organizations in Dallas, and mentoring programs, because it’s the only way I know to be. I love and feel the inherent need to be involved. I am an artist and writer, and inspiration fuels me. My motto is, “you have to be involved to be inspired.”

In high school, service was not only inspiration, but my ticket to scholarships. After college, it led to community, networking, mentors, and award-winning pro-bono projects. A lot of designers get involved for the same reasons, but most cease involvement when things have paid off (like cementing a great job), and they no longer see the value of trading in their free time. As the creative director of a well-established creative agency, and with a pretty good 13-year-old portfolio, I could tap out of the volunteer ring easily. But another key reason behind my involvement is the satisfaction of doing something good for the community, whether it be with craft, strategy, or plain heavy-lifting. This not only acts as a counter but also helps enhance the creativity spent on everyday work projects. It’s this involvement that guided me to appreciate that what designers do for a living is important, and can do more than help organizations create artifacts. Our training enables us to take big ideas and make them happen.

My goal as incoming president of our AIGA chapter is to grow our design community in strength and purpose. Into one that’s led by 10’s that influence and inspire the 1’s. By doing so, not only do we accrue the inspiration to make our work better, but we demonstrate the value of what we do to the larger non-design community. This has materialized into our current approach to the following challenges:

How do we fold AIGA and the design community into the larger philanthropic community of DFW and inspire members to give more of a damn about matters outside of design?

The challenge is reshaping the appeal of doing good outside of work and assuming that the enthusiasm of the 10’s is in fact, rare. We’ve repositioned the purpose behind extending our philanthropic efforts outside of the design community. Instead of saying “do this for the good of the community”—we’ve restructured the conversation to “by doing this, we do good for the community and show the value of what we do for a living in a different context to a greater audience—which translates into a community of better potential clients.”

How can we sustain and grow our current efforts?

Instead of focusing on the design community at large, we re-channeled our messaging towards affinity groups—identifying their individual motivations and positioning our leaders to align their values with the ones our organization wants to foster. Once we feed their needs, we’ll have the attention we need to offer them even more. This approach has successfully brought out community leaders who had stopped coming to industry shindigs, and members who previously didn’t assign any value to getting involved. We’ve seen these members not only join, but volunteer. And not only volunteer, but ask to join our leadership.

How can we encourage and grow our leaders’ involvement, commitment and personal fulfillment?

The key to tripling the size and effectiveness of our board over this last summer was to seek and embed like-minded “rarities” into the core of our team. To sustain their involvement, we’ve committed to teach these leaders to be better leaders. At each board meeting, we share lessons meant not only to encourage them to be better leaders in our organization, but help position them to be better leaders, managers, and team members—tools they can use at work. That core of 10’s then encourages and mentors the 5’s and 1’s, and we inspire everyone to feel vested in our mission by opening up opportunities to contribute no matter their threshold of commitment.

To sustain and grow our organization in strength and purpose, we’re addressing everyone and their motivations—whether they be a lapsed community member or a highly-involved leader—as rarities. We put in a framework of trickle-down mentoring, inspiration, and encouragement. We know that the more each rarity grows involved, the more they grow inspired. We are approaching our challenges with the mindset of a designer solving a problem, and with that we can visualize a community of designer-do-gooders where being a 10 on the philanthropic scale becomes the norm.

Illustration by Frances Yllana

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